January 28, 2023

AI Narrator: will Apple put human narrators out of business?

Apple's AI narrator is here. And it's scary good.

Besides coming up with images with freaky arms and writing poems about the struggles of the 21st century, AI will soon soothe you to sleep.

Because in this January, Apple quietly launched its audiobook AI narration service.

(Still very, very limited, covering only a few titles. Might it be because the AI part of it isn’t very good, so some kids in Bangladesh are polishing it to sound more human?)

Yes, for years, Amazon and Google have been offering text-to-speech for publishers to create audiobooks. But they haven’t been any good.

But we listened to Apple’s one. And It’s very good

In fact, it’s so good it has gotten professional narrators worried.

Although the Guardian writes it misses the human touch and nuance, we disagree with it.

It’s already better than some human narrators.

And yeah, it lacks the theatrical performance of human narration. A person (or should we say droid) isn’t on a stage and putting on a performance inside your ear.

It just reads out the text. But in a very consumable way. Sort of like eastern European without any accent.

It’s excellent; information gets passed, but there just isn’t that much emotion.

Although this “performance” might matter for some people listening to fiction books (probably doesn’t matter for a lot, only for emotional types), it doesn’t matter at all for non-fiction books like business books, biographies, or self-help.

Why is Apple doing it?

Audiobooks are booming. Sales last year jumped 25%, bringing in more than $1.5bn. Industry insiders believe the global market could be worth more than $35bn by 2030.

And although people listen to books more and more, only a fraction are converted into audio. Because it’s very expensive.

Translation: Money is left on the table. Someone outta grab it. (Enter Tim the Apple)

So at first, it will help Indie authors and small publishers.

“Look, I’m not a fan of A.I. voices,” said Edoardo Ballerini, a legendary narrator titled the voice of god.

“But there is a reasonable argument that it can serve a purpose, with backlist titles and nonfiction that nobody was going to put into audio anyway. Here is a tool that can make it accessible for people.”

Here you go, even (the voice of) god himself sees value in it.

But at one point, it will be so good it’ll replace most human narrators.

Some of them, who have their own fans, personality, and style, will still get gigs.  

Because humans will only narrate the books where *them* narrating them is a unique selling proposition.

For example, a book by Stephen King narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. Or the bible by the voice of god.

Or maybe the tech will be used to aid the authors in narrating it themselves.

Because a lot of listeners prefer that option. But it’s a gruesome and time-consuming job.

Every other narrator, who was just a tool for a job, will be sent for retirement in Thailand.

Or their voice will be rented, and they’ll be used to re-record some parts that need some human touch.

But what’s Apple’s long-term vision for it?

Well, the rumors say they are trying to take on Amazon’s Kindle Publishing.They even have a direct comparison page on their website. So they want to be a 10x better option.

But it seems it’s the general, “don’t provide just hardware, provide the content as well” plan.

Get people into your ecosystem, lock them in, collect data, sell ads, make products, sell more products. Get richer.

And let’s not forget Apple is about to launch its ad network (that’s why they made Facebook ad tracking much harder on IOS devices also)

As they launched their homepod recently, are they gonna play ads for Apple music/books users?

Will books not narrated by Apple’s AI be banned from the bookstore?

Only time will give an answer to these questions.

Vixus is a mediatech content hub covering stories from generative AI to VR and beyond.

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