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AI Influence on Audiobooks Grows—As Does Controversy

Publishers Weekly: “The advent of AI-enabled audiobook narration has been a hot topic of discussion in audiobook circles of late, and according to a number of audiobook narrators and other industry professionals, an October PW article raised the temperature of debate further. In that piece, consultant and PW columnist Thad McIlroy discussed the state of AI-enabled audiobook narration and its potential appeal to audiobook creators and consumers. He also profiled several players in this nascent nook of the still-booming digital audiobook segment. As the audiobook industry begins to more extensively weigh the pros and cons of another new technology on its doorstep, a growing number of players are joining the conversation. “It’s practically all we talk about,” said audiobook narrator Hillary Huber. “I am a member of the SAG-AFTRA [Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] Audiobook Steering Committee, and I am a board member of our newly formed Professional Audiobook Narrators Association, or PANA, and believe me we are circling the wagons.” She noted that McIlroy’s piece created an uproar in narrator circles—“much of it fear driven rather than informed,” she admitted—and that it had “galvanized our community to get educated and get involved.” Proponents of AI audiobook narration tout its much lower production costs (compared to a traditional recording of a human narrator) as a way to improve profitability of audiobooks as well as allowing publishers to publish more audiobooks that have limited audiences. But according to actor and narrator Emily Lawrence, cofounder of PANA and president of its board of directors, “It’s very easy to reduce this issue to dollars and cents, but it’s very complicated and nuanced.” If AI narration proliferates, “it’s not just narrators who will lose their jobs,” Lawrence said. “There’s an entire ecosystem of people who rely on audiobooks for their livelihood. People who direct audiobooks, people who edit audiobooks, people who check audiobook narration for word-for-word perfection against the manuscript.”..

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