Apple’s digital store offers audiobooks recorded by artificial narrators instead of people in booths. Audiobooks are listed in the Books app as “Narrated by Apple Books.”
Clicking on the information icon next to that line brings up a text box that explains the book is narrated by a “digital voice based on a human narrator.” There are several digital voices throughout the Apple Books library, with names like “Madison” or “Jackson”—but each book is offered with just one of them.
We listened to one hour of each of the two titles narrated digitally. Quiet voices are the clearest and softest, and they can be mistaken for a real human voice if you listen briefly. But we heard something wrong—for example, a strange pronunciation of the city “San Antonio.” And of course, a neutral and emotionless voice is no substitute for a human audiobook narration that can be a passionate performance.
Based on our research (you can type “narrative AI” in the Books search field to see a list), most of the books in question are from small publishers, such as little known or romantic.
According to The Guardian, Apple has been approaching independent publishers for the past several months and told them that they will pay the price of the digital recording but will pay for the sales to the author. Some publishers agreed, and others disagreed. But this is likely just the beginning of Apple’s efforts, and more may be added later. Apple may not be the only company to do so. Google and Amazon — the largest suppliers of ebooks and audiobooks — have talked publicly about this possibility in the past.
Audiobooks are a huge business; sales and popularity have increased in recent years. But while some independent publishers and self-published authors have grown, audiobooks are still a market for major publishers and, yes, technology platforms.
One aspect of this development is the availability of audio recordings for publications and authors who may not have had the budget for an audio version. However, like so many AI applications of late, this development raises questions about what will happen to the human storytellers working in the company — as well as concerns about who benefits the most. If AI becomes something that is widely accepted and enjoyed by readers, Apple and other tech companies may increase their investment in publishers and writers who want as many people as possible to see or hear their content. his work.
Listing photo by Samuel Axon