AI is bringing revolutionary changes to publishing

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A staff member of a publisher communicates with a Russian business guest at the 30th Beijing International Book Fair in Beijing, capital of China, June 19, 2024. (Xinhua/Luo Xiaoguang)

As digital technology, especially artificial intelligence, quickly advances, it poses great challenges to the worldwide publishing industry while providing new methods, tools and paths for its development.

At the 2024 Beijing International Book Fair last month, domestic and foreign publishers gathered to share their experiences and ideas at the fair's 2024 International Publishing Industry Forum themed "Digital Intelligence Empowers Education Publishing and International Cooperation".

Since 2016, the forum, jointly organized by the Publisher Association of China, the International Publishers Association and China Publishing Group, has held eight editions during the Beijing International Book Fair and the London Book Fair, attracting more than 1,000 publishing professionals from more than 40 countries and regions.

The theme of this year's forum is highly enlightening for the development of our publishing industry as it stands at a critical crossroads, particularly evident in China, says Huang Zhijian, chairman of China Publishing Group.

People's reading and consumption habits, book distribution channels and marketing methods, as well as the industry's competitive landscape and growth drivers, have all undergone significant changes, he says.

"Digital intelligence technology has become an unavoidable choice," Huang says.

"Of course, many issues remain unclear and need further observation. Whether we embrace or wrestle with digital intelligence, what we change, what we let go of and what we gain are all questions we must consider and plan for," he says.

It has been proven that each scientific and technological progress brings about revolutionary changes in the patterns of cultural development and modes of dissemination, which means "the publishing industry will have a bright future as long as we keep pace with the times", says Wu Shulin, chairman of the Publishers Association of China.

"High-quality content and advanced dissemination technologies are two important levers for promoting the prosperity of international publishing," Wu says.

For Liu Chao, president of one of the leading education publishers, Higher Education Press, the current generation of technologies, represented by generative AI, deeply impacts the education and publishing industries.

"Overall, we believe that AI technology presents more opportunities than challenges for education, but for the traditional content industry of publishing, it poses more challenges than opportunities," he says.

To confront such situations, HEP began cooperating with digital and AI research institutions in 2023, applying intelligent proofreading to the whole editing process, Liu says.

"This year, there will be many textbooks empowered by AI," he says.

As a significant part of the industry, educational publishing plays a crucial role in society, especially in addressing major challenges people face globally, says Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association.

At the policy level, access must be enhanced to open educational resources and address issues related to copyright protection for these resources to give wider access to more teachers, Pansa says.

However, people also need to reflect on digitalization and artificial intelligence, especially regarding copyright protection, she says.

Some reports show that many unauthorized books are used to train generative AI without paying the copyright owners, which should not be the basis of advancement. It is not sustainable for the market, she says.

Catriona Stevenson, general counsel and deputy CEO of the Publishers Association, shares the same vision, saying that AI presents a tremendous opportunity for the industry, but it can also be a threat.

Headquartered in London, the Publishers Association represents more than 170 British enterprises of various sizes and areas, including consumption, higher education and continuing education.

With innovation and development, Britain's publishing industry contributes 11 billion pounds ($14 billion) to the general economy. The export value of the British publishing industry reached 6.5 billion pounds, surpassing all other countries in this respect. China is the third-largest export country of British books, with the export value reaching 37 million pounds.

Britain's publishing industry creates more than 84,000 jobs and hundreds of thousands of writers and researchers, providing source materials for film, TV series, theaters and video games. The success of British publishing industry is thanks to its robust copyright regime, Stevenson says.

When it comes to the application of AI in academic research, Stevenson used global academic publisher Elsevier's Scopus AI as an example.

Scopus AI is an intuitive search tool powered by generative AI, which helps researchers and institutions quickly access accurate summaries and research insights, fostering collaboration and societal impacts.

Developed and tested in the research community, Scopus AI combines the world's largest scientific literature database with AI, encompassing core content from over 7,000 publishers and more than 27,000 academic journals, with citations exceeding 1.8 billion.

"There are huge opportunities in our industry for applications like this," she says, adding that "it also presents a threat".

For large language models like ChatGPT that are trained on huge quantities of content to create humanlike texts, hundreds of thousands of book copyrights are within the training data, she says, which poses significant and related threats to human creativity and intellectual property.

Facing these threats, "we strongly reject the false dichotomy between a robust IP regime and AI innovation", she says.

If built on high-quality, accurate and appropriately licensed information, AI can enhance human understanding, creativity and productivity. It is less likely to produce inaccuracies and biases common in models with opaque data and processes. This is especially true in higher education publishing, she says.

"We call for governments to ensure four things," she says.

First, rights holders must have the option to prevent their work from being used by AI; second, they need transparency about what content is used for AI training, both past and future; third, adherence to copyright laws and transparency should be integral from the beginning; and finally, if rights holders license their work to AI developers, they must receive appropriate remuneration and attribution, she says.

"International cooperation will certainly be fundamental to how we respond to the opportunities and threats brought about by AI for the benefit of higher educational publishers," she says.

Analyzing trends in the publishing industry, Wang Fang, president of Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, says publishers are increasingly engaging with readers who have grown up in the internet age.

Printed books are no longer the sole reading tool. Digital resources are becoming more prominent, personalized, ecological, intelligent and integrated.

However, Niels Peter Thomas, managing director of Books, Springer Nature, says although publishing is going digital, printed books sometimes do help students study more efficiently. As a result, it is necessary to combine digital with print so students can choose, he says, which is one trend he observed in educational publishing.

Other trends in educational publishing, he says, include more personalized content to reflect the complex reality with trans-disciplinary publications and building a network of knowledge by connecting educational resources and backgrounds, theories and case studies, disciplinary solutions and localized applications.

Publishing more than 1,000 books each year, Springer Nature, one of the world's largest publisher of academic books, has cooperated with nearly 100 Chinese publishers.

To create top educational publications for students of different countries, publishers need to fully understand the local markets and borrow technology and experience from mature markets, which means cooperating with publishers worldwide, Thomas says.

Wang, from the top Chinese educational publisher with more than 700 international partners, stresses that "international cooperation is more important now than ever before. No single publisher can meet all the demands and personalized requirements on their own".

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