Every Saturday, "Culture Weekly" brings you the latest on events and news from the international arts, publishing, and bookstore sectors. This week, the spotlight is on YouTube as Gen Z's primary book information channel, Hollywood screenwriters struggling financially after nearly 100 days of strike, and Google's global music preparations for AI song licensing.
1. YouTube and TikTok: Key Channels for Youth to Discover New Books
According to The Guardian, #BookTok content on TikTok, which promotes books and authors in video format, has boosted book sales, extending its impact offline. TikTok has partnered with online bookstore bookshop.org, driving more readers to purchase in physical stores, and simultaneously promoting growth in both online and offline book markets. Waterstones on London's Piccadilly is one beneficiary of this social media book recommendation trend.
At a BookTok event hosted by Waterstones in 2022, a sales assistant informed The Observer that young people's purchases of romance novels increased rapidly due to BookTok. Bestsellers included Madeline Miller's "Song of Achilles" and works by authors like Colleen Hoover. Most buyers were teenage girls, attesting to BookTok's significant influence. Waterstones even has a BookTok recommendation list, offering insights into trending titles.
A Nielsen report surveyed reading and buying habits of young Britons (ages 14-25). The findings showed that YouTube is the primary channel for young people to discover books online (34%), followed by TikTok users (32%), and Instagram (27%).
The report indicated that, although the UK book market saw a 4% decrease in sales in 2022, more young people were buying books than before. Purchases by 14-15-year-olds rose by 1%, fueling success in categories like romance, fantasy, YA fiction, and graphic novels.
The research suggested that the attractiveness of a book, daily reading habits, and limiting social media time all contributed to reading more. Fantasy action and adventure novels were the most popular among young people, followed by crime and thrillers. At least a quarter of respondents favored comedy, sci-fi, and works themed around relationships, mysteries, and classic tales.
46% believed that a book's description was crucial in purchasing decisions, while only 14% would buy based on awards. Authorship and cover design also played significant roles. Recommendations from media, bookstores, and influencers were most influential for female respondents aged 18-25, while others relied more on friends and family.
Rhea Kurien, editorial director at one of the UK's largest traditional publishers, Orion Fiction, views the rise of BookTok as a challenge, suggesting that sometimes industry shake-ups can be good, prompting reflection on reader demands and adaptation to new trends.
2. Nearly 100 Days of Strike: Hollywood Screenwriters Face Financial Woes
As reported by The Washington Post, Hollywood screenwriters are now facing financial hardships after nearly 100 days of striking.
Previously, the Writers Guild of America West engaged in six weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over screenwriter salaries and the use of AI. After talks failed, the Writers Guild declared a strike on May 2nd, largely comprised of Hollywood writers. The Actors Guild also went on strike by mid-July. This marks the first joint strike by both unions in decades, increasing pressure on production companies to negotiate. The Post reported that the strike has stalled Hollywood film production, typically ramped up in the fall.
Data reveals that over the past decade, wages for U.S. writers and screenwriters decreased by 4% overall, or 23% considering inflation. Both the Writers' and Actors' guilds argue that the rise of streaming platforms exacerbated inequities and exploitation. They no longer receive royalties, and to attract viewers, there's pressure to produce and release content quickly. They feel their efforts aren't adequately compensated. Additionally, the scope of AI technology became a key strike issue - the Writers' Guild contends that "writers should be humans", with AI serving as an auxiliary tool; the Actors' Guild opposes AI-generated characters replacing actors, questioning the rights of producers to train AI using actors' performances.
Hollywood screenwriters typically earn from writing movie scripts, selling movie ideas to film companies, writing books or other intellectual property, being hired to revise existing scripts, selling TV show concepts or pilot scripts to movie companies, participating in TV screenwriting, and royalties. TV screenwriter David Slack believes initial pay for writers needs a significant boost, advocating for additional pay for reruns on streaming platforms, and compensation reflecting different writers' value additions.
With nearly 11,000 members in the Writers' Guild, many hope for the strike's end, especially writers struggling early in their careers with months without selling new scripts.
After almost 100 days of the writers' strike, Gisselle Legere, a screenwriter for "Quantico" and "New Amsterdam", said her savings would last only three more months. "Even with tight budgeting and significant cutbacks, my emergency funds are depleting faster than anticipated." Many Hollywood writers share this sentiment.
Recognizing the financial strain on members, the Writers' Guild established a "strike fund" offering low or no-interest loans. Other members initiated mutual aid. Joelle Garfinkel, a screenwriter for "Ordinary Joe", launched the "Green Envelope" project, providing members with $100 grocery aid.
03 Google and Universal Music Are Licensing AI-Produced Music
Currently, Google and Universal Music are in negotiations regarding licensing for music generated by Artificial Intelligence, especially when it replicates artists' voices and melodies. They might introduce a tool that would allow fans to create AI-generated songs while paying royalties to the respective copyright holders. Artists would have the option to be a part of this process. The Financial Times reported that the discussions are still in the early stages, and there's no product launch plan yet.
Among fan communities, there's a growing trend of using AI programs to imitate artists' voices and rhythms, producing deepfakes of music which sounds like a different song sung by the artist, or entirely new music.
On TikTok, several videos featuring AI-produced songs have gone viral. Most of these videos were made without the original artist's permission. Earlier this year, a TikTok user uploaded a song generated by AI, which sounded eerily similar to the Canadian rappers Drake and The Weeknd. This song was eventually taken down from streaming services by Universal Music Group for "copyright infringement."
Following the incident with AI-generated Sun Yanzi's music, Interface Culture wrote an analysis piece on the issue. As AI composition emerges as a new market, music companies have mixed feelings about AI music copyright. In 2019, Universal Music Group signed a virtual rapper, FN meka, whose music - melody, rhythm, and lyrics - is entirely AI-produced. At his peak, FN meka had over 500,000 subscribers on Spotify and garnered over a billion views on TikTok.
The huge profits from AI composition come with the challenge of copyright infringement. The technology to mimic artists' voices is also seen as a growing threat, and record companies express concern for the rights of intellectual property holders. Robert Kyncl, CEO of Warner Music Group, said artists should retain control over AI-generated music because "nothing is more important than their voice; protecting their voice is protecting their livelihood and identity."
Electronic music artist Holly Herndon, in an interview, said: "We live in a punitive intellectual property environment that isn't conducive to the growth of the music sector. Weaker individuals constantly get plagiarized, those who could contribute to the industry can't make a living, and the most persuasive new ideas are often marginalized."
Holly believes that it should be artists, not record companies, who decide on the use of AI in music. That's why she chose to deepfake her voice for different songs, granting licenses to a closed network of collaborators and sharing revenues. In April of this year, pop musician Grimes announced that people could use her voice for AI composition and commercial purposes, but users need to split 50% of the master recording royalties with her.