• Archie on Google audio

    30 November 2023

    Anyone fancy listening to an AI Archibald Lox audio book?!?


    Intrigued by the extistence of AI narrators, I tried launching the Archibald Lox series as audio books a few months ago, on Apple, but it was a mess. I wasn't able to have any kind of editorial control over the process. I wasn't able to control the price of the audio books (Apple hiked the prices far higher than I wished). And I wasn't able to have the omnibus Volumes adapted, meaning I had to use the nine small books of the series, which made it VERY expensive. And for some reason their system couldn't handle book 3 and wouldn't publish it, leaving a gaping hole in the series! In the end I called time and shut it down. As I noted last month, to the delight of those who are anti-AI, it was a case of Humans 1 - AI 0!!!! :-)


    BUT, just as in the second Terminator movie, the machines are back! I noticed that GOOGLE are also now doing AI audio books, and upon investigation, their system is far superior to Apple's. I'm able to edit each book -- for instance, I noticed that the word "live" in the last line of the final book was being pronounced to rhyme with "five" instead of "give", which was a major flaw, but I was able to easily go in and tweak the line slightly to get the correct pronunciation of the word. I was able to have the omnibus Volumes adapted, so there are only 3 books to collect. And I can directly control the prices, so I was able to keep the overall cost down -- I set it at $6.99 (or your local equivalent) per book, and if you buy all 3 Volumes you get a 5% discount, bringing the cost for the entire audio series in at just under $20.


    Here's the direct buying link for Volume 1: https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/Darren_Shan_Archibald_Lox_Volume_1_The_Missing_Pri?id=AQAAAEASCi1KLM


    I know that views on this matter are decidedly mixed, and many people are of the opinion that all "creative" AI is bad AI and should never be tolerated in the creative fields, i.e. it's fine if it's a medical programme that will help save lives, but a no-no if it's putting writers, artists or voice performers out of work.


    I'm in two minds. I can see the downsides of AI, obviously, but I also think it's truly mind-blowing technology. While I try to avoid cliches as much as possible in my books, the truth is that my jaw dropped when I was playing around with the Google programme.


    It's also author-empowering. Audio books are very expensive and time-consuming to produce. Like most self-published authors, audio books have been beyond my reach to date -- I just can't justify spending several thousand euro on having the Archie or Darren Dash books adapted, knowing I'm not going to make that money back.


    AI offers me the chance to get around what so far has been an impassable audio barrier, and make the books available to the small number of fans who have politely but insistently been asking me for many years to release my self-published books on audio. It takes some of the power from the hands of the traditional publishing companies and puts it into the hands of writers who don't enjoy their backing, and as a small self-publisher (albeit one who has also published traditionally) I'm all in favour of that. I'm by no means anti-traditional-publishing, but I think it's good for writing in general if there's an easy route to market for the little guys too, and if they can compete on a more even playing ground with the big players.


    Having said that, I don't think the threat to audio book narrators is quite as pronounced as doomsayers will claim. As impressive as the Google audio narrators are, they're NOT the same as real-life narrators, and the end product is nowhere near as polished as a REAL audio book. It's an admirable fake, but fake nonetheless, lacking the passion and nuances that a skilled human narrator brings to the table. If I could afford it, I'd be going for a human narrator, and I'm sure that traditional publishers will continue to use humans for the majority of their more commercial authors. Human-narrated audio books are undeniably better, and will remain the first choice of anyone who can afford to go down that route, but AI gives the little guys a chance to at least dip their toes in the water and grow their market slightly.


    Oh, finally, one tiny but crucial point that swung the balance for me firmly going ahead with this was the name of the audio narrator that I chose. Google offer several of them, and one is called... ARCHIE!!! I think the gods of AI were tipping me a wink with that one, and whispering in their most human (but inhuman) voice, "Come on, Darren, you KNOW you want to!!!!"


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