Apple’s latest catalog of books uses artificial intelligence as a narrator instead of a human voice. This is the first time the Cupertino giant has used AI for audiobook narration.
The move could have a wide-reaching effect in the audiobook space and mark the beginning of the end of human narrators.
Audiobooks narrated by a digital voice
You can find AI-narrated audiobooks by searching for “AI narration” in the Books app of your iPhone or iPad. Apple describes them as being “narrated by digital voice based on a human narrator.” The company further talks about this initiative on a new page on the Apple Books for Authors website.
The company says its digital narration “brings together advanced speech synthesis technology with important work by teams of linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from an ebook file.”
For now, Apple has specifically optimized digital voices for fiction and romance genres. It will also make nonfiction and self-development narration programs available widely in the future.
The Guardian reports Apple reached out to multiple publishers in recent months about this project. The company told them that it would bear the production cost, with writers receiving royalties on sales. To keep its identity a secret, Apple contacted the authors through one of its shadow companies.
Apple initially planned to launch the AI-narrated audiobooks in mid-November. But, it delayed the release due to the Twitter-Elon Musk saga and Meta laying off nearly 10,000 workers.
Human-narrated audiobooks are here to stay
With the help of AI, publishers can reduce the time and expenses involved in creating an audiobook. They won’t have to pay thousands of dollars to a voice actor (or the author) and spend weeks on the recording. However, AI-generated voice does not sound natural. It also misses out on the human touch, which a voice actor brings to the table.
David Caron, one of the co-producers at Canada’s largest audiobook publisher, believes human narration adds value to an audiobook as an art form. “The narrator brings a whole new range of art in creating audiobook, and we believe that’s a powerful thing. They’re creating something that is different from the print book, but that adds value as an art form.”
Caron says an excellent narration can help turn the audiobook into something special that consumers could find worth investing in.
For now, it does not look like Apple is looking to replace AI narration with the human voice. It says that digitally narrated titles will help expand the reach of audio to more books. However, the company “remains committed to celebrating and showcasing the magic of human narration,” and the human-narrated Apple Books audiobook catalog will keep growing further.