If you’re an audiobook listener, you’ve probably heard or seen comments that suggest that listening to an audiobook is “cheating,“ that it’s not really reading a book. But you know that this is false. When you listen to an audiobook, you listen to a performance of a book, which is as much “the book” as when you view the words. In the voice of a skillful narrator, an audiobook becomes an immersive experience, and can unfold elements of a text that you might not appreciate on paper.
We have reached a fork in the road for audiobooks. While they have never been more popular, as people listen to a wide variety of audio content on the go and at the gym, it is now possible to use synthesized voices to make spoken-word versions of any kind of text that sound sort of real. These voices are much better than the text-to-speech voices you can already access on your computer.
Apple is already offering an AI audiobook option for self-published authors who sell on their Books platform, and it won’t be long before Amazon-owned Audible follows. We will soon have two tiers of audiobooks: those read by experienced narrators, able to tease out the subtleties and nuances of texts, and those read by mechanical voices, that may sound somewhat real, but that lack humanity. Is using AI to narrate audiobooks a form of cheating?
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