Everyone in the publishing industry should be watching CES this month. Because AI is not about us. We’re just a sideshow.

From The New Publishing Standard:

How many of us today are doing our job in the same way it was done late last century? More importantly, how many of us today are doing jobs that even existed last century?

“This Year’s CES Will Totally Be All AI, All the Time.”

That’s according to an opinion piece over at LifeWire, where Charlie Sorrel last week advised, as if we needed telling, that AI might pop up here and there at CES 2024 in Las Vegas.

It’s the kind of place I would not be seen dead in. I still struggle to find the flashlight on my mobile phone, and I have to ask the kids at nursery school to adjust volume or ringtones. I think Fred Flintstone was its previous owner. I use it for making calls, for the very occasional text message, and for the Kindle app, which is the sole reason I need or want a smartphone.

But fortunately for me, my job as a publishing industry observer and analyst doesn’t require hands-on familiarity with every new tech development, any more than being a good driver means knowing the mysteries of the internal combustion engine, or a connoisseur of art needs to be good with a paintbrush and easel.

So I’m glued to the CES reportage this year, when the local internet lets me, for anything that might directly or indirectly impact the publishing industry, because, per Charlie Sorrel’s headline, CES this year is “totally” about AI. But so far (the event finishes Jan 12) you’d be hard-pressed to find much mention of publishing (although kudos to Kaleeg Hainsworth and the Legible team for being there!).

And there’s a reason for that, that many in the publishing industry seem not to grasp.

Let me whisper this quietly: AI, generative or otherwise, is not actually about the publishing industry. In fact, AI barely knows we exist, and cares even less.

. . . .

This past fifteen months I’ve seen authors, artists, translators, editors and publishers running about like headless chickens screaming the sky is falling, convinced AI is coming for their jobs, their families and their pet dog. And that it is going to destroy civilisation as we know it (because as we all know, civilisation didn’t exist until publishers came along).

They are convinced the AI bullet has “publishing industry” written on it, and they alone, among all the world’s people and all the world’s industries, have been singled out for extinction by this new techno-menace.

We so love to play the victim card!

And this is precisely why everyone in the publishing industry should be watching the CES reportage closely. And why they should be looking more closely at all their non-publishing activities and interests. Because pretty much everything we do, hear and see is already being heavily influenced by AI, in just about every field imaginable

It’s the first week of 2024 and we’d have to be a monk living in a cave on a desert island not to have AI working its magic for us each day, without our even realising it.

And we’re still in the early hours of AI Day One.

From Business Insider: “AI is saving sales professionals more than two hours of work each day.”

No, this wasn’t specifically about publishing sales people. And yes, that will be Business Insider as owned by Axell Springer, which recently signed a deal with OpenAI to lawfully train and use its content.

. . . .

In my second life as a teacher, I’m constantly having to reassure education sector people that the AI bullet does not have their name on it either.

Articles like this, from a teacher in Ireland help to allay their irrational fears:

“I’m a high school math and science teacher who uses ChatGPT, and it’s made my job much easier.”

There’s an endless list. But not all fears are irrational.

Yes, jobs will go. No question.

So what else is new?

How many of us today are doing our job in the same way it was done late last century? Or even a decade ago?

. . . .

Yes, audiobook narrators, I’m looking at you, among others.

Audiobook narration has been a sideshow for the industry for most of the time audiobooks have existed (1932, since you ask). Audiobooks were not on any publishers’ lists of priorities. Only the blind read them, and if you were blind you probably weren’t working so couldn’t afford them anyway.

As BookBeat CEO Niclas Sandin said, “No market survey said anyone wanted audiobooks.“

. . . .

But with the arrival of meaningfully-sized mobile devices, digital audio took off. Suddenly we have an audiobook boom and tons of new jobs are being created for narrators.

This graphic from Statista, showing audiobook production in the US between 2007-2021, gives an idea of the scale of change in the audiobook narration job market.

Put simply, there was almost no work for narrators in 2007, and many people who now call themselves narrators probably had never even considered the idea back before 2010.

. . . .

So out of nowhere, new jobs suddenly materialised. And how we rejoiced! More narrators were needed. And more translators. And of course authors and publishers were taking full advantage. New jobs were being created in audio studios, and more jobs in distribution. Entire new platforms were being created around digital audio that simply could never have existed twenty years ago.

But how did all this come about?

Technological evolution

. . . .

Now we’re all screaming foul because technological change is threatening those same jobs that mostly did not exist ten years ago, and certainly did not come with lifetime guarantees.

Not all jobs will go. The publishing apocalypse being touted by the Luddite fringe is just knee-jerk nonsense. Publishing will change, adapt and grow in new ways. Just as it changed with, adapted to, and delivered the audiobook market that exists today.

In fact, the audio market will just get bigger and better, assisted by the very AI the Luddite fringe are resisting. And the more adaptable among the narrators, translators, production crews and authors and publishers will move with the times and emerge stronger for the change.

. . . .

Right now the smart guys and gals in the publishing industry are asking themselves, how can AI benefit my career. They are taking courses, reading everything they can, writing and refining their prompting skills, and having great fun while they do it.

. . . .

But per the headline for this op-ed, AI is not about us. It is not about the publishing industry. We are just a sideshow.

And we need to understand that, when we make our irrational rants against AI, we are not just selfishly saying that our jobs are more important than anyone else’s. We are saying that we really don’t have a clue about what AI is, because we are already using it every day, and we are certainly going to be taking full advantage of it in the future, with absolutely no regard for how many jobs it costs anyone not in our own “special” industry.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG has seen a great deal of technological change during his working career. At the first law firm he worked in, there were lots of secretaries, each using an IBM Selectric typewriter.

The first word processors PG saw were in a prestigious law firm headquartered in a high-rise building in Beverly Hills. The firm had a lot of Entertainment lawyers and PG rode in an elevator with Marlon Brando on one occasion. He was very fluent with body language that said, “Don’t talk to me or look at me.”

The firm’s word processors and their operators were located in a separate, sound-proofed room. There were eight machines operated by the fastest typists PG had ever seen, each wearing a set of headphones which PG guessed was for listening to dictation. The soundproofing was necessary because eight very noisy printers were going full-speed all the time. The firm had enough fast typists to keep the printers going 24 hours per day, seven days a week. PG didn’t ask if the room was staffed on holidays.

When PG opened his own practice, he was the first attorney in the area to purchase a word processor for his secretary. It made him a lot of money. Ditto for being the first attorney to have a personal computer at his desk. He was grateful on many occasions that his mother had insisted he take typing in high school.