With the notable exception of celebrity autobiographies, nobody has ever welcomed the words “read by the author” when browsing for audiobooks.
Writers — myself included — usually don’t have the gravitas required to read our own words out loud brilliantly, but that doesn’t stop the more egotistical or impoverished of us from trying. Hiring a trained actor is expensive, after all, which is why Apple has another suggestion: enlist its AI.
Apple paints this as a way of giving millions of unloved books the audiobook treatment, especially those from small publishers put off by the cost and complexity of making a recording.
Others will point out that this is just another way AI is taking jobs — in this case that of the narrator. One salary is gone, while Apple gets a healthy cut of sales.
Whichever argument you side with, the results are pretty impressive sounding. You can hear them on Apple’s site, where Madison — a female soprano voice — and Jackson — a male baritone — will read an extract of romance fiction for your enjoyment/nausea. You can also listen to Helena and Mitchell — female and male voices designed for the non-fiction and self-improvement genres.
Said topic is important, as Apple says its voices are “created and optimised for specific genres.” As such, the company is currently only accepting ebook submissions for romance and fiction, but Helena and Mitchell will get their time in the sun “in the future”.
Not everyone is impressed. “The narrator brings a whole new range of art in creating audiobook, and we believe that’s a powerful thing,” David Caron, a co-producer at a Canadian audiobook publisher, told The Guardian, which broke the story ahead of Apple’s press release.
“They’re creating something that is different from the print book, but that adds value as an art form. When you have really great writing and really talented narration, you’re coming up with something special. That’s worth investing in.”
Apple didn’t get rich by listening to smaller rivals with shallower pockets moaning to newspapers, of course, so don’t expect a change of course here.
You can sign up to give your book (romance and fiction only for now) the AI narrator treatment right now, with full instructions on the Apple site. As long as your book is available on Apple Books, written in English and you own the rights, you’re eligible to apply.
But as with regular publishers, you sending an email isn’t the same thing as being published.
“Nominations will be evaluated based on several criteria, including file quality, content compatibility (no complex formatting elements, and limited foreign language words and phrases), and editorial review,” Apple cautions. The whole process will take one to two months, at the time of writing, and you can’t make your AI-narrated masterpiece available for pre-order.