Audible created subtitles for audiobooks, but not everyone is happy

audible audiobook store

Audible, an audiobook publisher owned by Amazon, has developed a new feature to the application that lets customers listen to audiobooks. It is possible to read a book in the app at the same time as an audiobook is playing. When you think about it for a moment, it actually makes sense.

Here is how Audible Captions work

The concept is simple: when you listen to an audiobook in Audible app, it can display subtitles for the entire audiobook as you listen. The audio and subtitles are in sync.

You can tap a word – audio automatically pauses – view the word’s meaning or translation, and let the audio resume.

It looks like the subtitles for audiobooks are generated by a computer program (a speech recognition software that outputs text).

If I consider Audible Captions as a new feature for book lovers, it is a wonderful feature for people who, for instance, are learning a new language or are studying a topic they want to understand and remember as quickly as possible. I have been studying a new language for a couple of years. When I watch television programs spoken in the language I want to learn, I always have subtitles on. It has allowed me to understand the language faster.

In addition, in some countries it is normal practice that not a single show, movie or news broadcast on television is dubbed. All foreign language programs always have subtitles. Educators believe that it is one of the reasons why people in these countries can read well, and have a degree of understanding of foreign languages.

So, for customers of audiobooks, the Audible Captions feature has benefits, but the publishing industry is not happy with it.

audiobook playing on phone, paper book open
Photo: Konstantin Dyadyun.

Copyright issues in Audible Captions

Publishers Weekly reports about terrified book publishers who claim that Audible doesn’t have the rights to produce a textual version of audiobooks. The publishers argue that displaying subtitles for an audiobook requires the same license as an ebook.

Once again, digital technology has enabled an innovation that a certain group of people will like and will want to use. Once again, enterprises that are running traditional publishing businesses don’t want anyone to disturb their operational models. Of course, in this case, writers are keen to protect their share of the revenue as well.

Audible hasn’t showed the Captions feature to publishers yet, or talked with publishers about potential agreements. The feature is planned to be updated into Audible apps in September 2019.

Let’s hope Audible, writers and publishers find a way to reach an agreement for the Captions feature to be launched. Nonetheless, this case reminds me of ebook subscription service Scribd that recently decided to write digests of nonfiction ebooks that are available in the service. Scribd didn’t talk about the Snapshots initiative to publishers at all, but launched it and claimed that Scribd owns the rights for the digest titles.

An introductory video clip shows how the audio and the subtitles are synced:


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