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There is a growing list of university press books that I desperately want to read (and review) that, due to their lack of audiobook versions, I’ve been unable to do either. 

Some university press titles have audiobook companions. Most don’t.

There are only so many hours in a day that I can devote to visual reading. Often, when I find time to read a printed book (usually a Kindle e-book), I only want to relax with a good novel.

Reading university press nonfiction titles requires focus and concentration, which I find easier to manage while listening and multitasking.

I get why university press books often don’t have an audiobook version. University press books sell in small numbers as compared to commercial publishers.

There are high upfront expenses to creating an audiobook. Voice artists and producers need to be paid. Studios need to be rented.

Audiobook versions of university press titles will likely sell too few copies to justify the costs.

The challenging economics of university press audiobooks is where AI-narrated audiobooks come in. What Apple calls digital narration.

On the Apple digital narration page, you can hear samples of AI-narrated books. There is Madison, a soprano, reading mystery. Warren, a baritone, narrates a fantasy book. We have Helena (soprano) and Mitchell (baritone) for nonfiction. Romance fans can spend time with Jackson, a baritone.

If you listen to the audiobook samples on the Apple page, you will discover that they sound pretty good. Not perfect, but not bad.

It isn’t easy to judge what these voices would be like to live with for an entire eight- or 10-hour audiobook, as they are only brief samples. But over all, surprisingly okay.

Of course, the quality of AI audiobook narrators will only improve. And rapidly.

While audiobook AI narration may never reach the quality of a Julia Whelan, the gap will narrow with each passing day.

An AI version of a university press audiobook would be better than no audiobook. But what if AI narrators started to crowd out human voice actors?

Is AI in university press audiobooks a slippery slope? Wouldn’t the economics of university presses dictate that, eventually, all audiobook titles be narrated by AI?

Do universities really want to be at the forefront of replacing talented professionals (voice actors) with AI?

Do the benefits of having university press books more widely read outweigh the risks of crowding out voice-actor narrated books?

Are any university press publishers thinking about making this AI audiobook move? Have any done so already?

What do you think?

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