TikTok, BookTok and ChatGPT at the London Book Fair 2023

21 April 2023


Photo of me standing behind life size robot trousers made of cardboard, looking like the pair in the film The Wrong Trousers. It looks like I'm wearing the robot trousers. Yesterday, I attended the London Book Fair for the first time since the pandemic. It was great to meet up with my publishers and talk about the state of the market and opportunities to work together. At the show, I also got to see the new 7th edition of Web Design in Easy Steps in print for the first time. I even got to try on Wallace's Wrong Trousers, courtesy of Paper Engine, who make fabulous cardboard model kits.

I attended two talks in the Tech Theatre about TikTok and ChatGPT.

First, Jon Air and Sam Deacon from RedCards shared some interesting data about TikTok and its impact on the book industry:

  • Generation Z (born 1997-2012) make up 60% of TikTok users.
  • 68% of those surveyed said the #BookTok hashtag inspired them to pick up a book they might not otherwise have done.
  • That hashtag was responsible for 3% of book sales in 2022.

I haven't done anything with TikTok so far, but it's clear that there is an audience there for authors and publishers to reach, and that promotions there can convert into sales.

The speakers made a strong case for serialised content, at a time when many young people prefer reading on their phones and want to consume books in small doses. This isn't about abridging content: the longest web novel is 4.1 million characters (i.e. letters, rather than people!), compared to 1.25m for War and Peace. It's more about making books easier to read, by getting them onto phones, with less content per page. The presenters pointed to the success of Duolingo (14.2 million active daily users in 2022) and audiobooks (which enable multitasking), and suggested authors and publishers look for opportunities to use audio and gamification in their work.

Chris Singleton of the Style Factory marketing blog delivered a great introduction to ChatGPT, which he described as "a very clever, articulate chatbot". He outlined six ways it could help content creators:

  • Generating ideas. He gave examples such as asking it to write the structure of a blog post on a particular topic, or asking it for ideas for a novel about AI.
  • Research. ChatGPT has been known to invent facts, so everything needs confirmation. However, he shared an example of someone writing a novel about a musician set in the 1960s who could ask ChatGPT for five venues they might have visited. It would be easy to validate one of those suggestions.
  • Editing. The example was to rewrite Shakespeare's "to be, or not to be" speech for a modern audience, which ChatGPT did well.
  • Translation. Singleton suggested that ChatGPT could be used for translation, with a human then proofreading the result. I can see this happening in some cases, but I think the risk is that the translation ends up being proofread for grammar and not for the accurate translation of the meaning. If the proofreader is comparing the source and output documents, I'm not sure how big the time savings and cost savings would be. However, ChatGPT could be useful for translating foreign sources for research purposes. It would be interesting to compare its output with dedicated tools such as Google Translate.
  • Marketing and PR. The example given here was to write a press release about the republication of Robert Harris's Fatherland. ChatGPT did this brilliantly, although this is a bit of an edge case. Given that ChatGPT is only trained on data up to September 2021, and press releases are mostly about new things, ChatGPT will often fail at this. However, it understands how to structure a press release well, so if you can provide enough information in the prompt, ChatGPT can write it up for you.
  • Novel writing. Singleton showed this as an example, but said he'd probably use ChatGPT more for idea generation. My own experiments (coming soon!) in writing fiction with ChatGPT suggest the results can be impressive for AI but nowhere near what a human writer achieves.

Singleton encourages content creators to approach ChatGPT with a positive and curious mindset and to start trying it to work out ways to improve their creativity and productivity. He said he was neither an advocate for ChatGPT nor an enthusiast, more of a realist. It was an inspiring talk with some great examples of how content creators could benefit from incorporating ChatGPT into their creative process, and it's given me some ideas for new experiments to try.

Thank you to the speakers for sharing their insights, and to everyone who helped make the London Book Fair a success.

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