How this 34-year-old mom makes 6 figures as a book narrator: ‘I get to work my dream job from home’

From CNBC:

In 2017, I was 29 years old and making $30,000 a year as a church music director and private music teacher. My husband was a middle school music teacher, and made $48,000 a year.

With two children — both under four years old at the time — and $80,000 in combined student debt, we struggled to keep up with our finances.

But I’m in a much different place today. Switching careers to become an audiobook narrator has changed my life immensely. I now bring in six figures a year, and we have only $10,000 left on our student loans, thanks in part to the student loan forgiveness plan.

I get to do my dream job from home and spend more time with family in our cozy home, perched on a mountaintop in Northern Virginia. Here’s how I did it:

I graduated with a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2014, with hopes of becoming an opera singer. But between the low wages and unpaid artist programs, I started to feel discouraged.

I considered going back to school to study dental hygiene or medical sonography — anything with a decent salary that would better help me support my family.

As I commuted to my church music jobs, opera rehearsals and private lessons, I’d listen to audiobooks to pass the time, often for three or more hours a day. I’ve always been an avid reader, and particularly enjoyed audiobooks. I loved the comfort of a familiar voice keeping me company, telling me a story.

One day, it occurred to me that recording audiobooks could be a real job for me. So on a whim, I Googled “How to become an audiobook narrator.” I learned that audiobooks were one of the fastest-growing mediums in publishing, and that most were recorded by voice actors in professional-grade home studios.

I was thrilled at the idea that all the things I loved about opera — the stories, the acting, the beautiful words — could still be a part of this new career.

When I brought the idea up to my husband, I was nervous about investing money into a brand new business. But he was supportive right away.

So I purchased about $300 of equipment and, in just a few weeks, we set up my first home studio in the hallway closet.

I landed my first few book jobs through ACX, a platform that connects narrators with authors, agents and publishers. I started working with independently published authors, then started traveling to industry events to get my name and voice out there.

In 2020, with the cancellation of all in-person events in the wake of the pandemic, I put my energy into building my Tiktok and Instagram accounts, giving audiobook fans glimpses into my life as a narrator.

I had this vision of showing people how sexy and silly this job can be — and they loved it. As my content went viral, my audience grew. Book gigs from publishers started pouring in like never before.

I used to have to send quarterly emails to producers looking for work. Now producers I didn’t even know were emailing me, mentioning that their friends had sent them my videos. Creating an online presence has been among the greatest things I’ve done for my career.

. . . .

Today, I work about 40 hours a week, divided between recording, office work, and pre-reading and researching upcoming books. But that isn’t all at once, or necessarily in a 9-to-5 schedule. I will often record and answer emails during the day, then prep-read a book in bed at night. 

The flexibility is helpful, because the physical rigors of recording an audiobook can be intense. Usually, for five hours a day or more, I’m sitting sitting completely still in a tiny room, dividing my attention between reading accurately, performing passionately and listening for noises, from outside or inside the booth.

Luckily, my classical singing background trained me to use my voice for long stretches without strain, while still delivering emotion and nuance.

Being in the performing arts taught me how to network, and it also gave me a thick skin, which helped me move on quickly from auditions that didn’t go well, and rejection in general, especially at the beginning.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Spotify looks to win audiobook market share with expansion

From The Bookseller:

Spotify has revealed plans for an aggressive expansion into the audiobook market as it aims to launch a third pillar focusing on audiobooks, alongside its music and podcast offering.

In a speech delivered to investors last Wednesday (8th June), company founder and c.e.o. Daniel Ek, said he believed audiobooks will be a “massive opportunity” for the company.

He said: “Today, the global size of the book market is estimated to be around $140bn. That’s inclusive of printed books, e-books and audiobooks, with audiobooks having only about a 6%–7% market share. But when you look at the most penetrated audiobook markets, it’s actually closer to 50% of the market. So call that an annual opportunity of $70bn for us to expand and eventually compete for. And just as we’ve done in podcasting, expect us to play to win. And, with one major player dominating the space, we believe we will expand the market, and create value for users and creators alike.” 

He said that the company would use its “foundations of ubiquity, personalisation and Freemium to attract both creators and users and drive engagement”.

The company’s established Freemium model combines a free ad-supported tier and the premium subscription tier. It is likely users will be required to pay extra for individual audiobook titles, which would see a new revenue base open up for publishers.

The publishing industry has been historically wary of Spotify’s movement in the audio space, with some concerned its streaming model origins could leave authors unprotected and vulnerable to copyright infringement. 

However, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association in the US, told The Bookseller publishers are “optimistically waiting for more information” about the service.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Spotify Wants You Hooked on Audiobooks

From CNET:

Spotify said Wednesday it wants to expand aggressively into audiobooks, broadening beyond music and podcasts into another form of audio, and it plans to introduce a store where you’d pay Spotify for individual titles. 

“We believe that audiobooks in their many different forms will be a massive opportunity,” CEO Daniel Ek said Wednesday, speaking at an investor presentation. “Just as we’ve done in podcasting, expect us to play to win.” 

Spotify, the biggest streaming service by both listeners and subscribers, will also widen its business model to include a marketplace where users pay for things, like audiobooks, a la carte.

That’s a change from Spotify’s tradition for years, which opened up its entire library to listeners almost without limits; people could either listen free with advertising or pay for a premium subscription that strips out ads and includes some other perks, like downloads. 

Essentially, adding an a la carte element means evolving from an entirely all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to a buffet that doesn’t let you eat every single thing on the menu. 

For some things, like audiobooks, you may need need to pay to unlock specific titles.

Link to the rest at CNET

What Makes a Great, or Terrible, Audiobook Performance?

From Vulture:

During the first days of the 2019 impeachment hearings, the headline of an essay by the Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse floated the question “What does female authority sound like?” One of the earliest witnesses had been the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a rather ordinary, if genial, middle-aged man. Afterward, Hesse noticed the name Walter Cronkite trending on Twitter. The following day, testimony from Taylor’s equally if not more impressive predecessor, Marie Yovanovitch, prompted a standing ovation in the committee room. Yet, Hesse noted, no “adoring comparisons to any deceased icons” had followed. “Her voice, after all, did not sound like Walter Cronkite’s.”

The issue wasn’t how she sounded. It was how she sounded to us, a listening public without the aural reference library to assess female authority, trustworthiness, and power.

I have thought about that column and headline many times since the fall of 2019. I thought about it a lot when Joan Didion died late last year, and I thought about it even more trying to listen to a recording of Diane Keaton reading from Didion’s work around that time. Rereading Didion’s essays and reporting after her death, I had thought, That right there is what female authority sounds like — by which I meant the dry, detached, unsentimental, sly but muted, deadpan voice that characterizes not only Didion’s literary style but those of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Mary McCarthy before her as well as the voices of such contemporaries of Didion’s as Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm.

But listening to the five-minute Audible sample of Keaton reading from the first essay in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I had to admit, “Whatever female authority sounds like, it isn’t that.”

. . . .

I had gone online to see whether there were any decent recordings of Didion’s work. I like to keep tabs on this sort of thing, probably because I grew up listening to written-word recordings. As a child, I had trouble falling asleep after we moved to an apartment where I no longer shared a room with my sister, and letting me drift off listening to spoken-arts records was my mother’s solution. So from time to time, I check up on how some author or piece of writing has fared at the hands of the audiobook industry. I do it when a writer who has meant something to me dies. I do it when I run across prose that makes me want to hear it beautifully read. I do it when something I’m reading on the page moves me for reasons I can’t explain.

This happened to me once with a Jonathan Franzen novel. His narrative voice tends to be so mordant, so unforgiving toward his characters, that I couldn’t fathom how something toward the end of his novel Freedom had me sobbing. Flipping back to the beginning pages, I saw how the irony in Franzen’s description of his protagonist mingles caustic knowingness with compassion.

. . . .

Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller. Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, the Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street.

I wanted to hear what that alchemy sounded like. But when I went to the recording, the actor to whom Macmillan had assigned the book kept telling me with his voice what I was supposed to feel. He seemed to have no understanding of how writing works. Every syllable was an opportunity for a new artistic choice, as though words exist in isolation and sentences have no relation to one another. He wasn’t reading the novel so much as making sure the listener knew it was being read by an Actor. It was impossible to follow the logic, let alone be affected by Franzen’s meticulously calibrated prose.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG doesn’t believe that he has ever revealed his undergraduate major on TPV.

So here’s the big reveal:

Oral Interpretation

or, if you want more detail,

The Oral Interpretation of Literature.

He understands that many will look at that major and think, “Thank goodness he went to law school. Otherwise, he would have starved to death.”

PG will restrain himself from explaining why Oral Interpretation makes more sense than immediately comes to the mind of an above-average rational person.

The point of this shocking disclosure is to provide some authority to PG’s point related to the OP:

Some people have good speaking voices and habits and others have terrible speaking voices and habits.

It is wonderful if someone has a good speaking voice in her/his genetic makeup, but, absent that blessing, it is possible for anyone to develop a better speaking voice if they feel theirs is not up to snuff.

Motion picture studios hire voice coaches to help actors improve various aspects of their voices.

One of the most common changes to improve the sound of your speaking voice is to lower it a bit.

If you lower it a lot, you’ll sound stupid, but most people have developed a habitual speaking voice that is higher-pitched than is optimum for their physical pipes (a technical term Oral Interpreters learn in their classes). Men or women, just lower your voice just a bit and you’ll sound better.

Ingrid Bergman had one of the great voices for an actress during the middle of the Twentieth Century. Note that it is lower than the voices of many women.

Here’s another clip of a young Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, each with a very good voice.

Here is a collection of very good female voices:

France’s ‘Digital Barometer’: 27 Percent Trying Audiobooks

From Publishing Perspectives:

As you may recall, just before the Festival du Livre de Paris at the Grand Palais Ephémère (April 22 to 24), the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE-France) announced that May would be “Audio Book Month” in France.

There was a promise at the time that the French publishers would release new data from what turns out to be the market’s 12th annual Digital Book Usage Barometer, and today (May 4), we have some numbers from that information. What we have today is focused on digital reading in ebooks and audio formats. The entire report runs to 107 pages, available here in French (PDF).

In many world publishing markets, some of these figures will make it clearer why the publishers’ association has moved to declare this its Mois du Livre Audio: The study conducted again by Médiamétrie, this time at the beginning of this year, studies reading habits of French citizens in 2021, and finds that:

  • Fifteen percent have listened to a “physical audiobook,” meaning on CD or tape, of course
  • Twelve percent report that they have listened to a digital (downloaded or streamed) audiobook

In ebooks, by comparison, 25 percent—these respondents are 15 or older—have read a digital book.

Respondents whose reading habits are on the light side tend to be using fewer digital (ebook or audiobook) products, while those who say they’re generally medium-to-heavy readers are leading the way. Some 22 percent of digital book readers report that in general they’re “avid” readers.

And here’s a bright spot: The association reporting that audiobooks, both physical and digital, “are increasingly attracting male readers.” This trend, seen at times in other markets including the United Kingdom, continues to suggest that audio may be a format that can help publishers draw more men and boys to reading, which is dominated by female consumers in many markets.

. . . .

Among Digital Fans: More Intense Reading

Bulleting out some more points for you from the research:

  • Thirty percent of ebook readers say they read more books than before
  • Twenty 20 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’re listening more than in the past
  • Twenty-seven percent of digital audiobook users say they’re listening to more titles than before
  • Only 52 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’ve listened to one fewer title than they did a year ago, and the researchers say they believe that signifies that those respondents are likely moving to downloadable and streaming audiobooks from CDs and tapes

Reading among the study’s respondents is still “very largely considered above all as a pleasure activity,” the report tells us, with more than 80 percent of those asked in all reading media in agreement that they do most of their reading at home

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Google Play Books Expands AI Audiobook Narration – maybe

From The New Publishing Standard:

Per a report in Publishers Weekly yesterday, Google Play has now expanded its AI-narrated audiobook creation option to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Spain.

. . . .

[B]y offering 35+ narative voices in English and Spanish, the Google Play Books AI-narration option means publishers of all sizes have the chance to upload an ebook or epub file and use what, for now, are free tools to tweak an automated narration before publishing on Google Play and, all importantly, exporting the finished file to be sold elsewhere.

The Google Play Books AI Narration page carries a quote from respected industry heavyweight and former IPA President Richard Charkin of Mensch Publishing saying “The technology has supassed my expectations.”

Again quite what is new here is not clear, but the PW post at least gives me an excuse to bring up AI-narration options once more.

No, AI narration will not put competent real-life narrators out of jobs any time soon, if ever.

What it will do is open up audio to authors and publishers to reach new consumers with acceptable, if not superb, narration that will being in revenue from low-profile and backlist titles that would otherwise never make it to the audiobook platforms.

. . . .

The single biggest drag on AI-narration development right now is not the technology – that’s already comfortably within acceptable limits, and can only get better – but the platforms themselves, which either discourage or outright disallow AI-narrated content.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG is a big fan of well-trained human voice boxes performing/reading literary works. That said, he doesn’t think he would feel secure if he were making his living as an audiobook narrator/voice actor.

AI in the voice area has been advancing at an incredible rate of speed over the past few years. PG suggests it won’t stop until AI provides professional-level audio from text.

(A)I, RAPPER: WHO VOICES HIP-HOP’S FUTURE?

From Public Books:

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” raps Kanye West, in what sounds like an a capella cover of Freddie Mercury’s timeless opening lines. The performance is so convincing, you might be surprised to learn that it never really happened. Thanks to new AI, users can create vocal “deepfakes” of their favorite celebrities, the most popular example being a viral performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the disturbingly realistic “voice” of Kanye West.

It is incredibly easy to create a vocal performance using a famous rapper’s voice with the help of Uberduck, a popular AI-driven text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis engine. After logging in with a Gmail or Discord account, users can select from a drop-down menu of different categories (such as “rappers”) and then specify the individual voice within that category (such as the artist “Kanye West”). The user is then directed to either enter the text they wish to hear or select prewritten versions of sung and spoken snippets. After they instruct the system to “synthesize” all the information, the text is rendered audible, and the user has the chance to engage in further vocal processing, including changing the speed, pitch, and word length. Within minutes the performance is ready to be downloaded, overlaid on a TikTok video, and shared.

. . . .

In recent years, terms like “high-tech blackface” and “digital blackface” have become popularized, as scholars on race and media have begun to theorize how this dialectic shows up in unique ways in the technologies of the digital age, enabling non-Black people to adopt Black personhood through their avatars and across networked platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Much has been said by scholars, cultural critics, and everyday observers about the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the “blaccent” by non-Black people and companies seeking to harness the selling power of Black culture through tweets, memes, and other forms of quick content, with no investment in actual Black communities or people. Tools like Uberduck might therefore meaningfully be understood as extending these kinds of appropriative digital practices into the realm of sonic performance.

In many ways, my specific concerns about Uberduck are connected to broader developments that I have observed in regard to rap music, AI, and the veneer of techno-optimism that increasingly brings these worlds together. I am a Black feminist rapper with a PhD in science and technology studies (STS), a field that examines the social relations that coproduce scientific and technological knowledge and practices. As such, I have long been interested in exploring our dominant narratives about the technologies we make and use. So I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when a succession of stories at the intersection of rap performance and AI flitted across my radar last spring: first I was introduced to FN Meka, an “AI robot rapper” who, perhaps unsurprisingly, also sells NFTs. Around the same time, Google Arts & Culture announced the Hip Hop Poetry project, led by creative technologist Alex Fefegha, to answer the question of whether AI can rap. A few weeks later, I learned about the success of Uberduck imitating Kanye West. I listened only once before putting down my phone in discomfort.

I’ve since begun to think more deeply about the messaging around AI that emanates from stories like these—about whether, the creepiness and potential legal thorniness aside, we should uncritically accept the use of AI as a mode for crafting rap lyrics and performances. I worry that in our excitement to explore these new creative potentials we risk reproducing the same exploitative dynamics that currently separate Black and brown artists from the fruits of their labor, across music and countless other forms of entertainment.

Link to the rest at Public Books

From Uberduck.ai:

Case study: Yotta

Yotta contacted Uberduck in late 2021, wanting to create a memorable end-of-year wrap-up for Yotta’s users.

In two weeks, Uberduck helped Yotta create and ship 150,000 professionally produced rap songs with lyric videos, every one customized to each individual user. (Check out the video at the top of this page for an example.)

Yotta’s users loved their raps and shared them across social media, driving hundreds of new checking accounts.

“We aren’t your typical bank and wanted to stand out from the crowd with our year-end project. Yotta Rapped was just that – a fun and personal look at each user’s individual journey with Yotta over the past year. It wouldn’t have been possible without Uberduck.”

Adam Moelis – Co-Founder/CEO, Yotta

Link to the rest at Uberduck.ai

Uberduck includes an applet on its website that allows anyone to post a short bit of text, then synthesize it into an audio message after choosing a voice from what looks like a large number of users.

PG synthesized the following message using a voice titled “Casey Kasem” from a category called Radio Hosts.

Here’s the text, pulled from the Uberduck website:

Yotta contacted Uberduck in late 2021, wanting to create a memorable end-of-year wrap-up for Yotta’s users. In two weeks, Uberduck helped Yotta create and ship 150,000 professionally produced rap songs with lyric videos, every one customized to each individual user.

And below is the 15 second audio Uberduck created.

Digital Publishing, Then and Now

From Publishing Perspectives:

One of the major developments in our industry has, of course, been the ability for us to publish digitally as well as in print. This column is all about digital publishing and, given my extreme age and waning faculties, I’ve been assisted on the recent developments by the much younger and more digitally-savvy Emilie Marneur, the director of audience and business development at Bonnier Books UK. She oversees Bonnier Books UK’s digital strategy and manages its digital-first imprint, Embla Books.

It all started for me 40 years ago when I heard about a New York-based start-up, which was developing electronic versions of reference books for distribution on quaintly-named “floppy disks.”

I managed to license them various smaller Oxford dictionaries for an absurdly high advance with promises of untold royalty wealth to follow. I don’t think we ever saw a royalty check but we did have some electronic products to boast about, and the advance helped pay for a few lexicographers. Less than a decade later, we were able to sell the whole of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary on just two CD-ROMs.

General book publishers in the 1990s were way behind. It wasn’t until the launch of Amazon.com in 1994, opening up a completely new sales channel, and the subsequent launch of the Kindle in 2007, that publishers began to wake up to a new world order.

How would traditional bookshops survive? Public libraries? What would be the appropriate royalty rate? Is the sale of an ebook a sale or a license? How to protect the content from piracy? How to avoid monopolization of the distribution channel without breaking antitrust regulations?

In parallel, the 1995 launch of Audible.com opened up new markets and new commercial issues, particularly when acquired by Amazon, thus cementing the superpower’s position as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the intellectual property distribution world.

Authors and publishers had to adapt. Major booksellers tried but with little or no success. But the book in all its formats sailed on into the new worlds of self-publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, subscription models, and new supply-chain imperatives. This brings us to today and the new opportunities and challenges for our industry, for authors, retailers, and of course publishers.

. . . .

While Amazon, including Audible, remains the dominant retailer for ebooks and audiobooks, we’re seeing the emergence of many new online retail platforms and business models.

Most of these start-ups focus on English-language content, but some of the most innovative may well be operating in Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and other heavily-used languages. The English-language businesses range from highly-specific entities serving the higher-education market such as Perlego or Kortext and professional support such as nkoda supporting music and musicians. There are more general offerings for foodies such as ckbk and for people with limited reading time such as the German-based book-summary service Blinkist.

And of course these and other businesses can interact directly with authors, potentially cutting out the publisher’s role altogether. Substack has attracted significant authors and has earned some of them significant income from their writing. And there are more traditional self-publishing sites for authors. How much these sites will suck revenue and energy from traditional publishers is unknown but they’ve represented a wake-up call for publishers to focus more on the value of services they offer authors.

. . . .

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

There can be little doubt that listening to books, radio, and podcasts online has increased and this growth is reflected by industry statistics. Audiobooks again saw double-digit growth in sales in 2021, and continued growth for the 8th year running. With that growth has come an appetite among retailers for exclusive and original content, not unlike what we see with video-streaming players.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.

Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.

The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.

This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.

Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.

. . . .

As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.

So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.

Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.

And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.

First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.

My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.

I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.

Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)

Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.

But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.

Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.

It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.

Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.

Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.

Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and here’s a link to Part 1 of her two posts.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Artificial Intelligence – Text to Speech

Amazon has a website as part of its Amazon Web Services site that demonstrates various applications of artificial intelligence:

One of those sites is for the demonstration of Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech program. PG understands that Polly has multi-lingual capabilities, but it appears PG is not located in a region that has access to more than English.

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a written quote from Helen Keller in one of its many female voices:

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a partial quote from the Declaration of Independence in ont of its many male voices:

Here is Polly translating the Declaration of Independence quote using a younger male voice. You will notice that the recorded translation to the younger male voice is a few seconds longer than the adult male voice above.

Here’s a link to Amazon Polly

Synthetic Voices Want to Take Over Audiobooks

From Wired:

WHEN VOICE ACTOR Heath Miller sits down in his boatshed-turned-home studio in Maine to record a new audiobook narration, he has already read the text through carefully at least once. To deliver his best performance, he takes notes on each character and any hints of how they should sound. Over the past two years, audiobook roles, like narrating popular fantasy series He Who Fights With Monsters, have become Miller’s main source of work. But in December he briefly turned online detective after he saw a tweet from UK sci-fi author Jon Richter disclosing that his latest audiobook had no need for the kind of artistry Miller offers: It was narrated by a synthetic voice.

Richter’s book listing on Amazon’s Audible credited that voice as “Nicholas Smith” without disclosing that it wasn’t human. To Miller’s surprise, he found that “Smith” voiced a total of around half a dozen on the site from multiple publishers—breaching Audible rules that say audiobooks “must be narrated by a human.” Although “Smith” sounded more expressive than a typical synthetic voice, to Miller’s ear it was plainly artificial and offered a worse experience than a human narrator. It made giveaway mistakes, like pronouncing Covid as “kah-viid” when referring to the pandemic.

Miller tracked down “Smith”—the voice matched a sample posted to SoundCloud by Speechki, a San Francisco startup that offers more than 300 synthetic voices for audiobook publishing across 77 dialects and languages. He and other narrators and audio fans who discussed the artificial audiobooks online reported the titles to Audible, which eventually removed them. Although it wasn’t a large number, discovering that synthetic voices were good enough for some publishers to put them to work prompted Miller to wonder about the future of his art and income. “It’s a little terrifying because it’s my livelihood and that of many people I respect,” he says.

Richter says he chose an artificial voice because the concept and its “uncanny valley” sound suited his book, which has a piece of intelligence software as one of its main characters, and that he was unaware of Audible’s policies. “My intention was never to upset or offend anyone,” he says. Speechki says it recommends publishers identify that narrations are synthetic and that it informs them of Audible’s policies. Will Farrell-Green, a senior director at Audible, said in an emailed statement that the company uses automated and manual processes to enforce its rules but that “due to the volume of content on our service, titles that are not compliant do slip through from time to time.” Audible’s “human’s only” policy dates back to at least 2014, when synthetic voices were much less convincing, and the company has said the rule helps provide listeners the performances they expect.

Synthetic voices have become less grating in recent years, in part due to artificial intelligence research by companies such as Google and Amazon, which compete to offer virtual assistants and cloud services with smoother artificial tones. Those advances have also been used to make reality-spoofing “deepfakes.” Speechki is one of several startups developing speech synthesis for audiobooks. It analyzes text with in-house software to mark up how to inflect different words, voices it with technology adapted from cloud providers including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, and employs proof listeners who check for mistakes. Google is testing its own “auto-narration” service that publishers can use to generate English audiobooks for free, using more than 20 different synthetic voices. Audiobooks published through the program include an academic history of theater and a novelist’s exploration of cultural attitudes to sex. Google spokesperson Dan Jackson says its auto-narrated books supplement rather than replace professionally narrated books. “Our goal with auto-narration is to make it possible to create a low-cost audiobook for any ebook title and increase content accessibility for those that are unable to read via ebook,” he says.

Link to the rest at Wired

Here’s a sample of a synthetic voice from Speechki that was embedded in the OP.

Per the Speechki website, their software can produce an audio book in 15 minutes.

This page features an audiobook sample in Spanish.

2030 audio market projection hits $50 billion

From The New Publishing Standard:

In a presentation for the US Audio Publishers Association in September 2021 TNPS suggested a more likely valuation of $37 billion, while acknowledging that could be conservative.

Then came the Spotify and Storytel US acquisition news and TNPS made clear our $37 billion forecast for 2030 was looking “tame”.

The latest forecast, from Denmark-based podcasting platform Podimo, projects a 2030 audio market valuation of $50 billion, and here at TNPS we’re not seeing that is unrealistic in the light of recent developments.

It was back in July 2019 that TNPS reported, to the amusement of many in publishing, that Mofibo founder Morten Strunge had raised $6.7 million in seed funding for a beyond-crazy idea that money could be made out of podcasts, which everyone back then regarded as the poor man’s audiobook, only good for giving away free to try upsell the real thing.

. . . .

The genius of Podimo lies not just in giving consumers quality content, but in rewarding creators through its “user-centric” revenue-sharing model.

In a press release Strunge explains:

Our model provides premium content and a seamless user experience through AI-driven personalized recommendations and video trailers. As a full-service content production house, we can enrich existing IP in new and exciting ways, as well as produce our own IP, challenging what listeners can expect from short and long-form audio now, and in the future.

While Strunge doesn’t offer any detail on his projection, he asserts the podcast and audio market will,

grow beyond 50 billion USD over the next 5-6 years.

Strunge went on:

…With more and more audiences discovering compelling, short-form, spoken word audio every day. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and with our strategic focus on content in local markets’ native languages, we feel well-positioned to grab a substantial part of this market.

With a solid foundation, we can accelerate our investments into premium original and exclusive content from today’s most exciting and important voices, bringing in more users and bigger payouts to creators, while applying our learnings to new market expansion.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

A Matter of Volume

From The Bookseller:

I used to imagine an Apple event where its c.e.o. Tim Cook would unveil a standalone audiobook app with exclusive audio-only titles available on subscription. He would then invite J K Rowling and Stephen Fry on stage to announce a new audio-first Harry Potter series. Sadly Apple TV+ and Steven Spielberg got in first.

My personal disappointment at Apple’s lack of ambition for audio should not detract from the fact that the storytelling bit of the market for listening remains in rude health. Nielsen’s latest Understanding the Audiobook Consumer shows a seventh year of double-digit growth, with sales about to crest £200m. In the US, figures from the Audio Publishers Association for 2020 show a ninth year of double-digit increase. Audible turned over £187m from its UK business in 2020, representing growth of 30%.

Outside our own range in the UK, the growth in listening—be it from traditional audiobooks, podcasts or music—continues. Spotify’s revenue has more than doubled since 2016 (it surpassed Penguin Random House in 2017,) and today has announced a deal to buy Findaway, the US audiobook business; in December Amazon bought podcast platform Wondery for a reported $200m; while Storytel, Sweden’s answer to Audible, grew its half-year sales to £90m (and this week bought AudioBooks.com), with Bonnier-owned rival Bookbeat hot on its heels.

From a once smallish cottage industry that serviced libraries, those with reading difficulties and (with intermittent support from the high street) CD buyers, audiobooks are now central to a global storytelling industry whose potential risks stretching way beyond the publishing sector’s ability to service it. Storytel is the harbinger of things to come: in the summer it announced a deal with the Conan Doyle Estate for a new scripted audio series of Sherlock tales to be written by a team of writers under Anthony Horowitz. Tangentially, Apple has also got in on the act: watch its series “Calls” via Apple TV+ and tell me if that isn’t one of the most exciting audiobooks released this year?

The wider vision for audio is stymied by a number of things. It remains expensive to produce, and actors are a scarce resource (electronic voice is not yet the alternative it may one day be). Audible remains far too dominant, with Google, Apple and AudioBooks.com bit-part players. Audible aside, those with the biggest audience of listeners operate streaming models that the big UK and US publishers eschew. I’ve never taken the view that books should become a subscription service just because film and music have, but for those innovating in this space, it is their financial underpinning and how they recruit new customers.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones audiobook review

From The Guardian:

The latest masterwork from Dan Jones, the British historian and author of The Templars, isn’t short on ambition. Spanning a thousand years, it tells the story of the “awkward slab” of time that is the middle ages, the period between the fall of the western Roman empire in the fifth century AD and the Protestant reformation. Jones, who reads the audiobook himself, lays out his plan in the introduction to “sweep across continents and centuries, often at breakneck pace. We are going to meet hundreds of men and women, from Attila the Hun to Joan of Arc. And we are going to dive headlong into at least a dozen fields of history – from war and law to art and literature.”

He isn’t wrong about the pace: he hopscotches from the collapsing Romans, barbarian migration and the rise of Islamic empires to the age of the Franks, the brutal Mongol superpower and the plague that wiped out millions across north Africa, Asia and Europe. But despite the hectic schedule, his reading feels relaxed as he delights in peculiar details and revels in witty asides. While the tone is confident, Jones mercifully avoids the declamatory style that can afflict historians in performance mode.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG noted the OP for two reasons.

  1. In his reading, it isn’t common for a large-circulation periodical to include audiobook reviews.
  2. Having the author voice the audiobook is also somewhat unusual.

Perhaps those who follow audiobooks more closely that PG does will correct any misconceptions PG has about this part of the literary world.

Does Listening to a Book Have the Same Brain Benefits as Reading?

From Well+Good:

While there aren’t exactly a wealth of scientific studies endorsing that binging Real Housewives is good for your brain (clinical trials, get at me), reading is one hobby that has been well-documented to supporting cognitive health. It’s up there with doing crosswords and playing a musical instrument in terms of habits brain health experts always recommend people to do keep their mind sharp.

Sometimes, there is nothing better than curling up in your favorite chair with a paperback. But if you want to multitask and read at the same time, audiobooks can be handier. You can’t exactly drive or deep clean the bathroom with a book in your hands. But as audiobooks have become increasingly more popular, it does beg the question of whether or not you’re really getting the same benefits as traditional reading. Sure, you’ll be able to chime in at book club, but does listening to a book require the same brain power? When it comes to the reading versus listening debate, neuroscientist and Biohack Your Brain author Kristen Willeumier, PhD. has some thoughts.

The brain benefits reading and listening have in common

Most people know that reading is good for brain health, but a lot of people don’t know why. “Reading is a cognitively engaging task that requires higher-level cognitive processing integrating written information and language comprehension,” Dr. Willeumier says. She explains that reading—and then processing what you’re reading—activates different parts of the brain. She says this includes the frontal lobes (involved in cognitive processing, attention, reasoning, reading fluency, and language comprehension), temporal lobes (memory), parietal lobes (language processing), occipital lobes (visually processing the words on the page), and cerebellum (motor control related to visual processing—aka moving your pupils across the words).

“A consistent reading practice strengthens your ability to communicate and will improve your vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills while enhancing brain network connectivity. Reading has been shown to promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that lead to greater longevity,” Dr. Willeumier adds. For example, researchers at Yale School of Public Health found that book reading had a 20 percent reduction in mortality in readers versus non-readers.

While the study focused only on physical books and didn’t include audiobooks, here’s what Dr. Willeumier says reading versus listening have in common when it comes to brain function: In both situations, you are processing information associated with story comprehension. Whether you’re reading or listening, your brain is working to connect the pieces of the puzzle, making sense of the plot and attempting to predict what will happen next. But there are some differences in terms of how this information is processed.

Reading versus listening: how the brain benefits differ

“The brain is differentially activated when processing speech versus print,” Dr. Willeumier says. She explains that understanding what you’re reading activates the left brain (in areas associated with language processing), while understanding what you’re listening to activates both (in order to process speech and acoustics).

. . . .

She also says that listening to an audiobook may lead to developing greater empathy because you’re hearing the emotion in the narrator’s voice, not just reading it on the page. “Listening to an emotionally-driven storyteller engages emotional circuits in the brain and can heighten the intensity and imagery of the episodes, leading to deeper processing of the narrative and greater enjoyment of the material than experienced by reading a book,” she says.

Link to the rest at Well+Good

AI audiobooks take a big step towards the audio New Normal

From The New Publishing Standard:

Pretty much since smartphones became mainstream, audio content in the form of podcasts and audiobooks have been gathering momentum as a significant format sector in the global publishing industry.

Even with the à la carte and monthly credit subscription models audio has taken off big time with consumers, while in the markets where publishers are amenable to unlimited subscription audiobooks have quickly become a format to rival – and in the case of Sweden even to exceed – the popularity of print.

But the brake on audio – and especially on longform audiobooks – has always been the production costs of studios, sound engineers and narrators that can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a book as a sound product, deterring many publishers and making some titles financially unviable.

Lurking in the background as the audio industry discovered and embraced digital, was AI – artificial intelligence – with the futuristic promise and premise that one day an entire book could be narrated by a robot and no-one would know any better.

Well, we’re not there yet, but anyone who follows developments in this arena will know quality is accelerating, driven by the proven global demand for digital audio based on text-to-speech (TTS).

As an author I love the idea that one day I might, at the click of a mouse, convert my novels to saleable-quality audiobooks, and as an industry commentator writing TNPS I fantasise about the day I might hit the mouse and my TNPS posts be converted into podcasts.

In the real world it seemed like the latter might happen soonest, as TTS (text to speech) seems to be developing fastest in the non-fiction arena, where delivery relies less on emotion and more purveying information.

But the reality is when I try the latest sample AI offerings I hit one major obstacle – TNPS posts are so full of “foreign” names (as in not in the AI English names database) that the text converted to sound is quite unacceptable. Another couple of years and it might be a different story.

But for fiction, where conveying emotion and tone has been the problem, progress has been palpable, this week resulting in news that one AI-audio operator, UK-based DeepZen, has partnered with US distributor Ingram to offer its AI-audio services to a no doubt cautiously optimistic publishing industry.

Per the DeepZen press release,

The service uses innovative technology that replicates the human voice to create a listening experience that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Developed specifically for audiobooks and long form content, it incorporates artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and next generation algorithms.

DeepZen’s AI voices are licensed from voice actors and narrators, capturing all of the elements of the human voice, such as pacing and intonation, and a wide range of emotions that produce more realistic speech patterns. They are benchmarked against human narration, and are a world away from the robotic, monotone, voice assistants with which we are all familiar.

But that still begs the question, are they a world away enough to be acceptable to paying consumers?

The 49 second sample DeepZen offers via the press release really isn’t enough to make that call, but check it out here and see – or rather hear – for yourself.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Here’s a link to DeepZen where you can hear some AI voices

Writing for audio made me a better writer, period

From Amazon Author Insights:

When Audible came to me looking for an original audio-first novella, they showed up at just the right time. I had an idea for a story I’d been rolling around in my head for a while, and it was just about to drop: something about a world in which people who were murdered came back immediately (and were pretty annoyed at what had happened to them). I pitched the story that would become The Dispatcher (they said yes), and off I went to write.

So far, so good. Except that I usually write stories for print first, and this one was going straight to audio.

Does that make a difference?

Well, the basic storytelling is the same. You have a protagonist (in this case a fellow named Anthony Valdez) with an interesting job (he’s a dispatcher, whose job description is “licensed therapeutic murderer”), who finds himself in the middle of a plot crisis (a friend of his has disappeared, and Anthony must help find him), and there’s a ticking clock (if the missing friend’s not found soon, things are going to get grim). Set up the pins, knock them down, and add a few twists and turns—everyone’s happy.

This classic storytelling mode works whether the medium is print, audio, or screen. It’s nice and hardy. Reliable, even.

But there are things unique to the audio medium that you have to pay attention to while writing. Like the fact that the audience’s first experience with the story will be through their ears. Which means you need to write the story to be spoken. Which means you have to try to put yourself in the shoes of a narrator: Is what I’m writing going to be something the narrator is actually going to be able to read effectively?

If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too.

Now, a moment of appreciation here for audiobook narrators. These people are pros. No matter what you throw at them, there’s a very high chance they’ll make it work. They’re actors; they’re used to having words put into their mouths and then speaking them out to thrilling effect. They can take a jumble of exposition and give it drama, which is a hell of a thing. In my career, I’ve been blessed with excellent narrators—William Dufris, Tavia Gilbert, Wil Wheaton, and for The Dispatcher, the awesome Zachary Quinto—and I know at times they’ve made my prose sound better than it might otherwise.

Even so, I try not to make their lives any harder than they have to be. So I write with speaking in mind: Naturalistic dialogue. Exposition that is conversational. A rise and fall in story and scene so they can vary their delivery so readers won’t get bored. And here and there, a bravura scene that they can really have fun acting. If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too. And it’s good for the story, anyway. So make the narrator’s job easier, and make the narrator happy.

Another audio-first consideration: getting rid of writerly things that have the potential to throw the listener out of the story and the flow of narration—things like dialogue tags. In print, having “he said” and “she said” at the end of dialogue makes good sense—it helps direct traffic and pacing. Dialogue tags can get repetitive, but most readers eventually gloss over them—they know the tags are there, but their brains start processing them more like punctuation than like words. They see the tags, but they don’t sound them out in their heads.

But in audio, every “he said” and “she said” is spoken out loud by the narrator. I was never more aware of how much I used dialogue tags than I was while listening to one of my audiobooks. It became so obvious to me, in fact, that after I started regularly selling my books to audio, I started reducing dialogue tags even in work that was going into print first. And for The Dispatcher, I tried to keep them to an absolute minimum.

This had the effect, I think, of making my writing better overall. Dialogue tags are useful, but they can also be a crutch. I had to find other ways of making it clear who was talking—and a lot of that came down to making sure the voices of all characters were well defined even before a narrator gave them separate voices. Writing for audio improved my writing, period.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

‘Immersive Media & Books’ Study: Audiobooks and Context

From Publishing Perspectives:

As many programs and presentations this year have demonstrated, the digital acceleration prompted by the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic  created strong market movement for audiobooks in 2020, in many parts of the world and particularly in the United States.

. . . .

Panorama and the Audio Publishers Association offer several key top-line findings that add numbers to our growing understanding of the energy in digital formats and particularly in audio— energy that has in many markets, the States included, persisted beyond what some would have expected into this year.

Note, for example, the importance to the trade book publishing industry of the second point in which we see audiobook-engaged consumers buying the same book in multiple formats. This is a key to the messaging coming from the association and the Panorama Project survey, a depiction of audiobook consumers as both interested and integrated in the broader community of literature and its commerce.

  • 43.6 percent of the general survey population respondents said they engage with audiobooks
  • 49.6 percent of those who engage with audiobooks said they buy the same book in multiple formats
  • 67.9 percent of those surveyed who engage with audiobooks said they are also avid book readers (on the order of four or more books per month)
  • That subset of audiobook-engaged consumers equates to 53 percent of the general survey population
  • Audiobook engagers surveyed identified themselves as younger than the general survey population, with 41.5 percent of millennials and 43 percent of Gen X people responding saying that they’re engaging with audiobooks
  • Greater percentages of people of color—Black 19.6 percent, Latinx 16.4 percent—said they engage with audiobooks compared to the general survey population
  • Audiobook engagers surveyed said they rely heavily on word-of-mouth for book discovery, with 21.6 percent citing friends, 13.6 percent citing family, and 10.1 percent citing social media
  • 81.4 percent of audiobook engagers surveyed said they have a library card, compared to 75.8 percent of the general survey population

Audio enthusiasts surveyed said their favored genres in adult fiction are mystery, classics, fantasy, romance, and thriller. In adult nonfiction, respondents listed history, biographies and autobiographies, body/mind/spirit, spirituality, and business. The audio enthusiasts surveyed said they engage with YA (fiction and nonfiction) in all genre categories at higher rates than was reported by the general survey population.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives