Audiobooks narrated by a text-to-speech AI are now available via Apple’s Books. This is a move with potentially huge implications for the multi-billion-dollar audiobook industry. Apple has said that their the new “digital narration” feature on its website will help make the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all, by reducing the cost and complexity of producing them for authors and publishers.
This represents a potential paradigm shift from the current audiobook model, which often involves authors narrating their own books in a process that can take weeks and cost thousands for a publisher. Digital narration has the potential to allow smaller publishers and authors to put out an audiobook at a much lower cost.
For now, there are just four different narration voices to start with, two female and two male, which are called ‘Helen’, ‘Madison’, ‘Jackson’, and ‘Mitchell’. Each voice is optimized for specific genres. For example, Jackson is for fiction or romance and so would be a deep and somewhat husky voice. All of them are non-accented American-sounding voices, however, it is likely that Apple will expand the program in the longer-term to English or Australian, and even regional voices such as a New York accent. Other languages like Spanish, French, German, and are also likely on the way.
Only a fraction of books written so far have been converted to an audio version with millions of titles remaining ‘unheard’. This is mainly because of the cost and complicated production process mentioned above, making small and independent authors and publishers hesitant. As a result, Apple will start with those ‘unheard’ longtail books first. Besides, Apple is not only applying this new technology to the existing titles in its library, but it is also reported in The Guardian that in recent months it has been approaching independent publishers as potential partners for future publications.