Major Book Industry News for January

2023 was a landmark year in the book industry, not only in terms of sales but also due to controversy. Political agendas invaded the lives of authors and readers, while AI threatened to shake up reading as we know it. Though neither of these issues show signs of slowing down, 2024 will likely come with its own share of shocking news.

Here’s the major book industry news you missed in January of 2024. Additionally, if you missed the news from November & December 2023, we recommend catching up on those as well.

New Nonprofit Aims to ‘Certify’ AI Usage

2023 was marred with lawsuits aimed at generative AI companies and outrage over authors’ work being used without their consent. Fairly Trained, a new nonprofit, has launched in hopes of making these AI tools more ethical.

The nonprofit’s goal is to reward generative AI companies that receive consent from data providers, such as authors and publishers. The organization’s website states: “Fairly Trained exists to make it clear which companies take a more consent-based approach to training, and are therefore treating creators more fairly.”

The first certification, the Licensed Model Certification, can be awarded to any company or organization that makes generative AI models or services that explicitly receives consent for their use of training data and does not use copyrighted work without a license. Though using works that are in public domain globally is acceptable, Fairly Trained states that their certification “will not be awarded to models that rely on a ‘fair use’ copyright exception or similar, which is an indicator that rights-holders haven’t given consent for their work to be used in training.”

A number of large organizations have supported the launch of Fairly Trained, including the Association of American Publishers. Though the nonprofit’s work is commendable—rewarding ethical generative AI companies will hopefully lead to creators being fairly compensated for their work, as well as prevent copyright issues—the AAP’s support does raise a few questions.

Controversial Texas Book Ban is Unconstitutional

In what can be seen as a significant victory against censorship, the controversial Texas “Reader Act,” also known as HB 900, was again ruled unconstitutional.

The “Reader Act” claimed to “protect children from sexually explicit material” and help parents and guardians recognize “what books the State is purchasing for public schools with public money.” Additionally, the law would have required bookstores, retailers, and publishers to review and rate library materials in accordance with the law’s vague and arbitrary guidelines.

Many readers felt the law’s wording was intentionally vague and would be used as a way to censor LGBTQIA+ voices.

On September 18, 2023 the US District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction that barred the law’s implementation, with Judge Alan D. Albright ruling that “this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

On January 18, 2024, after months of waiting, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Judge Don Willett agreed with the earlier ruling, noting that “plaintiffs have an interest in selling books without being coerced to speak the State’s preferred message” and that he believed that the Reader Act did, indeed, implicate First Amendment rights.

The ruling, which can be found here, is a huge win in the fight against censorship, which has been an increasing concern for readers in today’s political landscape.

2023 USTR Notorious Markets Report is Released

At the end of January, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, also known as the USTR, released its 2023 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. This yearly report is intended to name and shame both online and physical markets that participate in the sales or distribution of counterfeit products or media, as well as copyright infringement.

The Association of American Publishers “welcomed” the release of the report, as well as shared a statement from the AAP’s Senior Vice President for Global Policy, Lui Simpson: “The publishing industry thanks USTR and the interagency for their work in protecting the intellectual property of publishers and authors, whose livelihoods depend on the protection and enforcement of their rights… [the report] remains a critical tool for exposing online sites and marketplaces that traffic in infringing copies of books and journal articles.”

Though few argue that authors should not be compensated for their work, the USTR Notorious Markets report comes at a time when the open access movement has more supporters than ever.

Major Wins for Indie Publishers in 2023 With More on the Horizon

The “Big Five” publishing houses—HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—have dominated the bestseller lists for decades. However, 2023 reports gathered by Publisher’s Weekly indicate that indie publishers have begun to put up a fight.

Though the Big Five publishing houses still held the majority of titles on bestseller lists with 84.8% of the 2,080 books on Publisher’s Weekly hardcover lists, it marks the second year in a row that this number has decreased.

The publication cites two independent publishers as being major factors behind this decrease: Entangled Publishing and Grove Atlantic. These publishers are behind smash hits Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros and The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, respectively.

With the increasing success of indie publishers, we may expect the Big Five to lose even more footing on bestseller lists in the years to come.

Trend Forecasting: What to Expect in 2024

Like any other industry, publishing is subject to trends. Since the beginning of the year, many readers and outlets, such as Book Riot and Written Word Media, have raced to forecast trends for the publishing industry in 2024.

Some of the most popular trend forecasts include:

  • AI-generated or AI-assisted content will be released more regularly. We will likely see innumerable AI titles on self-publishing platforms, but it would not be surprising if larger publishers embraced AI as well.
  • Escapism will be a recurring theme. The popularity of escapist fantasy tales like the ACOTAR series dominated bestseller lists in 2023 and this will likely be no different in 2024. However, this market will likely feel oversaturated quickly.
  • Authors will feel more pressure to market their books. In the past, authors relied on publishers to market their books, but with the rise of social media platforms and BookTok, this may no longer be the case. Authors will likely take to social media to build personal brands. Publishers will expect this and, as a result, may lessen marketing efforts and rely on authors to do it themselves.