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My Problem With Video "Meet The Kid Who Made $1M with ChatGPT"

I'm infuriated and here's why

By Jide OkonjoPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
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About 2 months ago, on 30th August, 2023 to be precise, a Youtube channel called 'Starter Story' uploaded a video called "Meet the Kid Who Made $1M with ChatGPT". Quickly, the video went on to garner hundreds of thousands of views, and of those many watchers, I happened to be one of them - and I have a problem with it. 

What's My Problem? 

Well, before I tell you what my problem is - let me show you some excerpts from the QnA the Youtuber did with the "kid". For context, the name of the "kid" in the video is Joe Popelas and in a nutshell, he is a 20 year old who used to work stocking shelves in university for $11/hr when he had the brilliant idea to start creating AI-generated books in a bid to make profit. If already, you just rolled your eyes, then strap in because this story gets more infuriating. 

Below are excerpts of the QnA between the interviewer and Joe Popelas. Read it, and then we'll talk. 

INTERVIEWER: Who you are and what did you build?

JOE: I'm Joe. I'm a 20 year old Computer Science student. I built a book brand that is now valued at $930,000. I generate all books with AI and then I market them on Pinterest to middle-aged moms. 

INTERVIEWER: How did you come up with this idea? 

JOE: In July of 2022, I met with the publishing company where I got the idea. They showed me their stats and how much they were making off of selling books. That was a complete eye-opener for me. I didn't realize how many people bought books. Per month, their revenue was about $2 million which is absolutely insane to me. I thought why can't I just start up something similar? Because what they were doing was so insanely simple. Like they were not doing anything AI book related and when I met with them, I told them nothing about my idea that I'd kinda formulated when were on the call. In the month of August, I generated 10, 20 books. I generated few more in September. By the end of September, I had generated 40 books with AI. Then on October 3rd, I hit my first profitable day and that was like $20, then on the 4th, it was like $40, and then from there, it almost grew exponentially. On December 28th, that was when I hit my first $1k day profit. 

INTERVIEWER: Your first AI e-book that you created, tell me about how you did it? 

JOE: I literally knew nothing about books. So I was researching how to actually build a book. I knew I could write it with AI, I knew the output would be good enough. But I had no knowledge of how to structure it, what should be included, all of that. When I created my first book, it was probably the worst book anybody could ever read. There was no congruency, nothing. As I actually started purchasing my competitors' books and reading through them, I knew exactly what I needed to include. Even though I wasn't super experienced with writing books, people still liked them. 

Okay, now let's talk. 

Note: I am writing this as a writer. I have been reading, writing, and querying books for YEARS and I have a deep passion and respect for writing as a craft and profession. The easiest way to articulate my thoughts will be to highlight problem quotes from Joe that riled me up and talk about why they deeply upset me. Here goes. 

Problem Quote 1:

"I met with the publishing company where I got the idea…I thought why can't I just start up something similar? Because what they were doing was so insanely simple"

If you have ever written a whole novel - hell, if you have written a sizeable essay for school - then you know firsthand that writing isn't "insanely simple". 

I have self-published a novel. The entire process - from getting the idea, writing the work, getting it proofread and edited, doing the packaging and cover art, doing marketing and publicity - took A LOT of work. It was far from "insanely simple". 

My best friend works as an editor in a big 5 publishing company. I see the amount of work that goes into acquiring, editing, designing, proofreading, printing, publishing, and marketing a book. It is NOT easy. 

So for this young man to look at the work being done at a publishing company and call it "insanely simple", it deeply infuriates me. Beyond Joe, writing being underappreciated and undervalued is something we writers know about all too well. With the rise of AI, it has become exceedingly worse. A craft that millions of people dedicate their time, blood, sweat and life into is now seen as "insanely simple" because of how easy it is for a computer to generate words. "Insanely simple". INFURIATING! 

Problem Quote 2: 

"I literally knew nothing about books. I knew I could write it with AI, I knew the output would be good enough."

"Good enough", the output would be "good enough" - this one really hit the perfectionist in me hard. Writers in the room, you know the amount of revision we do over and over again on sometimes A sentence to make sure the whole story shines. You know how much we put our work through the fire to make sure it shines. 

To think there's a 20 year old young man somewhere who doesn't care about any of that, who doesn't care about books, who knows nothing about books, just generating 20 books a month through AI and saying "well, looks good to me", slapping on a cover, and putting it up for sale. Does that not upset you? Because it really upsets me. 

Another thing I hate is how instead of Joe reading books to learn and develop an appreciation for the craft, he picked books up as nothing but a tool to see what his "competitors" were doing and what he should be doing. Books to him, and many like him, have become nothing but a tool to be looked at, flipped through to get the gist of what its structure looks like, and discarded so another person can generate a "good enough" replica. Is this what all our effort has become? All our words carefully thought out and put into the world now nothing but a resource to help better serve AI generations - is that all a writer's work is now? To Joe at least, it sounds like it is!

I know AI has its place in the world, I know it can be helpful. But with every Youtuber and Tiktok personality advertising it as this magical resource to use and flood the literary streets with "good enough" books for a buck, it has become really irritating to me. I hate what is becoming to OUR work. OUR livelihood. OUR thing! And I fear that a point may come, in the not-so-distant future, where just like CGI today, nobody would know the difference between what's real and what's AI-generated as far as stories go.

I fear that nobody would care.

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About the Creator

Jide Okonjo

I have ONE account and MANY interests. My page is a creative hodgepodge of:

🇳🇬 Nigerian news stories for my dedicated Nigerian readers.

🎥 Movie and music recommendations, listicles, and critiques

📀 Op-eds, editorial features, fiction

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  • Carol Townend3 months ago

    I agree Jo. My first short books were things I had previously written here and on another site where I write. They were only published as short E-books, but every single word in them is my own. However, I did use some ready-made covers because I haven't yet learned to create my own. Still, it took a lot of work to write those stories. A good book comes from your own mind and words; that is what makes writing unique. I have looked at AI but I would never use it in my writing. I'd rather use my own words.

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