I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything

24 June 2016

From The Washington Post:

I have a habit that horrifies most people. I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fit into an hour. An entire season of “Game of Thrones” goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.

I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient. Between trendy Web shows, auteur cable series, and BBC imports, there’s more to watch than ever before. Some TV execs worry that the industry is outpacing its audience. A record-setting 412 scripted series ran in 2015, nearly double the number in 2009.

. . . .

This is where the trick of playing videos at 1.5x to 2x comes in — the latest twist in the millennia-old tradition of technology changing storytelling. The concept should be familiar to many. For years, podcast and audiobook players have provided speedup options, and research shows that most people prefer listening to accelerated speech.

In recent years, software has made it much easier to perform the same operation on videos. This was impossible for home viewers in the age of VHS. But computers can now easily speed up any video you throw at them. You can play DVDs and iTunes purchases at whatever tempo you like. YouTube allows you select a speedup factor on its player. And a Google engineer has written a popular Chrome extension that accelerates most other Web videos, including on Netflix, Vimeo and Amazon Prime.

Over 100,000 people have downloaded that plug-in, and the reviews are ecstatic. “Oh my God! I regret all the wasted time I’ve lived before finding this gem!!” one user wrote.

. . . .

But speeding up video is more than an efficiency hack. I quickly discovered that acceleration makes viewing more pleasurable. “Modern Family” played at twice the speed is far funnier — the jokes come faster and they seem to hit harder. I get less frustrated at shows that want to waste my time with filler plots or gratuitous violence. The faster pace makes it easier to appreciate the flow of the plot and the structure of the scenes.

. . . .

In a way, what’s happening to video recalls what happened to literature when we stopped reading aloud, together, and started reading silently, alone. Beginning in the Middle Ages, people no longer had to gather in groups to hear tales or learn the news or study religion. They could be alone with a text and their own thoughts, an unprecedented freedom that led to political and religious turmoil and forever changed intellectual life.

. . . .

For a very long time, life was limited by the rate at which we spoke. Although we have had writing systems for millennia, early texts were designed to be read aloud, meaning that literature unfolded at the pace of human speech.

Many ancient Greek and Roman documents, for instance, lacked punctuation, spaces or lowercase letters, making it challenging for people to understand them without sounding out the words syllable by syllable. “A written text was essentially a transcription which, like modern musical notation, became an intelligible message only when it was performed orally to others or to oneself,” historian Paul Saenger writes.

There are physical limits to how quickly we can form sounds, as anyone who has attempted a tongue-twister can attest. Mouths need time to move into position for the next vowel or consonant. A good estimate for the natural rate of speech in English is 200 to 300 syllables per minute, which translates into 150 to 200 words per minute.

. . . .

According to Audible, the audiobook company, the typical book recording is performed at 155 wpm. A 1990 study found that radio broadcasts run at 160 wpm on average, while everyday conversations, which use shorter words, occur at about 210 wpm.

. . . .

For much of human history, this was the sound barrier for communicating ideas.

It’s not that silent reading was impossible in antiquity. It was just very difficult. There exist tales of scholars who seemed to absorb books silently; in the fourth century, Saint Augustine told of an odd monk who read without forming the words with his mouth. “When he read,” Augustine wrote, “his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.”

Historians debate whether these silent readers were regarded as freaks or the practice was merely unusual. Reading was still a group activity in the fifth and sixth centuries. One person read aloud while others listened. Even for scribes who copied manuscripts in solitude, the act of reading was intertwined with the act of speaking. Many early medieval monks who had taken vows of silence were still allowed to mumble as they read, Saenger writes, because mumbling was considered part of the reading process.

During the Middle Ages, scribes began introducing spacing and punctuation into texts, which made silent reading much easier for everyone. The practice began in monasteries around the 10th century and slowly spread to university libraries a few hundred years later, and finally to the European aristocracy by the 14th and 15th centuries, according to historian Roger Chartier.

The technique of silent, solitary reading released people from the sluggishness of the spoken word — as well as from the judgment of their peers. Reading in private gave people room to engage with a text, the freedom to think critically and sometimes heretically. Opinions too controversial for group reading could be disseminated and consumed in private. The result, historians say, was an intellectual, scientific — and spiritual — blossoming in Europe.

. . . .

“Silent, secret, private reading paved the way for previously unthinkable audacities,” Chartier writes. “In the late Middle Ages, even before the invention of the printing press, heretical texts circulated in manuscript form, critical ideas were expressed, and erotic books, suitably illuminated, enjoyed considerable success.”

Chartier called silent reading the “other revolution” — together with the printing press and mass literacy, these developments created both the demand and the supply for a vast quantity of writing. The faster pace of silent reading accelerated the spread of new ideas and vaulted Western society toward religious and political schism.

“This ‘privatization’ of reading is undeniably one of the major cultural developments of the early modern era,” Chartier argued.

. . . .

In the 1960s, a blind psychologist named Emerson Foulke began experimenting with this technique to accelerate speech. A professor at the University of Louisville, Foulke was frustrated with the slowness of recorded books for the blind, so he tried speeding them up. The sampling method proved surprisingly effective. In Foulke’s experiments, speech could be accelerated to 250-275 wpm without affecting people’s scores on a listening comprehension test.

. . . .

These limits were suspiciously close to the average college reading rate. Foulke suspected that beyond 300 wpm, deeper processes in the brain were getting overloaded. Experiments showed that at 300-400 wpm, individual words were still clear enough to understand; except at that rate, many listeners couldn’t keep up with rapid stream of words, likely because their short-term memories were overtaxed.

Some, of course, fared better than others. Just as people naturally read at different rates, subjects varied in how well they could understand accelerated speech. Further studies found a connection to cognitive ability. Those with higher intelligence, as well as faster readers, were more adept at understanding sped-up recordings.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG would be interested to know how many TPV visitors listen to audiobooks at an accelerated speed.

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How Amazon Is Pushing Audiobooks into the Mainstream

21 June 2016

From Digital Book World:

[Hugh] Howey said, “Amazon has vastly increased the access to books. They have also vastly increased every author’s access to the market… For a very long time, most aspiring writers had no hope of expressing themselves and having access to consumers. Amazon almost single-handedly changed that.”

Those statements are equally true of indie authors who have audiobook editions. However, most people don’t realize that Amazon has systematically acquired companies and innovated technologies in order to push audiobooks into mainstream entertainment.

In 2007, Amazon bought Brilliance Audio, which was the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the country. At the time of the purchase, Brilliance created 12 to 15 audiobooks per month, or no more than 180 audiobooks a year. At the Audio Publishers Association conference in May, a rep from Brilliance Audio commented that the company now produces 2,000 audiobooks a year.

The next year, Amazon spent $300 million to buy, which is the world’s largest distributor of audiobooks. Audible’s 2008 catalog had around 60,000 titles. Today, Audible’s title count is fast approaching the quarter-million mark.

One reason for the dramatic uptick in title production is the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a site created in 2011 by Amazon-owned Audible. ACX enables authors and other rights holders to connect directly with narrators to produce audiobooks.

Before ACX appeared, indie authors had few chances to get their titles into audio. Narrators also had limited prospects of working in the industry. While some publishers hired narrators with home studios, most audio productions were recorded and edited in the publishers’ locations. Now, though narrators across the United States and United Kingdom are gaining work through ACX to produce audiobooks from our own studios. As a result, ACX is responsible for one-fourth of the audiobooks available for sale on Audible.

After ramping up audiobook production, Amazon’s next innovative move was designed to generate a higher volume of sales of Audible audiobooks. In 2012, Amazon announced Whispersync for Voice, a technology that allows users to seamlessly switch between the Kindle ebook and the Audible audiobook.

. . . .

In addition to enticing prospective buyers with free audiobooks, Amazon has significantly increased Audible’s visibility through advertising. Audible became a sponsor of the popular podcast Serial and the PBS TV show Downton Abbey.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Audiobook Sales Jumped Over 20% In 2015, And More Than 35,500 Titles Were Published

25 May 2016

From Voice-Over Extra:

The preference to hear books spoken continues to soar, according to the latest annual sales survey of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), which finds a 20.7% jump in sales over 2014, to an estimated $1.77 billion.

. . . .

Unit sales were up by 24.1% over the previous year, the survey finds. And the APA notes that this marks the second consecutive year in which unit sales increased by more than 20%.

The sales growth corresponds to a jump in number of audiobook titles published in 2015, the survey adds. Last year, 9,630 more titles were published than in 2014,  bringing the total number of audiobook titles published in 2015 to 35,574.

By contrast, in 2011, the number of published audiobook titles was 7,237.

. . . .

“Sales of digital downloads continue to rise – showing an increase of over 34% in both dollars and units sold from the previous year.”

Link to the rest at Voice-Over Extra

Audible to let audiobook owners share one book free of charge as introduction to share mechanism

12 May 2016

From Talking New Media:

Audible Inc., the world’s largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word entertainment, today announced the release of a new feature that allows listeners to give any audiobook they own in their “My Library” to others instantly via e-mail, text, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, using their iOS, Android and Windows 10 devices. Each recipient gets his or her first title through the program for free, and Audible will pay authors, actors and other rights holders the equivalent value of each recipient’s first title.

. . . .

Whether an Audible title owner is a book club member who wants to share an audiobook with an entire group, a teacher recommending a title to a class, or an enthusiastic listener giving to a friend, this new feature is designed to be easy to use. Simply tap on the ‘Send this Book’ icon in your My Library, and the audiobook you give will be sent free to as many people as a customer wants to include (and it remains in your library).  If it is a recipient’s first time accepting an audiobook via this feature the recipient does not need to sign up for a free trial or use a credit card to redeem the title.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media

And the Awards for Best Audio Fiction Go to …

2 April 2016

From The New York Times:

First came the Oscars, then the Tonys. Now, get ready for the Sarahs.

Sarah Lawrence College, which produces the radio drama anthology podcast “Serendipity,” on Friday hosted the inaugural Sarah Awards, billed as the first award ceremony for audio fiction.

The awards are the latest sign of a booming market that hardly existed five years ago, when there were too few fictional podcasts to warrant a meaty Top 10 list. But that was before the success of “Welcome to Night Vale” and the debut of “Serial,” the nonfiction show that raised podcasts to the level of popular culture.

Four awards, including one for best new artist, were presented at the awards ceremony, held at the Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR in Manhattan and hosted by Glynn Washington of “Snap Judgment.” Among the submissions were stories from established fictional podcasts like “The Truth.”

Ann Heppermann, a Sarah Lawrence faculty member who was a founder of the awards and “Serendipity,” said that the idea for the Sarahs goes back to 2012. Their debut happens to coincide with what she called “a thriving community of audio fiction.” Going forward, her hope is that the award prompts producers to “challenge themselves to make radio drama for the 21st century.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Amazon, Google Update Text-to-Speech Voices For Your Listening Needs

31 March 2016

From The Digital Reader:

I can’t tell you how many users take advantage of the TTS features on their Android or Fire tablets. I usually don’t, even though a lot of Android apps support  TTS, and even though the Fire tablet supports Ivona as a core feature.

Now they’ve gotten an update. Last week Google quietly started rolling out an updated voice for its TTS service, and this week Amazon followed suit with a similar update for the Fire tablets.

Android Authority reported last Wednesday that Google had updated the US voice for its TTS engine which is “new, smoother and less disjointed”. It’s said to have “more natural intonation” and a more fluid delivery which is more life-like.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Why do we love Jane Eyre?

27 February 2016

From the BBC and thanks to Brendan for the tip.


Who’s Making Money from Pirated Audiobooks on YouTube?

19 February 2016

From Readers Entertainment:

Pirating books is a practice that has been around for years.  Someone copies a book and uploads it to a sharing site for others to download for free or for a cost.  It is a constant battle that authors and publishers face as a part of doing business.

Recently, I was searching YouTube for a book trailer, but what I found was an audiobook.  Someone had recorded the audiobook and put it up on YouTube to share.  So, I started looking into how many audiobooks were on YouTube and was surprised at how many I found there.  And though I can’t say it surprised me that people were pirating audiobooks, what did intrigue me was that the audiobook videos on YouTube had ads on them.

Why is this so intriguing?  Because of my extensive experience with YouTube videos, I knew that Google, who owns YouTube, has a policy in place for copyrighted material.  When material is discovered to be copyrighted, Google contacts the copyright owner and asks gives them a choice.

  1. To remove the material entirely.
  2. To allow ads against the material with revenue share. Meaning YouTube and the copyright owner make money off the ads.

If the copyright owner allows advertisements to appear on or next to the material they get a percentage of the revenue brought in by those ads.

I contacted Google/YouTube to ask them about the audiobooks I found and the ads on them.  I was contacted by Stephanie Shih of Google who send me what she called “Background information” on how things work regarding copyright infringement and how it is handled.

She confirmed their policy to give copyright holders the option to have the material deleted or monetized.  According to her information as of October 2014 YouTube has paid out of $1 Billion to rightsholders who have chosen to monetize claims since Content ID first launched in 2007.

Link to the rest at Readers Entertainment and thanks to Suzan for the tip.

Scribd Announces Major Changes to Subscription Service

17 February 2016

From Digital Book World:

As part of the re-structured service, all Scribd users will receive unlimited access to “Scribd Select” books and audiobooks, a rotating collection spread across a variety of genres. In addition, all users will have access to three books and one audiobook of their choice each month from the entire Scribd catalog. Titles from Scribd Selects do not count toward the user-chosen titles.

The monthly fee will remain $8.99, and the changes will go into effect sometime in mid-March.

The announcement comes on the heels of two changes to its service Scribd made last year. In June, the company reduced the amount of romance books it offered, and in August it eliminated the unlimited audiobook component of its service and instead transitioned to a credit system, disincentivizing so-called “power readers” from listening to a disproportionate amount of audiobooks each month.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Amazon Hiring Comedians, Engineers for Growing Audio Service

31 January 2016

From Bloomberg: Inc. is ramping up its investment in podcasts and other radio-style shows to expand the types of programming it offers via Audible, the audio book company it acquired in 2008.

Audible has recruited well-known comedians, along with radio and podcast producers for the initiative, and job postings suggest a significant global push. Maria Bamford and Jonathan Katz are taping episodes of “Bedtime Stories,” a show in which comedians rewrite fairy tales, according to their manager Bruce Smith.

Entertainment plays a crucial role in Amazon’s effort to push beyond its core business of selling books, laundry detergent and televisions online. The Seattle-based company’s original films and TV shows have won critical acclaim and helped increase the appeal of its $99-a-year Prime service, which includes delivery discounts along with video and music streaming. Audible has more than 250,000 audio programs including books and plays, with downloads available for iPhones, Androids and other smartphone systems.

“Amazon is doing to Audible what it’s done to Prime Video — investing in original programming,” said Nick Quah, an executive at the Graham Holdings Co.’s Panoply podcast network who also writes a newsletter about the industry. “Amazon is hiring a ton of really good producers and managers out of public radio to acquire podcasts and develop shows of their own.”

. . . .

Podcasts and other radio programs are a sweetener for existing members and to entice new ones. Audible sells products individually, along with monthly subscriptions that include access to a certain number of titles, reinforcing Amazon’s push to engage online shoppers with gadgets and entertainment offerings.

Radio-style programs could also be a good extension of Amazon’s voice-activated speaker Echo, which already plays customized news from National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg and thanks to Nate for the tip.

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