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Weekly News Digest

February 8, 2022 — In addition to this week's NewsBreaks article and the monthly NewsLink Spotlight, Information Today, Inc. (ITI) offers Weekly News Digests that feature recent product news and company announcements. Watch for additional coverage to appear in the next print issue of Information Today. For other up-to-the-minute news, check out ITIís Twitter account: @ITINewsBreaks.

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'Synthetic Voices Want to Take Over Audiobooks' by Tom Simonite

Tom Simonite writes the following for WIRED:

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. …

Some publishers see synthetic voices as a way to tap the growing demand for audiobooks, a segment healthier than other parts of the book business. Total US book publisher revenue declined slightly between 2015 and 2020 and ebook revenue shrank, but audiobook revenue surged by 157 percent, according to the Association of American Publishers. Consumers have steadily grown more comfortable with the format, helped along by technical improvements to mobile apps, smart speakers, and wireless headphones. But due to the cost of a narrator and audio production, most titles never become audiobooks, particularly at smaller publishers. …

[S]tartups say they are not a threat to professional narrators because their technology will be used to make audiobooks that would not otherwise have been recorded. ‘Human and synthetic narration can thrive side by side—there’s plenty of work,’ says Bill Wolfsthal, a book industry veteran helping Speechki with business development.

For more information, read the article.

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