Apple says it is committed to book narrators, expands AI reading anyway

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2023

Apple has detailed how its AI-powered digital narration for books will expand, but says it is "committed to celebrating" human-read audiobooks too.




In early January 2023, Apple Books very quietly release myriad audiobooks with full narration -- and not one single narrator. Instead of actors reading the books, the audio was created entirely through AI.

Now in a new support document intended to help authors use this new capability of Apple Books, Apple stresses that it's not intended to get rid of actors. Instead, it's in order to increase the number of audiobooks available.

"More and more book lovers are listening to audiobooks, yet only a fraction of books are converted to audio -- leaving millions of titles unheard," says Apple. "Many authors -- especially independent authors and those associated with small publishers -- aren't able to create audiobooks due to the cost and complexity of production."

"Apple Books digital narration makes the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all," it continues, "helping you meet the growing demand by making more books available for listeners to enjoy."

"Digitally narrated titles are a valuable complement to professionally narrated audiobooks, and will help bring audio to as many books and as many people as possible," notes Apple. "Apple Books remains committed to celebrating and showcasing the magic of human narration and will continue to grow the human-narrated audiobook catalog."

This is just the beginning



Apple's support document goes on to say that there are currently two AI-generated voices. An adult woman's voice is called Madison, while the adult man's is Jackson, and both are speaking US English.

They are both "created and optimized for specific genres," too, and initially that means that the effort is starting with fiction and romance. Via two specific publishing partners -- Draft2Digital and Ingram CoreSource, Apple is now accepting ebooks for the AI-read program in only these genres, but says this is just the beginning.

"Our nonfiction and self-development narration program is kicking off and will be available more widely in the future," it says.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    Besides author-read books by household name celebrities, I am 100% on board with AI Narration. I stopped listening to an author-read book from a writer clearly struggling with some sort of GI/throat/sinus issue AND stopped listening to a talent-read book that sounded like it was being read by a smarmy 1950's radio advertiser AND I stopped listening to a nonfiction book voiced by the writer's SON... who clearly fancied himself a capital-T thespian and overacted and over enunciated every word.

    Based on that experience, I'd imagine a general distaste for audiobook voicing quality is holding back the market.
    edited January 2023 jony0
  • Reply 2 of 11
    neoncatneoncat Posts: 152member
    The global audiobooks market size was valued at USD 4,219.0 million in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.4% from 2022 to 2030.

    There's nothing "holding back" the audiobook market, as these growth numbers far outstrip growth in traditional publishing and ebooks. I have nothing personally against Apple (or anyone) using AI-based narrators, but as is typical of Apple and its maudlin, truth-stretching, self-celebratory press release language, their motivations for pursuing AI-based readings is avoiding SAG-AFTRA union rates for narrators. It's expensive to commission a reading for a book where the author and/or publisher has chosen not to pursue an audiobook as a first-party effort, and Apple's share of the ebook and audiobook markets is miniscule and falling (I work in book publishing). It's a purely practical/financial move for them to sidestep the traditional process in order to offer a "competitive" catalog against much, much larger competitors (e.g. Audible).
    edited January 2023 elijahgFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 3 of 11
    danoxdanox Posts: 2,949member
    Besides author-read books by household name celebrities, I am 100% on board with AI Narration. I stopped listening to an author-read book from a writer clearly struggling with some sort of GI/throat/sinus issue AND stopped listening to a talent-read book that sounded like it was being read by a smarmy 1950's radio advertiser AND I stopped listening to a nonfiction book voiced by the writer's SON... who clearly fancied himself a capital-T thespian and overacted and over enunciated every word.

    Based on that experience, I'd imagine a general distaste for audiobook voicing quality is holding back the market.
    Baloney……
    elijahg
  • Reply 4 of 11
    entropysentropys Posts: 4,191member
    Neoncat, interesting info I long suspected was true. After the court case it was like Apple dropped investment in ebooks for quite a while. It is only with iOS16 there has been any significant update to the Books app. I find I have shifted to more and more to kindle ebooks over the years.

    In the world of both ebooks and audiobooks I can see Apple struggling, particularly audiobooks with most of those being Audible titles in Books with very high price tags. 

    Amazon, which happens to own Audible, is in total control.  I suspect Audible has bought up the rights to most existing audiobooks from publishers. It also offers via kindle an Audible top up to the kindle ebook for many titles, for around $2-$4 that can be listened to via either the Kindle App or the Audible App. And a subscription service. Interestingly, for audiobooks I prefer the kindle book with audio top up in Kindle App as it is usually the cheapest option, and easy to swap between reading and listening. And the combined package is still usually cheaper than the audiobook alone via Apple Books.

    How can Apple compete with that or muscle in when no doubt Audible has most rights? While I agree it isn’t good for narrators, the  use of AI might be a solution to reintroduce competition in the audiobook market (even the ebook market), and could even increase revenue for authors, and seems to be targeting them with this AI technology.  Supply and demand and their relationship to price and all that.
    edited January 2023 elijahgFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 5 of 11
    danoxdanox Posts: 2,949member

    neoncat said:
    The global audiobooks market size was valued at USD 4,219.0 million in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.4% from 2022 to 2030.

    There's nothing "holding back" the audiobook market, as these growth numbers far outstrip growth in traditional publishing and ebooks. I have nothing personally against Apple (or anyone) using AI-based narrators, but as is typical of Apple and its maudlin, truth-stretching, self-celebratory press release language, their motivations for pursuing AI-based readings is avoiding SAG-AFTRA union rates for narrators. It's expensive to commission a reading for a book where the author and/or publisher has chosen not to pursue an audiobook as a first-party effort, and Apple's share of the ebook and audiobook markets is miniscule and falling (I work in book publishing). It's a purely practical/financial move for them to sidestep the traditional process in order to offer a "competitive" catalog against much, much larger competitors (e.g. Audible).
     
    It’s inevitable that most of the audible books will be read by a machine, and in a similar fashion most people working at home will eventually be replaced by cheaper workers from overseas using zoom tech to save money. (careful what you wish for).

    The only audible book I have is the (‘the Killing Star”), I find them to be duds (I have sampled a few), however many people like them a lot or they wouldn’t be selling. Reading a book and imagining it in your mind’s eye is more enjoyable for me. Which is why I keep all of the old traditional paper books I have, and buy a few digital non-audible books from time to time.
  • Reply 6 of 11
    Reminds me of these stupid bots narrating Youtube videos. Garbage.
  • Reply 7 of 11
    A surpringly emotive topic? As someone who does a bit of radio and podcasting, I’ve looked into the business of audiobook narration. I can see two sides to this. 

    One one hand, Apple is right about the scale of a real problem. Millions of books don’t have audio versions. Making even a basic acceptable one by hand is time consuming, costing hundreds of dollars at minimum wage. You want better than minimum wage talent? Of course you do, so that would cost more. Would that cost ever be recouped by most authors or publishers? Sadly not. Publishing is a risky enough business anyway, scarcely able to reward most authors for the time and effort it takes to write good books - adding extra costs for accessibility simply won’t always happen. 

    So there’s the potential to solve a real problem by lowering the cost of audiobook production. 

    Have you heard how good AI voices can be now? If you’re thinking Siri is state of the art, you’re way off. What we commonly hear from our phones is at least two generations behind the best available. Neural processing has vastly improved the modelling and training of decent voices. Try them for yourself at sites like play.ht - you can walk through the options from cheaper to more premium, and then imagine what’s being worked on that isn’t yet accessible with a public API. 

    I haven’t heard Apple’s genre-optimised voices, so can’t compare, but I wouldn’t complain about anything generated by these voices if it were the only audiobook available: https://play.ht/ultra-realistic-voices/

    Here’s a business plan worth thinking about: at published rates, it would cost less than $600 a year to use those voices to generate audiobooks - less than the human cost of one or two at best. How about making dozens or hundreds with AI instead? They’re cheap enough to make it viable to have an audio version of every book, even if it only sells one copy. 

    That’s the up side. The down side includes less work for narrators - except that there’ll always be demand for premium versions, and there’s no reason not to make more than one for a book that sells. 

    The real down side might be our underlying anxiety about AI starting to do things we thought could only ever be done by humans. That’s a challenge to our senses of security and identity, and having the prospect over the horizon of bots writing and delivering half-decent creative content in overwhelming quantity sounds dystopian for sure.

    But that’s where we are. If we don’t want the tech to develop, we should stop buying and using it. This seems like the wrong forum to suggest that!
    FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 8 of 11
    I wouldn't mind if they added this to Apple News.  Let the AI read ANY article I am looking at and knowing how to skip the (in article) headline callouts. 
  • Reply 9 of 11
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 1,031member
    Audio books need to be more available. But quality is a must for a subset of books. 

    Now, for me, the Harry Potter books should be the “English” versions, not the American version.  Stephen Fry, not Jim Dale. There should be no American version. 
  • Reply 10 of 11
    neoncat said:
    The global audiobooks market size was valued at USD 4,219.0 million in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.4% from 2022 to 2030.

    There's nothing "holding back" the audiobook market, as these growth numbers far outstrip growth in traditional publishing and ebooks. I have nothing personally against Apple (or anyone) using AI-based narrators, but as is typical of Apple and its maudlin, truth-stretching, self-celebratory press release language, their motivations for pursuing AI-based readings is avoiding SAG-AFTRA union rates for narrators. It's expensive to commission a reading for a book where the author and/or publisher has chosen not to pursue an audiobook as a first-party effort, and Apple's share of the ebook and audiobook markets is miniscule and falling (I work in book publishing). It's a purely practical/financial move for them to sidestep the traditional process in order to offer a "competitive" catalog against much, much larger competitors (e.g. Audible).
    So choice is good unless it’s a choice you disagree with?
  • Reply 11 of 11
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,367member
    dutchlord said:
    Reminds me of these stupid bots narrating Youtube videos. Garbage.
    Those are extremely annoying. I was a long time audible.com user, but got really tired of listening to terrible narrators and dumped it. The quality is terribly uneven, even among the same series narrated by the same author. 

    I'd see a book of possible interest and look for a review of the narrator and seeing things he or she would get a try. And I'd be disappointed. So I'm back to actually reading books. That means I don't have the convenience of "reading" a book while driving, or cleaning around the house, or while out on walks. It's just not work the constant disappointment of somebody saying the narrator is great only to ponder WTF was somebody thinking.

    I highly doubt AI will give me a pleasant "reading" experience. The best I'd expect is more consistency of a mediocre experience. Maybe it'll turn out to actually be good.
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