Rise of the Robot Publishers

Here’s a quick observation that comes to mind: writing as a profession is becoming increasingly automated. My creative writing professor was mentioning in class today how, in ye olde days of yore (before the internet) it was customary for new writers to attend book launches and writing festivals to meet editors and industry professionals just to get published. Promoting one’s work was once done by driving around the country on an endless procession of book signings.

This is in stark contrast to my experiences as a new writer. I live on the opposite side of the planet from my publisher; I’ve never met my editors or even heard their voices. When I want to promote my book, I hit up book blogs and Twitter — and even there, about 50% of the Tweets I see are just auto-scheduled, auto-Tweeted ads to self published Kindle books. Basically, thanks to technology, we can hand over the production and marketing of our books to robots and never need speak to a human again. The thing is…isn’t the whole point of being a writer to engage with other people? Kinda loses its effect when it’s just a Twitter-bot trying to sell you something.

Frightening thought: we’re basically living in the dystopian wasteland from the Terminator series. The robot uprising is happening. Machines now control our most important resource — information.

This is what a publishing house will look like in 20 years:

"Slush pile detected! Eliminate slush pile!"









The fact is, the technological singularity is coming (as sci-fi authors continually remind us). Robot editors are becoming a necessary means of regulating all of the information available to us. According to Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, the internet is estimated to be over five million terabytes in size. There’s just too much information for any human editor to conceivably keep track of it all. In a sense, we even already have automated newspapers in the form of paper.li and Storify, where a computer pieces together news articles from external sources with minimal human direction. Even Wikipedia is mainly run by robots, because far too many articles are posted each day to possibly be screened by human eyes. Of course, I’ve yet to see a literary journal or a publishing house run through something like paper.li, but it’s still pretty interesting to think about.

I have to admit though, it’s things like this that — as a writer — make me nervous about online media. How does a machine determine what kind of issues need to be explored, and how can an unthinking entity possibly understand social context? I’ve always considered these the main duties of a writer: to record the stories that make up humanity and to prompt people to think about the meaning of their lives. We have the power to engage people on an emotional level, and to challenge the preconceived notions of society. These are things that (at least until we have sentient robots like Bender from Futurama) that only human beings — actual, living ones — can do. A Twitter spam-bot can give you an ad and an Amazon link, but it can’t really engage with you personally. Good writing is supposed to generate discussion and bring authors and readers together. We should be using social media to help facilitate that discussion, not cut it out entirely. That’s kinda missing the point.


So, what do you guys think? Tell me in the comments (no robots, please).

4 Responses to “Rise of the Robot Publishers”
  1. It is one of the many improvements the internet age has brought us. Today anyone with an instrument, a word program, a programming language, or a camera can self publish their art. Before the internet age the process of getting’s one art published was not really based on talent. Now if you have talent you can self publish an eBook, make a youtube video, a indie video game, etc. Sure maybe we have a lot of fluff and garbage in the mix, because a bot can not filter out the garbage. But look at all of the art we have created in this time frame. We have great indie games like Legionwood and Path of Exile. We have music stars who made a career on youtube posting homemade music videos, hell even Justin Beiber got his start on youtube. The creator of Dead Fantasy has gotten a job in the industry, because of the Dead Fantasy videos. I do think the bot poses a lot of issues that you pointed out, like the lack of touching a human during the initial part. But at the end of the day, it is reaching humans and more humans than it was reaching before. We have more writing and more readers than ever before, if that means we have a bot watching us I say “Enjoy the show bot.”

    • dgrixti says:

      You’re totally right, Vince. If anything, the fact that technology allows people with talent to find an audience much quicker and on their own merit is great. I, for one, owe a great debt to it. However, I do think that with this ease comes an increasing temptation for anyone to just resign themselves to a robotic process — lots of people hang out on Twitter and just spam links to their books, for example, never actually engaging with others or saying anything of value.

      What’s the point of having access to a wider audience if you’re not going to interact with them? The “point” of art (even more important for us fledgling types who need the attention) is to encourage discussion.

      • That is very true, but there will always be people who try to “game’ the system. I think the people who fail to interact with their audience, will find themselves without an audience. Because as you said, the “point” of art is to encourage discussion.

      • dgrixti says:

        Well said, Vince. That’s why I think it’s important the people stay in touch with the human element of the publishing industry (or any creative enterprise), because eventually these people will overshadow the Twitter bots 🙂

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