Last month I posted about Google’s offer to convert the ebooks published in their Play Store into audiobooks for free. Unlike most audio books that use human narrators, these books would be generated using Google’s AI technology to convert the text into the spoken word. Google suggested that it would best for non-fiction books, but I decided to convert my fiction books anyway, since I don’t think my style of writing demands a lot of dramatic reading. And it was likely the only way I could enter the popular audiobook market. It has now been a month; so how has this experiment fared?
I offer my ebook catalog of 11 titles for free, and since Google was offering to create my audiobooks for free, I was happy to offer my audiobooks for free as well. In May 2022, the first month of their availability, with 11 titles available, I sold 434 audiobooks, in addition to 293 ebooks.
Ebooks first. My peak sales of ebooks to date on Google was 836 copies in October 2021 and they have been declining since then – 643, 633, 459, 409, 303, 390, so that May’s 293 sales total is more or less in line with that gradual decline. The audiobooks didn’t seem to have affected ebook sales one way or another.
As for audiobooks, well, with 434 books sold in one month with no advertising – I only posted their availability on my seldom visited blog two weeks ago – I have to believe that I’ve tapped into a whole new market. Only one audiobook has a rating, and though it is a 5 star rating, the jury is still out on how the AI generated narration fares with audiobook listeners. However, from my own listening, I am optimistic that they are good enough now, and will only get better as time goes on, since Google said that they will update the files automatically as their technology improves.
My standard is “Good Enough,” which is to say that all things considered, something is indeed good enough, even if it may be a couple percentage points short of perfection. If you hold yourself to a higher standard, then perhaps Google’s AI generated audiobooks may not be up to your standard. That said, I have listened to samples of audiobooks with a voice actor who uses different voices for different characters, and found it annoying. It seems that my golden standard for audiobooks is my dad reading bedtime stories to us as kids. I do know that the AI does a better job of reading books than I did with my own kids. So I think my audiobooks are good enough.
To take advantage of this technology, you have to offer your ebooks on the Google Play Store, though of course, you can charge money for them, and for the audiobooks as well, if that is your policy. Selling books for free is a magnitude or two easier than selling them for money, so your results will vary.
Thanks for the info, Chuck. My books aren’t in the Google Play Store, so testing this would mean getting at least one of them up there. But it is intriguing.
Google is different in that you have to upload your own EPUB version and a JPEG cover, and it can sometimes be fussy. I’ve had no problems using Calibre and version 3 of EPUB (ver. 2 is the default) .But it might be worth the trouble, though I have no explanation for how anyone finds self-published books on Google. But they do.
I could talk about my experiences editing the audio files, if there is any interest. Some of my stories threw a lot of made-up names and words at the AI. For the most part it handled them well, but for others it did not produce the sound I was expecting. There are, however, easy ways to correct that. It just took me a couple of days to find them…
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I did wonder how you would edit the files when the voice isn’t human. How do you do retakes?
Interesting. I’ve not considered audiobooks for my books, but if I ever offer anything on the Google Play store, I may try it.
Editing this type of audiobook is very easy. Once you upload the ebook version, you can, with some clicking around, reach the audiobook text. You can then listen to the AI read it, or simply right click on any word to either hear how the AI pronounces it. Your other option is to edit how it is pronounced to change its pronunciation. If you click on edit, you get section alongside the text where you can either say the word you clicked on the way you want it pronounced, or, as I did, change the spelling of the word (in the edit section) until it is pronounced like you want. You then apply this pronunciation to all the appearances of that word in the text. For example, I spelled my space sailors “spaceer”, the extra “e” more or less a visual flourish. However the AI pronounced it “space-e-er” which was easily fixed by changing the spelling in the editing section to “spacer.” For some reason the AI opted to just spell “kaf” as “k-a-f”, but changing the spelling in edit to “caf” solved the problem. On the other hand, “Cin” a person’s name. was pronounced as intended, as “Sin.” Regular words were pronounced without problem, except the “English” voice I chose pronounced them like the English would.