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Apple Books Embraces the Digital Age with Artificial Intelligence in 2023

The Future of Writing – How Digital Voices are Changing the Role of the Author

Artificial Intelligence

The chat

Apple has joined the Artificial Intelligence (AI) hustle – with their Books app.

It appears that the final few weeks of 2022 were dominated by AI, and in particular, ChatGPT.

Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a language model that will process language, and generate text as sentences, and paragraphs. Being based on Generative Pretrained Transformer 3.5, makes it one of the largest and most advanced language AI conversion models out there. And what it is capable of delivering, is quite remarkable.

It generates human-like text responses to your prompts. The uses are clearly widespread, and is more than able to, create chatbots, generate responses to questions, or even create personalised content for your social media sites.

MKBHD, the YouTube channel, dedicated an entire video to its use within the content creator space looking at AI Art, Lens, and, of course, ChatGPT.

Whether we like it or not, I do think this is the dawn of AI, and we are about to find out where its boundaries currently sit.

The human touch

Through the last few decades, we have seen the jobs, once the sole domain of humans, dwindling. Careers that were once ‘for life’, are now being routinely carried out by AI.

I’m guilty of it myself. I am a reasonable audio-engineer. Many times I have had to sort poor audio for podcasts. It could often take me hours, and I was able to charge accordingly. EQ’ing, noise reduction, removing reverb, all parts of what I did. Then came along Descript.

Descript has been my secret weapon for a few years now. I simply drop the audio into Descript, wait a few minutes, and it delivers me back a lossless wav file, compressed, and set to the correct loudness standards. If I am being harsh on myself…it actually does a better job than me.

But that is only part of the service that it offers. It will create a flawless script, and if you spend the time, it will even learn your voice too. That way, you can overdub mistakes, and the AI version of your voice, will be dropped in to clean up errors. The digital you, in voice form at least, will never need to age.

The rise of Fiverr has been the demise of many smaller creators, and graphic artists, who simply cannot be expected to compete with the prices on offer there.

Artificial Intelligence has made its way in to many walks of my life – Photoshop, Illustrator, and Audition, for instance, apps that I use every day are now littered with AI assistance.

It has simplified, and eased my day as well. Tasks that would once have taken me hours, are often now slashed to mere moments – and all thanks to Artificial Intelligence.

Another one bites the dust

Voice-over talents, you know, the voices you hear on TV and radio ads, I’d always thought had been a safe domain for us humans, but it seems even that safe-zone is now in doubt.

I actually know someone, who has just spent thousands training as a voice talent – to narrate books. That is why today’s development hit just that little harder than it may otherwise have done.

I have only ever been paid every now-and-again to voice the odd trailer or advert, but for her, this was to become a full-time career. Her first book was published late last year, but that future now seems less certain.

Text to Speech

In a move that is likely to rock the audiobook industry, to its index page, Apple has announced that audiobooks, narrated by text-to-speech AI are now available via Apple’s Books service.

This seemingly obvious transition to Artificial Intelligence, could potentially have massive implications for the multi-billion dollar book industry.

If you check Apple’s website, you’ll read that they describe this AI advance as ‘digital narration’.

Apple states that “the creation of audiobooks is now more accessible to all, by reducing the cost and complexity of producing them for authors and publishers”.

This is a pretty seismic shift in this industry. Until now, authors often narrated their own books in a process that can take weeks and cost thousands for a publisher.

Digital narration has the potential to allow smaller publishers and authors to put out an audiobook at a much lower cost. The cost of entry has just been slashed, and placed just about within anyone’s grasp.

That must be good news…right?

Restricted access

If you open your Apple Books app, and search for AI narration, you’ll notice that the books on offer, are, well, quite restricted. Not only are the categories very specific, but so too, the names of the ‘narrators’ as well.

Apple says the feature is initially only available for romance and fiction books. It lists only two available digital voices – a male & female – Madison and Jackson by name. Another male & female voice, Helena and Mitchell, are soon to be added to the roster, to voice nonfiction books.

Currently, the service is only available in English, and Apple is oddly specific about the genres of books its digital narrators can tackle.

“Primary category must be romance or fiction (literary, historical, and women’s fiction are eligible; mysteries and thrillers, and science fiction and fantasy are not currently supported.”

When you click on a book with a digitally narrated voice, you’ll be greeted with a message, telling youthis is an Apple Books audiobook narrated by a digital voice based on a human narrator. Listings include a combination of free and paid audiobooks, and the artificial voices.

Just the start

Clearly, this is just the very start for Apple, and their Artificial Intelligence voices. Two now, soon to be four, and then more and more categories.

And, if you were wondering why the category list is so restricted, the answer is simple…emotion!

While the digitally created voices can do the job of ‘reading’ words, at present, they lack the ability to have emotion, reaction, and intonation. Listening to a digitally created voice is odd, but kind of what you’d expect. The voices are perfectly clear, and present, but lack warmth, and tactility. There is a mechanical edge to the voice, both male & female.

A little late

I have the British broadsheet, The Guardian, to thank for the seeds to this story. They wrote that Apple had intended to cash in on the Artificial Intelligence tidal-wave before Christmas, but changed their mind once Twitter was stealing every, available tech headline.

Apple has already been approaching independent publishers about narrating their books, with the Cupertino company bearing the costs, while paying out royalties to authors. Apple’s website emphasises that publishers & authors, alike, retain all normal audiobook rights, and are welcome to publish in more traditional formats – with a human VO talent.

The thing is, reading between the lines, they seem rather invested, don’t they?

Wrapping up

Apple has taken a very different approach, to that, say, of Amazon.

The rules on the Audible site explicitly state that submitted audiobooks “must be narrated by a human.” One Artificial Intelligence narrated book did slip through the Amazon net, but was just as swiftly removed from their service.

If you recall, Kindle used to offer an Artificial Intelligence version, but it was discontinued after copyright concerns were raised.

Audiobooks are big business, make no mistake of that. Spotify has been investing heavily in making audiobooks the third pillar of their streaming service, to augment music and podcasts.

Apple and Spotify remain at odds about their respective stances on the future of audiobooks – both digital, and human. Spotify has not been backward in coming forward, over Apple’s in-app payments, claiming they are anticompetitive, and chocking the competition.

And to finish, a little confession about the title, and subtitle to this blog – they were generated by ChatGPT, with just a wee prompt from me is all that was required!

At this rate, I will soon be out of work too!

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