Books read by bots? Apple begins roll-out of its AI audio narration tool

6 Jan 2023

Image: © Nikolay N Antonov/

Apple Books is launching its AI-powered audio narration tool at a time when debate around generative AI tools such as ChatGPT is raging.

In a move that may worry voice actors but please the tired throats of book authors, Apple has launched an AI-powered audio narration feature on Apple Books.

The tech giant has created different digital voices that it said are “optimised for specific genres”.

The ‘Jackson’ baritone specialises in romance fiction, as does the soprano voice called ‘Madison’.

At the moment, the only other voices featured on the Apple Books website are ‘Helena’ and ‘Mitchell’, both optimised for self-help titles.

Apple is choosing to launch this feature at a time when debate around AI and generative AI tools such as ChatGPT is raging.

However, a report from The Guardian noted that Apple had actually planned to launch the audio narration tool last November but held off because the Meta layoffs and Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover were casting a “dark cloud” over the tech sector.

Judging from some of the less-than-enthusiastic comments people in the publishing industry provided to The Guardian as part of its report on the launch, Apple may not elude the controversy it had hoped to avoid after all.

Apple is hoping the tool will be embraced by authors and others in the publishing industry. It has pointed out that using AI voices instead of human narrators could cut back the production cost of making audiobooks.

On its website, it said it wanted to “empower indie authors and small publishers” in particular. “More and more book lovers are listening to audiobooks, yet only a fraction of books are converted to audio – leaving millions of titles unheard. Many authors, especially independent authors and those associated with small publishers, aren’t able to create audiobooks due to the cost and complexity of production,” the company stated on its website.

Apple maintains that digitally narrated audiobooks are a “valuable complement” to the professionally narrated audiobooks released by big names. Apple added that it would continue to grow its human-narrated book catalogue, too.

Currently, there are limits on what can and can’t be done using the tech giant’s AI audio-narration tool. Titles have to be in English and only a few genres are supported at the moment.

For the moment, Apple is accepting e-book submissions for romance and fiction. It is directing authors to a list of preferred partners which will take on the production and distribution process.

But authors could still see the same delays they have to contend with when working with human narrators. Apple said that even with the AI narration tool, it still takes weeks to process the book and run quality checks.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.