Dutch ‘Amazon’ Bol.com ‘flooded with AI-generated books’

Dutch ‘Amazon’ Bol.com ‘flooded with AI-generated books’

At least ten books a day appear on Bol.com, courtesy of AI

by Suswati Basu
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Bol.com, one of the Netherlands’ leading online marketplaces, is currently inundated with a vast array of books created with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI), reveals recent research conducted by BNR.

From comprehensive Bangkok travel guides to specialised sugar-free diet cookbooks, Bol.com’s digital shelves are teeming with AI-generated literary offerings. These titles, available in both digital and hard copy formats, are priced from a few euros to over twenty euros per book.

The proliferation of AI-generated books on Bol.com

The presence of AI-authored books was first brought to public attention when The New York Times discovered similar offerings on the American online retail giant, Amazon, just last month. BNR’s investigation revealed that Bol.com, too, is grappling with a deluge of automatically generated publications.

Read: Rory Cellan-Jones calls Amazon AI-generated bio ‘utter tosh’

Employing detection tool Originality.ai, they were able to assess the likelihood that a text was AI-created for their research. Randomly selected passages from several books were subjected to scrutiny, resulting in the identification of dozens of titles unequivocally authored by AI, predominantly in English, but occasionally in Dutch as well.

This discovery appears to be merely the tip of the iceberg. Authors of AI-generated titles often possess a portfolio of similar books to their name. The total count of AI books on Bol.com likely reaches into the hundreds, with the company itself claiming to lack insights into the precise quantity. The oldest AI-generated titles identified by BNR date back to October of the previous year.

Authors and AI: from Auke de Haan to anonymous creators

Surprisingly, the majority of these books make no mention of AI involvement in their creation. Many authors opt to publish under pseudonyms, making them difficult to trace, and contact information is frequently absent. A few, however, publish under their real names.

Read: Amazon’s AI-written mushroom foraging books could be ‘life or death’

One notable case is Auke de Haan, a 25-year-old author from Friesland, who has released nearly 300 titles. Initially, he penned his books manually but switched to using ChatGPT to increase his output. De Haan remarks, “If I need a story, I just ask ChatGPT. I specify the word count and writing style.”

However, De Haan is a rarity in that he reviews his texts for accuracy before publication. Some authors on Bol.com take a different approach, rushing to produce books within minutes, such as cookbooks by individuals with no culinary expertise, all in the pursuit of quick profits.

The quality of most AI-generated books is notably subpar, featuring grainy cover images, sparse illustrations, and large fonts to pad page counts, even incorrect grammar and errant capitalisation. The content within also varies from basic to bizarre, with one Amsterdam travel guide claiming that residents must demonstrate their ability to escape from a sinking car to obtain a driver’s license.

The debate over quality, legality, and future implications

Experts are raising concerns about the business model adopted by AI authors. Tech lawyer Menno Weij highlights potential legal risks, including copyright infringement. He told BNR that ChatGPT can produce erroneous information, stating, “Language models can hallucinate. If not reviewed, this poses problems for both authors and platforms like Bol.com.”

In the US, the influx of AI-generated titles has sparked a conflict between the Authors Guild and Amazon. To address authors’ concerns, Amazon recently implemented new rules that require publishers to disclose whether their books were created with AI.

As of this writing, Bol.com has not implemented any measures against AI-generated books. However, the company responded, acknowledging that it is navigating a nascent social issue and is actively monitoring developments. Bol.com is also in discussions with other stakeholders in the book industry, including publishers and the Royal Booksellers’ Union (Koninklijke Boekverkopersbond), to determine its future approach.

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