NYU professor early contender for ‘dumbest’ tweet of 2024 with take on free books

Yann LeCun, a “silver professor” of data science, computer science, neural science, and electrical engineering at New York University, opened himself up for a lot of criticism with his take on selling books.

Citing an Authors Guild survey, Publisher’s Weekly reported that the median gross pre-tax income from writing a book is pretty dismal.

“The survey, which drew responses from 5,699 published authors, found that in 2022, their median gross pre-tax income from their books was $2,000, the outlet said. “When combined with other writing-related income, the total annual median income was $5,000.”

Readers were further informed that the top 10% of established authors who participated in the survey had a median book income of $275,000 in 2022, while the bottom 50% had a median book income of $1,300.

This prompted LeCun, a French computer scientist who’s known as one of the “Godfathers of AI” and is currently Vice-President and Chief AI Scientist at Meta, to propose that “most books” should be available for free — for the good of society, of course.

“Only a small number of book authors make significant money from book sales. This seems to suggest that most books should be freely available for download. The lost revenue for authors would be small, and the benefits to society large by comparison,” he tweeted.

Given the early feedback, LeCun would scramble to better explain himself.

“A lot of misunderstanding in the comments. I’m certainly not suggesting there should be a rule forcing authors to release their books for free or anything,” he said in a follow-up. “I’m just making the point that many authors who are more motivated by intellectual impact than by a thousand bucks of income should probably just make their book available for free download. This does not preclude publishing a paper version. A number of folks in the academic world do this.”

A possible caveat for distinguishing that “most books” be freely available could be that our hero has a book currently for sale. As a social media users stated, “Walk the talk — why don’t you start with your books?”

Here’s a quick sampling of other responses to the story, as seen on X:

Tom Tillison


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