Apple’s digital storefronts have introduced audiobooks narrated by artificial voices rather than human narrators in a recording studio. These audiobooks are now featured in the Books app under the label “Narrated by Apple Books.”
By clicking on the information icon beside this label, users can access a text box that clarifies the audiobook is narrated by “a digital voice modeled on a human narrator.” In the Apple Books library, there are several digital voices with names like “Madison” or “Jackson.” However, each audiobook is associated with only one of these voices.
We recently sampled two digitally narrated titles, each for an hour. The voices exhibited calm and mostly neutral tones, sometimes closely resembling genuine human narration with a brief listen. However, we did encounter occasional anomalies, such as unusual pronunciations, like “San Antonio.” Clearly, these emotionless digital voices do not replicate the passionate performances often associated with human audiobook narration.
Our investigation, involving searches using the term “AI narration” in the Books search field, revealed that many of the affected publications are primarily low-volume books from smaller publishers, including lesser-known genres and romance novels.
According to reports from The Guardian, Apple has reached out to independent book publishers in recent months, offering to cover the costs of digital recordings while still paying authors royalties from sales. Some publishers have agreed to this arrangement, while others have not. However, this initiative is likely just the beginning of Apple’s efforts, and other companies, including Google and Amazon, major players in the ebook and audiobook market, have previously expressed interest in similar ventures.
Audiobooks have become a thriving industry, experiencing a surge in sales and popularity in recent years. However, the audiobook market has predominantly been dominated by major publishers and tech platforms, with some independent publishers and self-published authors finding success.
One potential benefit of this development is the increased availability of audiobooks for publications and authors who may not have had the budget for audio versions previously. Nevertheless, like many recent AI applications, this development raises questions about the impact on human narrators working in the industry, as well as concerns about who stands to gain the most. If AI narrators gain widespread acceptance and popularity among readers, it could potentially give companies like Apple and other tech giants more influence over publishers and authors seeking wider visibility for their work.