Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot happening with the evolution of AI technology. From the recent launch of ChatGPT, to podcast media kit generators and fully-fictional podcast conversations, podcasting hasn’t shied away from AI either.
Apple has been working with artificial intelligence for a while, and now they’ve just announced they’re stepping things up by introducing digital narration to the Apple Books platform.
Of course, audiobooks and podcasting aren’t the same thing. But this sort of technology can and will have an impact on podcasters.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Apple Doing?
According to their press release, Apple is using its “advanced speech synthesis” to:
…make the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all, helping you meet the growing demand by making more books available for listeners to enjoy.
In other words, they’re making the costly (but important) process of converting books into audiobooks easier for authors — especially independent authors.
One thing to note about this service is that Apple are being selective about the categories they’re rolling it out to. The terms state that:
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). [emphasis added]
This is likely because it’s easier for their AI to learn pronunciation, cadence, and tone from literary, historical, and women’s fiction. There’s a lot more common language within those categories (unlike sci-fi and fantasy, where there’s a lot of fictionalized words and even languages).
But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
What is AI Narration?
Simply put, AI narration is the practice of using artificial intelligence technology to auto-generate natural-sounding audio from written text.
Using advanced machine learning, AI narration technology takes into account pronunciation, dialect, and punctuation. It can also read the words in the right tone, with the correct emphasis. That’s why Apple is being selective about the types of books eligible at launch.
This isn’t the first AI narration technology we’ve seen. Back in November, Podcast.ai made waves by creating a fake podcast conversation between Joe Rogan and Steve Jobs. While the content was rough around the edges, it was very convincing at points.
Descript’s “overdub” feature also uses AI to learn and adapt to your own voice. That way, you can insert audio pickups and corrections without actually having to record. Just type the words you want to add, and Descript handles the rest.
How Does This Affect Audio Content at Large?
Don’t worry. I’m not one of those people screaming that AI is coming for your job.
The truth is that AI narration is actually good for the podcasting industry. Creating audio content, especially in the publishing space, can be costly. The level of time, effort and resources needed to create an audiobook (from hiring talent to editing, formatting, and releasing) can be tough. That’s especially true if folks don’t have a background in VO or podcasting.
Apple is doing something great here. With AI Narration, any author can have access to an audio version of their book; that’s a perfect application of the technology. We should expect to see more of that sort of enabling in the audio-content space.
Another way authors and podcasters could use AI narration to their advantage would be translating their work into other languages. Translation is a costly process. Making it more accessible to independent authors would increase accessibility and improve visibility for independent creators.
But like the Rogan/Jobs interview, AI cannot fully replace conversational audio or acting… at least not today.
Some of the best audiobooks are in the Star Wars extended universe. These are more like audio dramas, with sound effects, multiple voice actors, and a cadence that plays out much differently than just reading the words.
That’s what makes these audiobooks so popular, and AI is still a long way off from that.
What This Means for the Future of Podcasting
As far as the future of podcasting is concerned, AI does have a role to play. But don’t expect it to replace hosts any time soon. An important aspect of most content is the human element. Reacting to guest interviews, thinking on the fly, and, you know, actual emotions.
In other words, podcasting is about more than just information consumption.
That said, AI narration does have some use in podcasting. As I mentioned earlier, it could help you translate your podcast into multiple languages. If you thought transcripts were expensive, imagine hiring talent to recreate your show!
Something a little less daunting, but still time-consuming, is podcast content repurposing. Using AI narration technology, you could repurpose written content like newsletters and blog posts into podcast content. This makes your written content more accessible and allows you to resurface good writing without much effort.
Ultimately AI, like any technology, can be abused or leveraged. As podcasters — especially indie podcasters — we can leverage AI to reach new audiences, make our podcasts more accessible, and create better content.
What Our Readers Think About Apple to Offer AI Narration for Books
As an author, I appreciate you saying this will make audiobooks more accessible to me but sorry, that’s cold. It’s not cheap to hire a narrator but a considerable number of people earn a living off the industry. When I had my last book narrated, I hired one of the many stage and screen actors keeping their head above water during the pandemic. AI is unstoppable, just like self-checkout registers so I won’t scream into the wind trying to stop it, but I won’t discount people’s lives by agreeing it’s a good thing.