Apple has launched a catalog of books narrated by artificial intelligence in a move that may bring the beginning of the end of human narrators.
Apple has quietly released a catalog of AI-narrated audiobooks to carve out its place in the highly lucrative and rapidly-growing audiobook market. This strategy marks a move that may signal the beginning of the end for human narrators and heighten scrutiny over allegations of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior.
In Apple’s Books app, searching for “AI narration” reveals the catalog of new works included in the project, described as “narrated by digital voice based on a human narrator.” Apple approached many independent publishers in the US and Canada as potential partners for the release, only some of whom agreed to participate.
As is typical for the company, Apple’s AI narration project was kept highly secretive; authors were told that the company — whose name was undisclosed at the time — would cover the production costs while writers would receive royalties from sales. Authors and publishers involved in the project were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, which is typical in the technology sector but further showcases Apple’s ever-vigilant pursuit of secrecy.
The project was initially due to launch in November; Apple delayed its release amid chaos in the technology sector over Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover and layoffs at Meta and other major companies. Technology companies have scrambled to keep up with the popularity of the audiobook market in recent years, sales of which jumped 25% last year alone, bringing in over $1.5 billion in revenue.
If successful, Apple’s development of AI narration could mark a significant shift in how major technology companies view the future of audiobooks, with substantial implications for voice actors. Still, authors are increasingly asked to narrate their own books, providing an additional financial incentive for writers in the form of up-front payments and the expanded availability of their work. But producing audiobooks with human voice takes extra time and costs publishers money, so the lure of AI narration promises a significant cost cut.
Computer-generated voices have struggled for years to overcome the “uncanny valley” effects on synthetic human speech, as human inflection can be challenging to predict and replicate. AI voices lack the ability to capture listeners’ interest reliably for extended periods, and many audiobook enthusiasts insist that human narration is part of the appeal of listening to a book.