Google Assistant received more natural-sounding voice models again in October thanks to updated natural language processing and prosody models which use machine learning to understand and stitch together sentences with better intonation, rhythm, and stress. Now, they seem to be applying that same technology to Google Play Books in order to turn any book into an audiobook, and I totally saw it coming.
The upcoming feature seeks to give an auto-generated narrator’s voice to text-only books to make them more accessible and immersive. Google Play is working with publishers in the U.S. and the UK for the rollout and will make the publisher tool to create auto-narrated audiobooks available in early 2021 with a beta available now.
Once set up for auto-narration, a user can choose between different machine learning and AI-created narrator voices like a cowboy named Tex, and more. It seems to be using the same technology as Google Duplex or at least Google Assistant to make the voices sound natural and exciting. If they can manage to pull this off, and I believe they can, it’s possible that they can give Amazon Audible a run for their money! While they don’t need to pay narrators to read books into a microphone, they’ve probably dumped millions of dollars into this technology, but it’s being used across Google, so it’s a great investment. Work smarter, not harder, right?
I’ve actually been thinking about this very concept for quite some time. I often use the read-aloud feature in Google Play Books as a life hack to make all of my books into audiobooks. Well, all of the books that have the read-aloud feature as an option, at least. The problem is that even with the improved voice models (over Wi-Fi) turned on in the settings, it lacked a sense of connection with the author and delivered text with an almost monotonous tone, missing the nuances that make real narrated books worth listening to.
I actually stumbled across a new Google Play Books Support ‘Message us (Beta)’ in the app’s settings while reading a book last month and took the opportunity after seeing Google’s new prosody models roll out Duplex to ask whether or not the company was considering adding these innovations to Play Books. As you can see from my transcript below, I asked specifically about turning every book into an audiobook and they stated that it was “top of mind for Google, as we keep progressing with it (the read-aloud feature) further”. Something gives me a feeling that I hit the nail on the head when I asked about this and they had already been working on it, which is very exciting!
It’s worth noting that these innovations are not currently being applied to every book and instead the decision will be left up to publishers, but it’s clear, to me at least, that this is Google’s end goal. The only question is – will they separate the auto-generated narrators into an audiobook with a separate price or give it away as a free throw in with regular books. If they do the latter, it allows real audiobooks to co-exist in the Play Store and gives users the auto-narrated “audiobook” and the text book for one single price – something Amazon doesn’t even do.