Tor Books Faces Backlash For Using AI Art

Tor Books’ latest incident with AI art adds to the debate about publishers using machines over human artists.

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Book cover for "Gothikana" by RuNyx against a black and white floral background.

AI has been a large source of controversy in the publishing world for years. The more advanced AI technology gets, the more outcry there is to eliminate it from publishing to keep artists and writers from losing their jobs.

Gothikana by RuNyx is at the center of the latest AI controversy after a TikTok user exposed the cover’s use of stock images. Here’s a quick rundown of the situation.

Tor Books Under Fire

Author RuNyx initially self-published Gothikana in June 2021, but the book gained popularity after being published by Bramble, a romance imprint of Tor Books, in January 2024. Bramble released a special hardcover edition of Gothikana with sprayed edges and a foil case stamp. 

Book cover for "Gothikana" by RuNyx.

Less than two weeks after Bramble released their special edition, BookTokker @emmaskies uploaded a video on February 9th pointing out two Adobe Stock Images had been used in Gothikana’s cover. Adobe has both images marked as images generated with AI, and the titles of both images include the words “Generative AI.”

@emmaskies Replying to @be_kindful That didn’t take long. This is beyond lazy. I still can’t believe anyone approved the use of these really poorly AI-generated assets. Here’s a thought, if you can’t find good stock images to fit the creative vision HIRE AN ARTIST TO MAKE THEM. 📚 #torbooks #brambleromance #gothikana #runyx #aiart #noaiart #bookcover #bookcovers #booktok #darkromance #emmaskiesreads ♬ original sound – emmaskies

As of this writing, @emmaskies’ TikTok has over 77,300 views and more than 10,000 likes. Neither RuNyx nor Tor Books has released a statement on @emmaskies’ video or Gothikana’s cover.

A Repeat Offender

This is not the first time Tor Books has been caught using AI. In November 2022, after the publisher unveiled the cover for Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini, X (at the time known as Twitter) users quickly discovered that the art used for the cover was AI-generated and originally uploaded to a stock art site. After many people reached out to Poalini and the publisher, Tor Books released a statement to X. 

In the statement, Tor Books admitted to using stock images but claimed, “We were not aware that the image may have been created by AI.” Citing “production constraints,” the publisher did not withdraw or altar Fractal Noise’s cover and published the novel with the initial design.

Modern Problems From Modern Solutions

Last year, readers and artists called out another publisher for using AI-generated art on their covers. In May 2023, the Internet found out that Bloomsbury’s U.K. paperback edition of Sarah J. Maas’s House of Earth and Blood used an AI-generated image of a wolf. In a later statement on the cover, Bloomsbury claimed it didn’t know the image on the U.K. cover was created by A.I.:

Book cover for U.K paperback edition of "House of Earth and Blood" by Sarah J. Maas.

Bloomsbury’s in-house design team created the UK paperback cover of House of Earth and Blood, and as part of this process we incorporated an image from a photo library that we were unaware was AI when we licensed it. The final cover was fully designed by our in-house team.

Like Tor Books, Bloomsbury admitted to using an image from a professional image source. Many publishers rely on stock image sites and photo libraries for images to incorporate into their covers, but these sites are now being flooded with AI-generated art. While some sites, like Getty Images, prohibit AI-made images, other companies, like Adobe, welcome AI-made images as long as they are properly marked as such.

As the influx of AI-generated art increases, more incidents like the backlash against Gothikana and House of Earth and Blood’s covers are bound to happen. Readers, writers, and artists have made it clear where they stand on publishers using machine-made art over human talent, but publishers have yet to make a clear stance on the issue.

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