Authors and ALLi members have commented for some time on the fact that Amazon has not allowed artificial audiobook narration on its Audible platform. It always seemed obvious what the rationale for this was: at some point they would try to steer authors towards their own artificially generated narration. And now that seems to have been confirmed.
At first, this will be available to US authors through KDP on an invitation-only basis, but the plan is clearly to roll provision out more widely once the concept has been proven in use. Amazon is not, of course, the first platform to offer authors the chance to turn their ebooks to audio without engaging another human in the process. Google Play Books, for example, has an auto narration service for audiobooks which, like Amazon, it offers for free.
The rationale behind tools like this, if we listen to the platforms offering them, is simple. The overwhelming majority (96% is the figure given in the Publishers’ Weekly article on this initiative) of ebooks do not have an accompanying audiobook. Audiobooks are a massive growth market. Human narration is expensive. Put those factors together and the platforms are offering authors the chance to get in on the trend. And to exploit the rights in their intellectual property to the fullest.
Services like this, you will hear again and again when you ask, are not about replacing the work of human voice narrators (Amazon’s post about virtual voice makes it clear that this stands alongside ACX, which pairs authors and narrators). Instead they are focusing only on those books that would otherwise never have the chance to make it into audio.
I’ll end with two observations. First, it will of course be fascinating to see what the figures for these books are like – in particular how they compare to human-narrated books. And second, the two letters du jour, AI, have been missing from all the articles I’ve seen so far on this. How Amazon trained their narrators would be interesting to know. Especially as they require us as authors to declare when we have used AI tools to generate material.