The Future of Synthetic Narration in Audiobook Production

Today we are going to talk about benefits publishers can get from audiobook production. Our publishing consultant Bill Wolfsthal will share his opinion on synthetic narration in audiobook production and tell you more about Speechki. We give the floor to Bill!

Is it hard to make money in publishing?

To make a long story short, yes, it is.

My background is in independent publishing. Since the 1980s, I have worked in sales, rights, and editorial roles for independent publishers, including Harry Abrams and Skyhorse. I know how hard it is to publish books and turn a profit.

There is an old joke I’ve heard over and over again over the years. ‘How do you make a small fortune in book publishing? Start with a big fortune.’ It’s funny because it’s true. It is hard to make money publishing books.

Because profitable book publishing can be a struggle, because publishers operate on small margins, and because most books sell modestly, every publisher must be efficient in what they do, justify every expenditure, and search for new sources of revenue.

Bookstores have always been one revenue source, but so many others have appeared over the years, some still producing revenue and some long gone.

Once upon a time, revenue came from book clubs, mail order catalogs, department stores, chain bookstores, paperback rights, serial rights, and licensing CD-ROMs. Those revenue streams have pretty much disappeared.

Today’s publisher revenue comes from online retailers, especially one very large one, warehouse clubs, big box stores, specialty chains, custom publishing, sales to schools and libraries, translation rights, and ebooks. And, over the last few years, a new opportunity has appeared: audiobooks.

Make your fortune in audiobooks…

In 2022 and beyond, audiobooks offer a growing source of revenue, whether you have already invested heavily in producing audiobooks or whether you are just getting started. Maybe you have licensed your books to audiobook publishers. Maybe you have begun to produce your own books. Maybe you are already getting 10% of your revenue from audio. Maybe you haven’t published an audiobook yet. It doesn’t really matter. There is growth available to you.

Audiobooks sales in 2020 exceeded $1.3 billion in the US, up 12% over 2019. The percentage of Americans 18 and older who have listened to an audiobook reached 46% last year. Yet less than 5% of books in print worldwide are available as audiobooks.

Audiobooks give you access to a new audience. When you expanded to ebooks, you simply moved readers from paper to a gadget. With audio, podcast fans, Spotify junkies, and fans of old-school radio offer you a chance to not just convert but to expand. They may not buy and read print books, but they will listen to an audiobook.

…using the only one service

Speechki is ready to help publishers upscale their audio catalogs faster and more inexpensively than they ever could before. Traditional audiobooks, on average, cost $5,000 and take a month to produce. Speechki’s business model is simple. We don’t hold rights. We don’t distribute. We simply take your text and return it to you as audio.

Our technology reduces the cost of creating audiobooks, and therefore it removes the biggest hurdle keeping publishers from converting their books to an audio format.

Instead of spending weeks and thousands of pounds creating an audiobook, Speechki can do it quickly and inexpensively. The high speed and low cost of audiobook production are made possible thanks to artificial intelligence and a new generation of synthetic voices.

The Speechki team was one of the first on the market to recognize the opportunity that synthetic narration could provide to publishers.

Back in 2018, using synthetic narration, a single audiobook editor might spend 120 hours of editing work proofreading, and correcting an 8-hour audiobook. The cost of production was equal to or even higher than producing an audiobook with human narration.

Now, just 3 years later, Speechki can convert the same book in just 12 hours. 10 times faster! And we’re getting better every day as our artificial intelligence learns more and more from each manuscript.

Speechki can now produce audiobooks for as little as $500 and have them ready for publication in just two business days. That means almost any book can become a profitable audiobook for publishers.

When we first discuss our process with publishers, the assumption is that synthetic voices are terrible, that no one will want to listen to them for hours on end, and that they will sound like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. They expect a robotic-sounding voice.

They are all pleasantly surprised. Pretty much everyone who hears a sample of Speechki artificial narration is impressed with how far the technology has come in the last five years. They are impressed with the pronunciation, even of proper names and technical terms. And they are impressed with how human-sounding it is.

Flexible platform for publishers’ needs

It’s straightforward to work with Speechki. Not only because of the user-friendly interface but also because of service flexibility.

  • If you want to hire your own proof-listener to review the text and make corrections, great.
  • If you have a book with four contributors, we can provide four different voices.
  • If you have a book with a chapter in Greek, you can have that one chapter in Greek.
  • If you have footnotes, we can include them with a different tone than the primary text.
  • If you have sound effects, like music or waves on the beach to add, we can do it.
  • If you want the audio returned to you in 1 format or in 6 different formats for uploading to your distributor or customers, we can do that.
  • If you have a book that is 100 pages or 1200 pages, the process is the same.

Speechki wants to break down the barrier to entry that prevents publishers from getting started with creating audiobooks for all their titles. We want publishers to start earning revenue, and profits, as quickly as possible.