“Synthetic Voices Want To Take Over Audiobooks” by Tom Simonite

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“Synthetic Voices Want To Take Over Audiobooks” by Tom Simonite

Tom Simonite writes the following for WIRED:

Synthetic voices have become less creaky in recent years, thanks in part to artificial intelligence research by companies such as Google and Amazon, which compete to offer virtual assistants and cloud services with softer artificial tones. . These advances have also been used to create “deepfakes” impersonating reality. Speechki is one of many startups developing text-to-speech for audiobooks. It analyzes the text with in-house software to indicate how to inflect different words, expresses it with technology adapted from cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, and employs proof auditors that check for errors. Google is testing its own “automatic narration” service that publishers can use to generate English audiobooks for free, using more than 20 different synthetic voices. Audiobooks released through the program include an academic history of theater and a novelist’s exploration of cultural attitudes toward sex. …

Some publishers see synthetic voices as a way to tap into the growing demand for audiobooks, a healthier segment than other sectors of the book industry. Total revenue for book publishers in the United States fell slightly between 2015 and 2020, and e-book revenue fell, but audiobook revenue jumped 157%, according to the Association of American Publishers. Consumers are growing more comfortable with the format, helped by technical improvements in mobile apps, smart speakers and wireless headphones. But due to the cost of a narrator and audio production, most titles never become audiobooks, especially among smaller publishers. …

[S]The tartups say they are not a threat to professional storytellers because their technology will be used to create audiobooks that would otherwise not be recorded. “Human storytelling and synthetic storytelling can thrive side by side, there’s a lot of work to do,” says Bill Wolfsthal, a book industry veteran who helps Speechki grow his business.

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