The audio book market continues to expand. I’ve read recently that while print and ebook sales rose 5% in 2021, audio books rose 18%. No doubt most self published authors have at least considered offering an audio version of their work. I must confess that I’ve never researched how to go about doing so, or how much it costs to create an audiobook, even though Smashwords offers links to audiobook narrators. Until now. Why now? Now, because the price has fallen to the point where I feel that I can afford it. Which is to say, I can convert my books to audiobooks for free.
Create audiobook versions of your ebooks for free? There must be a catch, you say. And you would be right. Several of them.
The first catch is that you have to publish your books on the Google Play Store. And the second is that this is a limited time beta program. I’ve had my books in the Google ebook store for a number of years now, and I was sent an email announcing this program. I don’t know how widely available it is, or whether or not if you put your books into the Google store now, if you would be eligible to take advantage of this beta version offer. The email implies that the program might not be a free service once it is out of beta. Still, it might be worth looking into, if you are comfortable with the big catch.
The biggest catch is, as you might suspect for the price, that the narration is being done by our AI overlords, not humans. So the question is, is it good enough? And that is one question that I am not equipped to answer, since I’ve listened only to a few parts of audio books – they are not my thing – so I’m not the person to judge whether or not the quality is acceptable or not.
Google suggests that it would be fine for non-fiction books without a lot of illustrations. But is it good enough for fiction? I think it might be, but not for the $20-$30 cost of a professionally produced audiobook. But as a low cost alternative… They might be acceptable.
You have your choice of 22 English speaking voices – 7 different American female voices, 5 American male voices, 1 female and 2 male Australian voices, 2 female and 2 male British voices, and 2 female and 3 male Indian voices of different age groups. Which gives you a good variety of narrators, though, of course, none of them are likely to match the narrator or character in your head. But that might be said for human narrators as well.
Here is a link to sample the various voices for English, as well as Spanish: https://support.google.com/books/partner/table/10957334?p=narrator_library
From the sample that I have listened to, the AI voice is aware of the context of what it is reading. And while it will not match the narration of a good voice actor, it is far from the robotic voices of some years ago. I have been expecting this – AI generated audio books – to happen for some time, and I am sure the process will only get better over time. So while the voice sounds quite human, the biggest downside I see – or rather hear – is that the AI narrates the story in a single voice. I believe that good narrators will narrate characters in different voices, so that you have a better sense of who is saying what. Without that change in voice, it can be sometimes hard to follow who is speaking. Though that will depend, in part, on how you use dialog tags and your writing style.
But when you consider the current price – and the fact that you can download the files and sell them on platforms other than Google – as long as you continue to sell them on Google – it seems like a pretty good deal. A deal that I found that I could not pass up, if only to see what type of sales and feedback I get with them. They can always be unpublished, should I find a strong negative reaction to them. Still, the way I see it is that these would, at the very least, be a way of getting my foot into the audio book door. And, since I can publish them at the cost of my ebooks – which is to say, free – I believe that my customers will get their money’s worth, no matter what.
If you are curious to hear how they sound, you can download one of my free books to sample by going to the Google App Store Book, Audio Books and search for C. Litka.
This sounds intriguing. Like you, I’m not a user of audiobooks, but I’ve read that they’re “hot” right now. Publishing in that format sounds expensive, labour-intensive, and challenging, so I haven’t really thought about doing it. I’ve also wondered about artificial voices as audiobook narrators, given my experiences with Word’s robotic voices.
I may take a listen!
HI Audrey. I’ve updated the piece to include the Google page where you can sample the various AI voices reading a passage from Little House on the Prairie. You can get a good idea of how well, or not, the AI narrates a book. The straight narration is fine, the iffy part is how the AI deals with dialog, as it is all rendered in the same voice, the same way.
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I’ve thought about audiobooks but have never pulled the trigger, primarily because if I can’t find readers for my cheap ebooks and paperbacks, why would I htink I would find “listeners” for audiobooks. And the process of creating the recording sounds either daunting or expensive or both. So … again … why bother.
And no matter how good AI gets, I can’t imagine it being as good as qualified human narrators, with inflections of voice and emotion and different voices for different characters. Until AI can do that, I just don’t see the point.
But maybe I’m wrong, I’m not a fan of audiobooks as a means of consuming a story.
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I wonder if that problem would be helped by following the text while listening. The brain would supply expression.
Well, maybe not.
Thanks for the extra info!
I think that concerns about how appropriate AI generated audiobooks for fiction is justified. Google itself suggests that it is best for non-fiction, and not the best for dialog and emotions. That said, Google will automatically upgrade the narration as the technology improves, so that you might look at this as an investment in the future of audiobooks. Because I am not charging money for these audiobooks, I am willing to experiment with them, and perhaps get some feed back on how they work. I think my writing is pretty understated, so the lack of the AI to narrate with great emotion is not all that much of a drawback for me. The lack of different voices for different characters is the largest downside that I see for my work.
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