For the past few years, audio books have been gaining momentum, both with readers and with companies such as Amazon, Spotify, and Apple, which have multiplied their investments in this sector that will weigh more than 35 billion dollars by 2030, and the sales of which increased by 25% in 2022, exceeding 1.5 billion dollars.
Synthetic voices join Apple’s audiobook department
Apple has started the year by incorporating a new feature in its audiobook section, books read by a synthesised voice. A selection of free and paid books narrated by digital voices is now available on the American platform. This is an opportunity for the brand to stand out in a sector that has been taken by storm by audio giants such as Spotify or Audible (the audiobook leader owned by Amazon). For several months, Apple has contacted publishers and writers to offer this new reading mode to their books.
Even though many of them are still dubious about the result, some have chosen to try the synthetic voice experience. On its website, Apple explains this new turn and assures that this AI technology will expand access to audiobooks in the world by accelerating their production. Publishers and authors retain the rights to the audiobook even when using Apple’s AI technology, which combines text-to-speech technology with the expertise of teams of linguists, specialists and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from a text file. Apple added that authors and publishers can still choose to offer books read by human voices if they wish it. For now, this technology is only available in the United States.
Although most authors and listeners prefer to have audio books read by human voice, to ensure the best intonation and voice inflection, their production sometimes requires weeks of work and the cost of voice talents represents a budget of several thousand dollars. Therefore, synthetic voices appear to be an optimal solution to cut costs and production time. Apple’s objective to deploy AI for audiobook could result in a significant change in the way industry players operate in the future.
An innovation that may be controversial
The development of Apple‘s digital voice narration promises to rekindle tensions with its competitors, notably Spotify, which had launched a website in 2022 entitled It’s Time to play Fair to denounce Apple’s uncompetitive practices. Indeed, the Apple brand requires that certain apps pay a 30% fee for the use of their in-app purchase system. What Spotify denounces is that these rules are not applied to all companies, such as Uber, Deliveroo or Apple Music for example, and that this system gives Apple the advantage, favors its own services and makes access to other competing apps more difficult. Apple has argued back by saying that Spotify‘s audiobook offers violate online shopping rules and the way it communicates with consumers.
According to an Audible study conducted by OpinionWay in 2022, 60% of French people think that audiobooks make it easier to discover literary works and 48% declared it’s a format that helps restore a taste for reading. It will be interesting to see how listeners react to audiobooks narrated by digital voices once this new feature reaches France.