As some people might know I’m a very heavy user of digital content in any form. When it comes to audio, I currently have Audible’s most expensive membership plan as well as subscribing to 36 podcasts (and counting). What I find to be an increasing problem especially with audio books is the quality of the narrator. Lately I’ve found myself browsing audio books based on narrators I like instead of authors I like. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
With podcasts you can’t really complain since they are free and done on a voluntary basis, but with audio books you pay money for the files and you expect to get the product you pay for. I recently heard the Kindle 2 text-to-speech demoed and my first though was that the Kindle actually sounds less like a robot than certain audio book narrators I’ve heard lately.
To give you some examples, Coyote is a book I bought before learning about the importance of the sample button. Even after I’ve listened to one of the spinoffs (read by another narrator) and really liked it I couldn’t bare myself to get through that one. I got some second opinions from 5 of my friends and all of them individually said the same thing that I have. I find his voice is very monotonous, I think he pauses in the wrong places, lacks any power of empathy and basically sounds like a text-to-speech application. This is also something that people have commented on in that book’s comment field, which further proves my point. To hear for yourself, click the link and use the little sample player underneath the cover art for a sample of the book. As a comparison, the narrator of the Starship series is one of my all time favorite narrators and on several occasions I’ve bought books based on what he’s narrated for that specific reason.
Of course, narration is a personal preference to some extent, but that to me is just another reason why companies like Audible should make extra sure that the people they get for these readings can do it in a way that’s not irritating to anyone. There are so many good voice actors out there that there is really no need to hire robots. I’m not expecting every narrator to be the next Michael Winslow, but it would be nice to be able to use the audio books for something besides putting myself to sleep.
I therefore strongly urge Audible and other audio book manufacturers to have a bit more quality control of the narrators and use stricter criteria. Audio books are like music; it won’t sell unless the performer can sing.