Will human narration for audiobooks become mostly unnecessary before 2026?
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Good question. My guess as not-the-author is that the spirit of the market is that only english counts because the tweet it’s based on is by roon who is an english speaker

bought Ṁ150 NO from 68% to 61%

correct.

bought Ṁ10 NO

Can we get some resolution criteria here? Text to speech existed for a few decades now, how good does it have to be to make human narration unnecessary? If people still prefer humans if there's little difference, how will it resolve?

opened a Ṁ100 YES at 55% order

I already use AI narration to read books, both fiction and nonfiction. It's at the stage that it sounds natural enough that I forget that it's automated, but also has less expressiveness than a human narrator.

I also listen to the Project Lawful podcast, which is entirely AI generated. Despite being all AI voices, it has surprisingly high emotional expressiveness. It didn't take me long for them to just feel like "people talking" instead of AI's talking. I'm only pulled out when the AI doesn't misparses how to read something in the text (like a "#", which sometimes should be read "number" and sometimes should be read "hash")

Arguably, we're already at the "mostly unnecessary" point. It seems pretty likely that we'll be passed the "narrator Turing test" by 2026.

This could be handy for making some audiobook:

I think human narration is already largely unnecessary. If one is willing to accept a subpar listening experience, there's loads of existing TTS software that can do that.

Right, like I was reading long works with Mac TTS 10+ years ago and it was fine. So I'm sort of assuming this question is about, like "on par with Patrick Tull" or something

I think there is a middle ground with a recorded voice session being essentially overhauled with enough A.I. so it becomes neither fish nor fowl. I have run mangled audio through A.I. this way and it's wholly convincing. But I'm not sure what it is.

Alright, I am extremely bullish on the fact that AI will free us from work. However, I listen to a LOT of audiobooks and I can tell you that current voice models would be a major turn-off for me.

A good audiobook is not just someone who reads the words but someone who actually performs. It's why the best audiobooks are done by professional voice actors and not by some random guy or celebrity.

Current audio models, even the new ones displayed by OpenAI, have a certain "falseness" to them. Maybe that's just in my mind, but having listened to so many people read so many books, I feel like I can sense when the intonation just isn't quite right. This will undoubtedly improve in the future, but I am unsure if that will happen before 2026.

The most realistic scenario I can see is that you can have a book narrated in whatever style you like, but that there's some "officialy read" version published as well. If this happens, we'll also surely see this in the indie writing scene on sites like RoyalRoad.

@PickleManiac The dramatic voice acting is exactly why I dislike human narrators. I don't want to hear someone's interpretation of the text, I just want to hear the text. Like a book, but using audio.

@singer Yeah, that's understandable. If you're looking for automatic text narration, we have been here for a long while already. I should mention that I was talking about novels, though. I hardly read non-fiction, haha.

The resolution criteria here is too ambiguous.

I agree with @RomanHauksson comment below. Having books read by the author will likely still demand a premium.

As an example: Barrack Obama's next memoir will probably come out within a year or two. Obama is one of the most deepfake-able people alive, with peak AI quality available. Yet, I suspect consumers will have a strong preference for him actually reading it. For him and other memoir authors, how they choose to intonate the moments and people of their life all make up their personal story. These are things AI and listeners can guess, but without the author's telling cannot know.

But again, the resolution criteria is too ambiguous. One could say that "mostly unnecessary" means we can carve out and exclude memoirs or a few other categories. One could also say "mostly unnecessary" means AI just needs to get greater than 50% of the quality or understandability. But if these exceptions are allowed for "mostly unnecessary", you could probably resolve this "yes" now.

If defined in terms like "will a majority of the 100 best selling audiobooks in 2025 be read by AI", I think "no" is a pretty safe bet.

Until a better definition is given, I'll hold my Mana.

Market description could do with a more measurable criteria. Or, if subjective, some more details to help us know what we actually are forecasting.

@GazDownright I was betting on this: "if AI narration becomes indistinguishable from human narration to the untrained ear, it would resolve as YES.". I agree it should be placed in the description as well tho.

@patrik Okay, cheers. I have a perhaps nitpicky but not unthinkable follow-up in light of the Sam 'Not Consistently Candid' Altmann and Scarlett Johansson situation. What if legislation prohibits AIs from having specific voices from individuals who have not given away their rights? You have the same with image rights today. This means there will be a market where living individual human voices are still sought after, thus not redundant. How would you resolve this admittedly hypothetical case?

@GazDownright I am not the creator of this market. But I imagine that it doesn't have to mimic a specific person's voice.

bought Ṁ10 YES

Why are people betting no?

@FranklinBaldo can you be more specific as to what "mostly unnecessary" means? I think many people in social spheres that tend to hype AI will be claiming it is mostly unnecessary—indeed, some would already claim that—but I don't the audiobook narration industry will be reduced by more than, say, 80% (measured by dollars, people, or jobs). Just as with other industries (e.g., radiologists, graphic design), AI hypers tend to underestimate the challenges, such as the large practical difference between 99% and 99.9% "performance" and the hard-to-notice subtleties involved in human skills (e.g., Polanyi's paradox).

@Jacy even if human narration continues to exist, if AI narration becomes indistinguishable from human narration to the untrained ear, it would resolve as YES.

@FranklinBaldo that doesn't seem consistent with the question posed, but sure, I would guess that an untrained population (e.g., US nationally representative crowdworkers) will still be able to distinguish the average AI narration from the average (professional) narration with statistical significance (e.g., 100 workers each with 10 tests each of 1 minute of complex book-style audio).

predicts NO

If we don't restrict this question to English, I see almost no way for this to resolve yes. Even if it is restricted, I'd still hesitantly bet no, but more because of the timeline. 2028 is more what I'd bet.

@Vergissfunktor yes, english only

AI text narration is already almost indistinguishable from human narration, and I would be very surprised if it didn't surpass parity with humans before 2026.

That being said, I (and probably a significant chunk of other audiobook listeners) would still pay money for audiobooks narrated manually by the author, even if I could generate a free version by cloning the author's voice and running a text-to-voice model on my laptop.

There's something about hearing an author narrating their work themself that's worth at least a couple of bucks. I don't see this demand going away so quickly.

Plus, the writer's strike was damn successful, and I think it's reasonable to expect the same thing happening for audiobook narrators as well.

predicts YES

@RomanHauksson IMO this is true for non-fiction. But for novels, it really helps to have a voice actor. Im confident AI can help with this.

@RomanHauksson you bring up a valid point regarding the unique charm of an author's narration. As AI technologies advance to a stage where they can mimic an author’s voice indistinguishably, listeners will find it hard to distinguish between AI and human narrators . The essence of this market relies on the indistinguishability, which if achieved, could indeed make human narration for audiobooks mostly unnecessary.

@RomanHauksson I use AI voice to listen to a lot of content but find it absolutely delightful to listen to a narration by Stephen Fry for instance. I wanna see how good AI voice cloning is on a voice like his before betting here

@RomanHauksson yeah I'm listening to The Atlas of the Heart and it's read by the author and she does little asides and rereads sentences she thinks are especially important, and just her voice and intonation

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