He may not always be the most popular person in the room, but publishing industry titans and start-ups are increasingly listening to what Nadim Sadek has to say.
A former psychologist and marketing executive, the Irish-Egyptian tech entrepreneur aims to upend traditional book marketing through artificial intelligence.
It’s an approach distilled in his new book Shimmer, Don't Shake: How Publishing Can Embrace AI, which looks at the ways AI can rejuvenate the promotion of books in a saturated market.
That call for evolution was met with an initial uncertainty from some major international publishers, according to Sadek.
Speaking to The National at the recently completed Frankfurt International Book Fair, he says the industry is still coming to terms with what AI has to offer.
"At first people were trying to figure out whether I am a friend or foe," he says.
"But during my conversations with authors and publishers, they begin to understand that AI is ultimately a friend because it can really bring their beautiful creations to the light."
Released last week, the book comes on the back of the launch of Sadek’s company Shimmr AI, which harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to create targeted marketing campaigns for books.
The process begins with the chosen title analysed for what Sadek describes as its “book DNA” – including its genre, plot lines, themes, characters and key words – before its targeted online promotion through social media networks, web advertisements and associated keyword searches.
Working on a monthly subscription model that’s $75 per title, the service is exclusive to English books and aimed at a specific geographic market.
“The way that AI works here is the more specific information you give it the better it can help you,” Sadek says.
“So, if you are writing a book about football, for example, it is best to target the UK market and not the US, where the sport is generally known as soccer.”
Sadek lays down some of these granular tips as well as some macro predictions for the industry in Shimmer Don’t Shake.
One of the biggest shake-ups, he expects, is that AI will “breathe new life” into back titles – meaning older books still in print.
For an industry prizing new works, Sadek says back titles are often forgotten in marketing plans, much to the frustration of authors and readers.
“Publishers have to keep improving their profitability and the best way to do that is to monetise your unused assets, which are often the back lists," he says.
"So what's needed is to breathe new life into them by advertising them again with AI.”
The advent of such technology, Sadek adds, will be a game changer for fledgling publishers lacking the financial resources and star authors.
"It’s not the blockbuster authors like the John Grishams I am interested in, but it is the Peter Grishams who can benefit from AI,” he says.
"All the big publishing companies dedicate a small proportion to their advertising budgets and what they do is basically work on their front list, meaning the 10 or new titles a year.
“If these books sell well, it pays for the rest of the other books in the catalogue,” he says.
“But if you are an author it can be frustrating to see that after the launch of your book, six months later it's sitting there on the backlist and you are just hoping for somebody to find it.
“Online recommendation systems at the moment are fairly primitive when it comes to books. They don’t use artificial intelligence to the extent we see in music or movie sites, like the recommendation lists you see in Spotify and Netflix that are so useful and which we take for granted.”
While making financial sense for companies and investors, does AI pose a bigger risk for present and potential employees in an already low-paying industry?
With the Hollywood film and television industry recently emerging from a contentious strike partly due to the encroaching role of AI, does Sadek fear a similar reaction from the book industry?
It is a question tackled in Shimmer Don’t Shake where Sadek lists and partially assuages some of the potential concerns.
When it comes to algorithms replacing human literary tasks such as editing, Sadek predicts that “AI systems will learn to be nuanced and subtle and to work out far more than simple book structure, instead increasingly understanding the human values that editors currently identify and prioritise”.
As for general job losses across the industry, the book states that “workforce disruption” is likely, stating hat it follows a “pattern as a consequence of every technological innovation over time”
Whether friend or foe, Sadek’s timely message is worth hearing.