One thing we all need to understand is that AI-produced content doesn’t have to be perfect to be commercially viable. Just good enough. The reality is if the reading and listening public just wanted Shakespeare there would be no publishing industry.
ByteDance, best known as the owner of the ever-controversial social media platform TikTok, is preparing for an IPO that could bring in more cash to a company already valued at $400 billion.
Per a report from Bloomberg, ByteDance is looking to increase its e-commerce operations 3-fold this year, to a USD equivalent value of $39.8 billion – and that’s excluding revenue from TikTok and Bytedance’s other operations outside China.
At which point some will be wondering what this has to do with publishing, so some snippets from a TNPS post back in June 2020:
When it comes to AI-narrated audio the publishing industry has a relaxed, even complacent stance. It will never happen. And when it does (the industry loves to deny something is possible whilst simultaneously explaining why it is doomed to fail) it will be unsellable rubbish.
Enter, stage left, TikTok. Or rather, TikTok owner ByteDance which, not content with disrupting the social media video industry, launched into social media music earlier this year and now aims to set the audiobook world on fire.
At what point we will see Bytedance launch an international version is anyone’s guess, but bear in mind how TilTok emerged from nowhere to become a global force. Bytedance knows how to play the wider world beyond the shores of the motherland.
Audiobooks? Big deal. Audible and Storytel have that market pretty much stitched up, we might think. But hold on. The TNPS report was significant not for this being yet another audiobook platform with delusions of grandeur, but because Bytedance has a USP the western book markets should be taking very seriously.
We of course don’t know how much of the ByteDance expansion plan, if any, will be focussed on its publishing endeavours, but a rising revenue tide raises all boats.
Fanqui Novels, owned by ByteDance, is handling the content and consumers can choose from “standard,” “emotional,” or “boutique” male or female AI narration to bring to life books across genres from fantasy to self-help.
Per TNPS, at start 2020 the China audiobook (inc. podcasting) market was valued at $1.1 billion, with end-2020 consumer numbers expected to have hit 562 million (no updates on that yet, as best I know).
The big question, per TNPS, is,
Can ByteDance’s AI-narrated content hit the mark and produce narrated audio that warrants cold hard cash being handed over to listen to?
My response then, and little to change here, was this:
We can safely say in 2020 we haven’t reached that stage yet with AI narration in the European languages, but I can only speculate if maybe the Chinese language lends itself better to AI narration, or if China’s tech guys are ahead of the curve.
It’s clear TikTok parent company ByteDance thinks this is a runner, and publishers, producers and narrators alike should be watching this closely. Because one thing we all need to understand is that AI-produced content doesn’t have to be perfect to be commercially viable. Just good enough.
I’m sure we can all point to mega-bucks authors whose books we regard as of laughable quality and that even the non-writers among us think they could have done better.
But the reality is if the reading and listening public just wanted Shakespeare there would be no publishing industry.
Trade publishing caters to a wide audience, many of whom want nothing more from a book than to be entertained and left feeling their money hadn’t been wasted.
If AI can deliver that then AI is ready to compete.
Be afraid. Be just a tiny bit afraid.