Apple Launches Digital Narration for eBooks, Powered by Four AI Voices

Image: Apple

Apple today announced the launch of its AI-powered digital narration feature for eBooks, as first reported by The Guardian. According to the tech giant, the new Apple Books feature “makes the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all.”

Apple Books digital narration brings together advanced speech synthesis technology with important work by teams of linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from an ebook file.

Digital narration will first be available for the fiction and romance genres on Apple Books. The company is also kicking off its nonfiction and self-development narration program, which it said will be more widely available later on.

Apple said that its digital voices are created and optimized for specific genres. Digital narration is launching with four AI voices, including:

  • Madison — a digital soprano voice for the fiction and romance genres
  • Jackson — a digital baritone voice for the fiction and romance genres
  • Helena — a digital soprano voice for the nonfiction and self-development genres
  • Mitchell — a digital baritone voice for the nonfiction and self-development genres

Audiobooks constitute a growing market that was worth over $1.5 billion USD last year, and lots of companies want a piece of that pie. Audio streaming giant Spotify launched a collection of over 300,000 audiobooks in the U.S. in September 2022.

Audiobooks have been available on Apple Books for years now, but the launch of digital narration takes Apple from being a retailer of audiobooks to a full-fledged producer.

Apple said digital narration will help cut production costs for audiobooks. On the flip side, however, there are concerns that digitally-generated narration could take jobs away from human narrators.

“Digitally narrated titles are a valuable complement to professionally narrated audiobooks, and will help bring audio to as many books and as many people as possible,” Apple explained. “Apple Books remains committed to celebrating and showcasing the magic of human narration and will continue to grow the human-narrated audiobook catalog.”

Apple reportedly approached several independent publishers, including some from Canada, to partner with it on the digital narration project. Not all of them signed on, though.

“The narrator brings a whole new range of art in creating audiobook, and we believe that’s a powerful thing. They’re creating something that is different from the print book, but that adds value as an art form,” David Caron, a co-producer at Canada’s largest audiobook publisher, told The Guardian.

“When you have really great writing and really talented narration, you’re coming up with something special. That’s worth investing in.”

Carly Watters, a Canadian literary agent, echoed these sentiments and noted that “there’s so much value in the narration and the storytelling.”

A good chunk of the audiobook market caters to people who want to listen to books narrated by the author themselves or a celebrity, the latter of which is a niche Apple has previously dabbled in as well.

That said, it might not be long before AI narration is available in essentially anyone’s voice — especially celebrities, considering recent events have indicated that many are willing to lend their likeness to train machine learning models (for a fee).

Wouldn’t you want Morgan Freeman to read you your favourite book? Listen to samples of Apple’s new AI voices on Apple Books and let us know what you think in the comments below.