AI is transforming the audiobook industry, with its ability to create human-sounding recordings quickly and without the need for human professionals. This has caused a sharp drop in business for many voice actors, as AI is able to do the same job faster and more efficiently. As AI continues to develop, it is likely that more and more jobs in the audiobook industry will be replaced by AI, leading to further disruption in the industry. Tanya Eby, a professional voice actor, and narrator for 20 years, has seen her workload fall by half in the past six months. Many of her colleagues report similar declines, leading her to believe that AI is having an effect on the industry. AI-assisted recordings are not labeled as such, but professionals estimate that thousands of audiobooks currently in circulation use “voices” generated from a databank. This has caused a decrease in demand for professional voice actors, leading to a reduction of work for many in the industry.
Practices in an Ethical Way
DeepZen, a small London-based company, is revolutionizing the audiobook production industry with its cutting-edge rates. By drawing from a database of voices recorded in a variety of emotional registers, DeepZen is able to reduce the cost of producing an audiobook to one-fourth, or less, that of a traditional project. The company pays royalties to the actors whose voices are used and is committed to ethical practices. Unfortunately, not all companies are as ethical, with some using voices found in databases without paying for them. DeepZen is leading the way in ethical audiobook production, offering a cost-effective solution for those looking to create an audiobook.
Speechki, a Texas-based start-up, is one of the audiobook companies that has denied using unethical practices. CEO Dima Abramov has stated that they only use their own recordings and voices from existing databanks after a contract has been signed covering usage rights. This ensures that all usage rights are respected and that the company complies with all applicable laws. Speechki is committed to providing quality audiobooks that are produced ethically and with respect for the rights of the authors and performers.
The Future of Shared Existence
The five largest US publishing houses did not respond to requests for comment on the use of AI in creating texts, images, videos, and voices from existing content. However, professionals contacted by AFP said several traditional publishers are already using generative AI. Amazon subsidiary Audible is a giant in the American audiobook sector and has stated that professional narration will remain core to the Audible listening experience. However, they also see a future in which human performances and text-to-speech generated content can coexist. US technology giants are all pursuing the business of digitally narrated audiobooks, as AI technology continues to develop.
Available to everyone
Apple and Google are making it easier for independent authors and small publishers to create audiobooks with AI-narrated and auto-narration services. This will open the door for old books that have never been recorded and future books that may not be recorded due to the costs of human-based recording. Voice actors will also benefit from the growing market, as they will have more opportunities to make money and recordings. Overall, this move will democratize the publishing industry and make audiobooks more accessible to all.
The Professional Audiobook Narrators Association (PANA) co-founder Emily Ellet believes that storytelling should remain a human endeavor, and not be given to machines. She believes that AI-generated recordings lack emotional connectivity when compared to human recordings, and fears that people will grow accustomed to the machine-generated version. Ellet wishes that companies would be honest about when listeners are listening to an AI-generated piece and that storytelling should remain a human endeavor. PANA is dedicated to preserving the art of storytelling, and ensuring that it remains a human endeavor.
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