Amazon’s KDP AI audiobooks faces backlash from authors

Amazon’s KDP AI audiobooks faces backlash from authors

Fear and frustration over Amazon's new virtual audiobooks project

by Suswati Basu
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Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is launching an invite-only beta program in the United States that offers authors a cutting-edge tool to transform eBooks into audiobooks using virtual voice technology. This initiative, limited to a select group of KDP authors, leverages synthetic speech technology to revolutionise the audiobook creation process. However, critics say it is yet another threat to voice actors in the era of AI.

Read: Spotify audiobooks: a challenge to the publishing world

With this new feature, KDP authors can convert an eBook to an audiobook in a few steps: select an eligible eBook, sample and choose a virtual voice, customise the narration, and set a list price. Once published, the audiobook will be available within 72 hours across the vast distribution network where Audible titles are sold, and authors are said to expect 40% royalty on their sales.

Authors’ worry over AI taking over jobs

However, in the wake of the American actors’ union SAG-AFTRA strike, voice actors and authors took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to put forward their concerns. Professional audiobook narrator George Cavanaugh said he will no longer have control over his work on the Amazon platforms. Softwood Self Publishing said there would be a human cost to the project.

Giving authors ‘more choices’

Currently, only 4% of self-published titles through KDP offer an audiobook version, as reported by an Amazon spokesperson. With the introduction of synthetic speech technology, that number is expected to surge. “We are excited to introduce a new option for customers and authors,” noted Amazon spokesperson Lindsay Hamilton, who spoke to Publishers Weekly. “Virtual voice gives authors more choices to create audiobooks and will deliver greater selection to customers.”

Read: Amazon issues new AI policy for KDP platform

The aim is to extend the reach of KDP authors, enabling them to tap into new audiences. Audiobooks produced through this method will be included in the Audible Plus catalogue if they originate from eBooks in KDP Select, making them eligible for earnings from the KDP Select Global Fund.

Read: Stephen Fry raises alarm over AI identity theft using Harry Potter at CogX

In line with transparency, Amazon says such audiobooks will be distinctly marked to inform customers that the narration is generated via virtual voice. Nonetheless, customers will retain the ability to preview these audiobooks.

More updates expected

As this beta program is poised to expand, KDP has indicated that further updates will be shared in the months to come. Authors who want to take part can sign up for KDP’s email subscription for future participation details. However, this measure has already left many in the industry feeling unsettled.

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