In our last blog post about the benefits of audiobooks, we were thrilled to hear from entertainment industry professionals who agreed that listening to audiobooks is a great way to immerse yourself in a story and get inspired.
What many people don’t realize is that there are two main ways for artists and authors alike to make their stories available to audiobook listeners–through professional recording or through text-to-speech (TTS) technology.
So what’s the difference? And which method is best for your creative project?
The Difference Between Audiobooks and Text-to-Speech
1. Often, but not always, the professional narration comes with a fee attached to it. TTS recording, on the other hand, is free of charge because it relies on existing software that you already have installed on your computer to read aloud whatever you write in an audio file.
2. If you want your audiobook recorded by a voice actor, then finding one can be difficult because many voice actors are booked months in advance, and cast recordings are typically paid at a per-hour rate. If you’re looking to make a bit of extra cash, or if you have a specific actor in mind, then casting your audiobook yourself might be the right choice for you.
3. TTS software is available on most computers and mobile devices. Recording professionals do not use this technology because it does not give the character and emotion of their voices, so it’s impossible to produce an authentic-sounding audiobook with just text-to-speech software alone. This means that aspiring authors are able to self-produce their own audiobooks using services like ACX, where they can reach out directly to actors via email or online voice Q&A forums and request a performance of their work.
4. The quality of TTS voice systems varies widely from one system to the next. It can be difficult for you or your listeners to tell the difference between a professional voice actor and an amateur recording that uses TTS technology.
5. If you have hired an actor who delivers a great performance but who has not mastered your script’s language, then it is sometimes possible for you as the author or publisher to provide corrections in order for text-to-speech software to more accurately read aloud what was intended by the original author.
6. The length of audiobooks produced using GARO ranges from two hours long up to sixty hours of professionally recorded with voice actors. And because TTS technology doesn’t include emotions and character inflexions built into its recordings, some argue that TTS audiobooks are not as enjoyable to listen to as those produced with professional narrators.
7. Professional narrations typically cost more money than TTS recordings, and the length of a recording is dependent on whether one person or multiple voice actors will read your book. And because of the current demand for top-quality narration, some producers may be unwilling to cast an author’s script unless it has been professionally edited by a third party first.
8. Text-to-speech recordings can reach listeners anywhere in the world who have internet access through sites such as ACX, Amazon and iTunes. However, if you choose to hire professional voice talent instead, then your audiobook will only be available in territories where those actors perform, meaning that it may not be accessible to all audiences you might want to reach.
9. TTS technology reads aloud whatever the author writes, including formattings like italics and bolding, whereas professional narrators incorporate expression into their performances by interpreting a writer’s work as opposed to reading it verbatim. Audible files recorded with TTS software tend to sound robotic because they read as if they were written in plain text (hence the name “text-to-speech”) instead of taking advantage of any native writing features an author adds.
10. Both types of audiobooks can be produced using ACX, but when it comes to TTS recordings, ACX limits a narrator’s performance time per recording project to up to 90 minutes. Therefore, if you’re writing a longer book than that, then you’ll have to divide it into two separate TTS projects and avoid any content overlap between the two recordings. On the other hand, with professional narrations of audiobooks produced with ACX, there is no limit to how long an author’s script can be or how many recording sessions are required from a narrator.
11. There is no official standard for what constitutes a complete audiobook project; some producers make judgments based upon reading time alone, while others pay attention to both word count and reading time in order to determine whether an audio cast meets their standards. Details like these can also affect your audiobook pricing as well because narration services typically charge by the hour.
12. Readers can find both types of audiobooks that have been produced using ACX via the audiobook retailer of their choice, whether it is Audible, iTunes or Amazon. However, if you plan to release your TTS audiobook through ACX, then you must stick with that service due to contractual obligations regarding exclusivity and content ownership rights.
13. There are no significant differences between how authors get paid for professional narrations versus TTS recordings because all audiobooks sold on ACX are distributed via royalty-share agreements. That means an author will earn a percentage of what each sale earns based upon the retail price in which they choose to sell their book (70% for narration royalties vs 60% for TTS royalties).
14. Both types of audiobooks can be distributed beyond the ACX community as long as they meet the criteria for each respective retailer’s content restrictions. However, authors are responsible for acquiring distribution rights to their book from ACX, and those same rights must also be obtained before signing with a professional narrator (which is good to know if an author wants to distribute all audio versions of their book themselves).
15. In order to produce either type of audiobook using ACX, an author will need two things:
(1) A vocal talent willing to narrate your script – whether it’s a voice actor you’ve hired yourself or one who has been pre-selected by the producer at ACX. And if you’re doing a TTS project, then you’ll need to apply for an ACX Direct account first.
(2) A completed Audiobook Completion Bond (ABCB), which is essentially a deposit that ACX will hold on the author’s behalf until after their script has been delivered to the narrator. For voice actors who have their own studios or work from home, this requirement is waived if they can prove they meet certain criteria set by ACX – but if your narrator works at a separate location away from their own equipment, then the ABCB is required.
16. Both TTS and professional narrations of audiobooks produced with ACX are available with distribution through Audible in addition to iTunes and Amazon. However, in order to be distributed via Audible, your script must be performed in English and is subject to a separate approval process from ACX.
17. The biggest differences between how authors get paid for TTS audiobooks versus professional narrations are: (1) Professional narrators charge by the hour while TTS software charges per word read, so it’s considerably more economical when producing an audiobook with narration services; and (2) Because authors are essentially renting out their voice talent, they lose ownership rights to the recording once it’s completed.
18. Authors who choose to produce their own audiobook recordings will earn slightly more than those who opt for a voice actor because royalty-share amounts tend to be higher when sales come from direct author website sales. Plus, ACX audiobook producers earn royalties on sales through multiple channels because the platform covers both Audible and iTunes/Amazon – but self-produced authors must deal with uploading their own files to each of these services separately (if they plan to have their work distributed there), which is a huge time commitment in addition to producing the audio version of their book.
19. Authors who opt for voice actor narrations may also have more flexibility when it comes to choosing how they want their audiobooks performed, while those who choose TTS are limited by what options are available within each of those programs. There’s also one big downside: Since authors lose ownership rights once their script has been recorded by a professional narrator, they can’t produce future versions of their audiobook – whether it’s because they want to re-record the narration or alter the book in some other way.
20. While ACX does require that all uploaded scripts are checked against a plagiarism-detection service, both TTS and professional narrators who accept assignments from ACX will conduct plagiarism checks on their own. This is particularly important for those who opt for voice actors because voice talent has access to an author’s script before they begin recording, and any material that reads similar to another work would be grounds for legal action if it turns out the material was stolen.