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Steven Bartlett’s AI plan will ruin publishing

Steven Bartlett: publishing's new big player. Credit: Getty

June 30, 2024 - 1:00pm

While the world frets about the demise of the internet at the hands of generative AI, another timeless source has emerged in the world of letters: the ego of LinkedIn’s writer in residence Steven Bartlett.

Following the success of his memoir cum self-help book, Diary of a CEO, the Dragons’ Den investor has announced his own publishing imprint. Flight Books will empower “extraordinary voices on a global scale”, with a development strategy that is “AI-powered, data-first, growth-focused”, focusing on “cutting-edge social media marketing, data science and testing capability”.

All this is a rather roundabout way of saying that the iniative will aim to preserve for posterity the vagaries of global social media virality in the written word. Its first title was announced with Russ “Hardest Geezer” Cook, whose account of his long-distance run across Africa will be out this October. Successful YouTuber Codie Sanchez, who has built a following encouraging people to buy vending machines and invest in real estate, will release Main Street Millionaire: How to Make Extraordinary Wealth Buying Ordinary Businesses in time for Christmas.

The mediocre poetry of Bartlett’s own background is hard to ignore when it comes to predicting the outcome of this later venture. A combination of effective marketing and little substance has already got him in trouble with his own origin story. As reported in the Times, questions have been raised over the role Bartlett played in the claimed $600 million valuation of the company he founded.

“Social Chain LTD” had in fact merged with established and publicly traded companies, with Bartlett leaving before the nine-figure valuation. The new group took the name of Bartlett’s smaller company because “being associated with tech and social media was cooler and it was hoped it would boost the value”. A former employee has suggested that much of his wealth comes from e-commerce sales of mattresses.

The world of letters may be less forgiving to a mirage that lends itself well to a platform like LinkedIn, where Bartlett has successfully straddled the anodyne insights and inspirational cliches that are palatable for the corporate managerial class. In publishing, picking winners is notoriously difficult. The industry is already haunted by efforts to use social media as a leverage, where big marketing campaigns and celebrity names have flopped in the past. Publishing’s investment model is similar to venture capital and tech, with the big four publishing houses using once-in-a-generation hits to fund a wide field in search of the next unicorn. 

Judging from Bartlett’s latest venture, he seems to think he can fast track this process using “AI and data”. But what’s at stake is not just a piece of the intellectual bubble that is the self-help industry, but also the ability of Bartlett’s mediocre universe to conquer the written word. Perhaps his greatest achievement is dominating the podcast charts as one of the most platitudinous bores on the internet. Should Flight Books be a financial success, expect the further dumbing down of the publishing world. Collapse, on the other hand, will herald some much-needed soul searching with regards not just to the entire self-help publishing industry, but the cult of Bartlett himself.

Fred Skulthorp is a writer living in England. His Substack is Bad Apocalypse 


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Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
21 days ago

“…the anodyne insights and inspirational cliches that are palatable for the corporate managerial class.”

Whilst it’s well understood what the author means by this, in fact the sphere in which these types of tropes hold sway extends much, much further; into the realms of so-called serious “news” media, academic circles and above all, social media platforms.
We’re in danger of being bored to death, or at least into acquiescence. As this article alludes, whether the breaking of new ground in art and literature can be captured via AI with the type of project Bartlett hopes will do just that is based on a misunderstanding of what it takes – in entirely human and experiential terms – to break the mould.
If we humans ever stop breaking the mould we won’t survive. It could be argued that Bartlett thinks he’s doing that. We shall see.

Ted French
Ted French
21 days ago

Codie Sanchez, not Jodie