Just as I prepared to write my blog post, Amazon dropped a bombshell on the author world. It’s “beta testing” the creation and sale of computer-narrated audiobooks on Audible.
Why is it a bombshell? Audible is one of the world’s biggest audiobook platforms. Up until now, it’s insisted that only human-narrated audiobooks can be sold there.
This meant that if authors and publishers want to sell audiobooks in this big marketplace, they had to hire narrators or, as many authors have done, narrate the books themselves.
Producing an audiobook can be very expensive.
Professional narrators charge hundreds of dollars per finished hour of an audiobook. Those fees are justified because narrating a book is hard work. I know, because I’m in the process of recording my own audiobooks. Professionals, working at maximum efficiency, can take two to five hours of work to create each completed hour of an audiobook. Those still learning their craft might take much longer. I’ve been at it for months.
And narrating is physically and mentally exhausting. It’s not the kind of thing you can do for many hours at a time. Breaks are necessary because the human voice needs rest, and your mind also needs time off from concentrating on interpreting the text with the right inflections and emotions. Plus, of course, the inevitable bloopers that make multiple “takes” and editing necessary.
Narrators earn every cent of their fee. They deserve to be paid for their hard work. But this means many authors have not been able to get their books in audio.
But, out of the blue, the announcement came. Amazon is seriously considering this system where an audiobook can be created at no cost to authors, within 72 hours.
Amazon didn’t just change the goalposts. They swapped out the entire playing field and gave every player their own ball.
If this moves beyond the beta stage and Amazon rolls it out to everyone, the immediate “losers” appear to be narrators whose livelihood depends on producing audiobooks for sale. Authors on a tight budget might now decide not to use human narrators at all.
The “winners” might be authors who could not afford to get their books into audio. And, since it appears AI-narrated audiobooks might be a lot cheaper than human-narrated ones, readers might count themselves as “winners,” too.
But is it that simple? Will readers embrace AI audio?
A few months ago, there was a lot of talk among author circles of an AI audiobook narration tool. Curious about how good it was, I decided to test it. I uploaded a dialogue-heavy excerpt of one of my books. It included the hero and heroine having an emotionally charged argument, where their relationship was at stake. The results were shockingly good. I couldn’t tell it wasn’t a human narrator. It was, quite frankly, scary.
Granted, the excerpt I used didn’t include unusual place names or names of people, or any unusual phrasing. I imagine that AI might struggle with things like that.
Are we, is humanity, is art, losing something when we depend on artificial intelligence to create for us? Or is it no different from when a machine washes our laundry or our dishes instead of us having to do it by hand?
Beyond the question of quality and philosophical concerns, there are also issues with intellectual property. These AI narrators didn’t spring out of pure binary code. They’re based on human voices. Are the original voice actors aware that their voices are being used in this way? Did they give consent, knowing that, down the road, they might impact their own ability to find work because they sound exactly like the “AI”?
I’m not sure how I feel about all of this, and writing this post is part of my way of processing my thoughts.
Artificial intelligence is already rocking the creative world with tools that create incredibly good visual artwork and others that “write” portions of text. Delving into all that would make this post far too long, and I’m not sure I can intelligently lay out the issues involved.
So, I’ll stick to the audiobook question. Would you buy an AI-narrated Christian romance audiobook? Why or why not?