Audible Captions and the Publishing Industry

Illustration of two people, one is wearing headphones.

What Are Audible Captions?

Back in July of 2019, Amazon-based platform Audible announced a new feature called “Audible Captions”.  The feature, as you might have guessed, provided machine-generated captions to accompany Audible’s audiobooks. These captions only provided users with around 3 words of text at time, which were shown as the text was read aloud. But publishers were still very skeptical of this new feature.  

Publishers felt that having written content accompany the audiobook would deter readers from also buying the eBook version of a title.  They argued that this captioning feature essentially turned these audiobooks into eBooks.  As a result of this controversy, seven major publishers ended up suing Audible over their captions. 

Gone But Not Forgotten

The lawsuit, however, was quickly settled. And while the settlement was sealed, it would seem that the Audible Caption program has been cancelled. Which is, frankly, a big loss for digital accessibility.  Audible Captions would have been a great feature for hard of hearing people and people with certain cognitive disabilities. Audible Captions would have also allowed users to quickly look up the meanings of words as they are read. This would have been a great feature for just about anyone. 

Despite the results of this lawsuit, features like Audible Captions are inevitable when it comes to the future of Audiobooks. This particular situation has been compared to the friction between early music downloading services and music publishers back in the early 2000’s.  In both cases, changing technologies have created new consumer expectations for an industry.  These expectations require industries to make changes to the way they think about and sell their products.  Because those consumer demands aren’t going to go away, particularly when it comes to accessibility. 

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