Digital audiobooks read by robots rather than people in a sound studio are now available in Apple’s online bookstores. Books app users will see “Narrated by Apple Books” next to the audiobooks they have purchased.
When you click the question mark icon next to that sentence, a window will pop up explaining that the book is read by “a computer voice based on a human narrator.” There are many different digital voices available in the Apple Books catalogue (each with a unique name, such “Madison” or “Jackson”), but only one is provided for each individual book.
We gave two audiobooks with computerised narration one hour each. Listening carefully, one can mistake the soothing tones for actual human voices due to their clarity and general kindness. However, there were several oddities that we picked up on, such as an unusual way of pronouncing the city of San Antonio. Furthermore, it is clear that the soulless voices cannot match the impassioned performances that can be found in human audiobook narration.
Our research indicates that the majority of the publications at issue are published in small quantities by independent publishers and fall into niche categories or romance novels.
The Guardian reports that over the last several months, Apple has gone out to small book publishers and offered to fund the creation of digital recordings of books in exchange for royalties. However, not all publishing houses were on board. However, this is likely only the beginning of Apple’s endeavour, with more to come. It’s also likely that Apple won’t be the only corporation to do this. Both Google and Amazon, two of the largest sellers of digital books and audiobooks, have discussed this prospect in the past.
Sales of, and interest in, audiobooks have increased dramatically in recent years, making this a very lucrative industry. While there have been successful examples of independent publishing and self-publishing, the audiobook business has traditionally been dominated by large publishing houses and, yes, technology platforms.
The availability of audiobooks is a positive side effect of this trend, especially for smaller magazines and independent writers who may not have otherwise been able to afford them. Concerns have been raised concerning the future of human narrators in the industry and about the distribution of rewards, as is the case with many recent AI applications. The power that Apple and other tech corporations already have over publishers and writers who want as many people as possible to read or listen to their work might grow if AI narrators become a standard feature for readers.
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