Episode Summary

Join us as we learn about the new ways Google Play is bringing AI Narration into the world of audiobooks! Ryan Dingler shares more news about this evolving feature looking to change the audio space.

Episode Notes

We’ll learn the latest from Google Play Books product manager Ryan Dingler, including what they’re doing with auto-narrated audiobooks. More audiobooks are now available to listeners than ever before. Thanks to Google’s machine learning, ebooks are able to be auto-narrated, giving a voice to books that currently don’t have one.

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Mark Lefebvre, Ryan Dingler

Mark Lefebvre 00:03

Hello, and welcome to Draft2Digital Self-Publishing Insiders. My name is Mark Leslie Lefebvre, and I am the Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital. And I’m honored to have in a virtual studio with me today, Ryan Dingler. Ryan, welcome to the show.

Ryan Dingler 00:21

Thanks for having me.

Mark Lefebvre 00:24

I’m so excited to talk about Google Play and all the amazing things you guys are doing. But first, what is your official title at Google Play Books?

Ryan Dingler 00:33

So I’m a product manager on Play Books. I’ve been on the team for about three years, Product Manager a little bit not a known function outside of tech companies. I basically oversee a lot of the software that we’re working on, both on the consumer side and the publisher side. And I’ve had the fortunate benefit to be able to work on Play Books the entire time I’ve been at Google, for those three years.

Mark Lefebvre 00:57

Oh, that’s exciting. So were you a book guy before you got into this? Tech guy, book guy, sort of a peanut butter and chocolate coming together? Was that what it was?

Ryan Dingler 01:05

Somewhere in the middle there, yeah. I’d never worked on books before this. I am an avid reader myself. That’s why I was attracted to it. But I was more in the tech realm actually, like, more broadly. So I worked on payments and things like that. But it’s good to be able to combine my hobbies with my work, makes work a lot easier.

Mark Lefebvre 01:26

That’s always fantastic. So I just want to be clear for anyone watching. Yes, this is a Draft2Digital interview with Self-Publishing Insiders, which we do every Thursday, or almost every Thursday, I think we’ve only missed two this year in 2022, at 1pm Eastern or noon Central. And I want to be clear that Draft2Digital does not currently distribute to Google Play Books. But we’re all about empowering and informing authors and giving them ideas on how they can be successful. So I’m really excited, Ryan, for you to be here. I just wanted to make sure people don’t log into their Draft2Digital dashboard and go, how do I get to Google Play? How do authors get to Google Play? It’s a direct relationship, correct?

Ryan Dingler 02:11

Yeah, it’s a direct relationship. You can just go to Google and type in Google Play Books, publishing will be the first thing that pops up there, and we have an easy online flow that you can go through. One of the reasons we need a direct account is because of our relationship with Google Book Search. So every time you put your book on Google Play Books, it also appears on Google Book Search, always confusing to say Google and Books in the same thing and be different things. But there is a connection there.

Mark Lefebvre 02:40

Well, that’s … because Google has long had the project that they want to have access to let people know about every book that’s available in the world. So when you go, how does this process work when somebody goes to set up an account? Because I figure, for anyone who doesn’t know anything about Google Play Books, let’s walk them through the basics of getting set up: how it works, how much it costs them, all the things.

Ryan Dingler 03:00

Yeah, well maybe we’ll start off on cost, it is entirely free. So you go through the online flow, you say the name of your publishing company, where you’re located. And then you agree to the terms and service, you hopefully sign up for some emails so that we can let you know about important updates your account and things like that. Once you come in, it’s really about kind of fundamental stuff, dealing with setting up payments, you want to be able to get paid when you do sell your books, setting up your taxes so that we can effectively distribute the right amount of taxes. Once you get through all of that like back-end stuff, you actually go to set up your book inside of our Partner Center, which that is the name of the product. You do it one by one, you can do it through bulk uploads. So most publishers don’t actually know about this. So if you are just coming to us for the first time and you have a very large catalog of books that you want to put on, it would be pretty time consuming to do it one by one. We do have that ability, we have a nice new flow that we designed almost two and a half years ago now. And you can go through that. Or you can do a function through bulk, which is you just upload the files. You do need to give like specific names and things like that and use CSV. There is a whole Help Center page to do it. So if you’re looking to upload 50 books at once, I would advise to go that way. And it’s definitely good to have the complete set of your books on Google Play, especially if they’re in a series, because that’s quite important.

Mark Lefebvre 04:28

Well, I like that idea. Because it makes sense to have the entry to go one by one. But authors who have been publishing for a long time may actually have a huge catalog. And that could take them hours to enter all their titles. So you have that template, you have the upload that really can save people a lot of time. Another thing that saves people time that I just want to address, but before I address that, I just have to pop up this comment from Craig who says, your dashboard on Google Books is the best of every platform. Love it.

Ryan Dingler 04:59

Yeah, that is great to hear, we worked quite hard on that, to get it out.

Mark Lefebvre 05:03

Well, one of the things I love about the platform is, I’ve got a price promo coming up, actually scheduled, went live today on one of my books, but I set it up a couple weeks ago. Because after I’ve set up my book, and it’s published, and I have my metadata in there, I was able to schedule my price drop to begin at 12:01 a.m. local time. But there’s a couple of key factors, I think, for Google Play. So Google Play is available, the Google Play Books store is available in how many countries around the world?

Ryan Dingler 05:36

We always like to say 75 plus, I think the actual number is maybe like 81, 80, it fluctuates a little bit every now and then.

Mark Lefebvre 05:43

So you can set your price, not just in US dollars, but you can set your pricing in numerous currencies. So you have that flexibility, but then you can pre-schedule. So what I did is, I went in and I scheduled a price change, and it’s gonna drop on the day I wanted to drop and it’s gonna go back up on the day I want it to go back up. And I’m not sure how many authors are familiar with that.

Ryan Dingler 06:02

Yeah, so that is a functionality that we’ve had for quite a while. There is a new thing now. Before, you had to use CSVs or Excel sheets to do it. We made it so it’s nice, hopefully nicely intuitive for users and publishers to just go in and do it in the flow. And yeah, exactly as you said, you can schedule something. You can schedule it to start, you actually don’t even need to provide an end date. So you can have it going as long as you want. And you can schedule months and months in advance. So you have it all laid out. You want to go on vacation and have your books price drop at the right time, they can do that there.

Mark Lefebvre 06:36

Can authors do preorders on Google Play Books as well?

Ryan Dingler 06:40

You can do preorders. We right now have requirements that we need to have the content beforehand. We are working on this to do kind of content list preorders, but you do have the ability. And the only thing that we ask right now is that you provide the content in advance.

Mark Lefebvre 06:56

Okay. All right. And that’s probably a customer-centric perspective, right? You want to make sure that the book is ready to go.

Ryan Dingler 07:03

Exactly. And one thing to note on preorders, we have somewhat of a confusing interface that I’m trying to make a little bit better. But we always do get this question about what is the difference between publication date and on sale date. This stems from Google Book Search, where we’re trying to catalog the world’s information of books. And sometimes we get a book on our platform that is 100 years old, but just released to our platform. So publication date is when it originally came out. So if you put something in there, it actually has no effect on the book going live. So you can say this was written in 1950. But then the on-sale date is where you put where you want to actually release it. If you leave it blank, it goes live immediately. But if you put in the future, that’s when you’d be in the preorder territory.

Mark Lefebvre 07:49

Okay, so potentially, this is a logistical question for authors who have published exclusively to some other platform that requires exclusivity all the time. And then they want to release it wide and go to Google Play Books. Does that mean, in the publication date field, they would put the original publication date that it first came out anywhere, and then they would put in the on-sale date on Google Play Books?

Ryan Dingler 08:13

That’s exactly right. And it’s to help us understand when that book was done. One small tidbit that I always like to comment on that is not applicable to publishing specifically, but it’s just, if you’ve ever gone to Google and search for a word, and they show you the popularity of that word over time, that is entirely driven by this publication date. So they’re looking at books, and they’re saying this book was published in 1950. So we can see how popular that word was in 1950. It’s called Engram. It’s one of my favorite functionalities from Google.

Mark Lefebvre 08:47

Oh, my God, there’s all this functionality that we’re not familiar with. So let’s get into some of the nitty gritty, because I know authors that are watching live and will be listening to this later are probably curious about, okay, so what can I do? When I’m setting up my book, what are the things I can do? How can I put in the correct metadata to help optimize my chances of getting to the right customers looking for books on Google Play?

Ryan Dingler 09:12

So there’s obviously a number of components here, maybe I will speak on a few broad ones. Some obvious things, book descriptions, very important. We recommend somewhere between 200 and 1500 words in the book description. And then, and that’s very important for search, as most publishers know, as part of it. We don’t recommend putting keywords in there. Just write whatever you think is specifically applicable to the book. It helps better the user experience. On the genre side, we recommend putting in three subject codes, only three. And we recommend ranking them actually in importance. So you can put your most important one first and then your least important one last. That actually helps with structuring recommendations and for search. Probably one of the most important ones, although those are, obviously those are kind of like ground stakes, table stakes for me and most publishers, is series metadata. A lot of publishers, especially in the self-publishing community have books in a series, rightfully so, because it’s a great tactic to keep people reading, is to provide the correct series metadata throughout all books in the series. Right now, the publishing industry doesn’t have a great way to structure series, they have kind of two fields, to get really logistical about it. They have a series name and a series number. And the series name, we need it to be exactly the same across every single book. It’s capital case, don’t put an extra capital in one and not another, don’t put an extra space accidentally. We do try to clean up this stuff. And then the series number is hopefully whole numbers, you know, 1 2 3 4 5, no gaps, no duplicates, we like to say. Those things are actually much more important than I think publishers might realize, because we build entire series experience for our users where they can go into a series and see it structured exactly how the publisher wanted it to be structured. And we build tools around series, like series bundles if they want to buy multiple books in a series at one time.

Mark Lefebvre 11:17

So wait, so a customer on the Google Play Books store can purchase multiple books with one purchase, and you don’t have to bundle it yourself as a publisher or author?

Ryan Dingler 11:25

That’s exactly right. And this is something we’ve been working on for a couple of years. So we call it series bundles , they’re called a series bundle. And they have the ability to, on the series page, which you only get if you input your series metadata correctly, there is a little module that says you can build a series bundle, let’s say there’s seven books in the series, they could bundle. Let’s say they own book one, and they want to buy books two through seven, they can do it that way.

Mark Lefebvre 11:51

Okay, so it’ll automatically if the customer already owns one of the books, it’ll automatically only sell them the ones that are in the bundle. Wow. Oh, wow. That is fantastic. I didn’t know that about that one. I want to go back to metadata. And we’re going to take up most of the questions later on. But I did get a question that came up early on from Jenny, that I think is important to mention. And so she asks, “You said to list your publishing house, you know, when you first set up your account with Google Play. But,” she says, “What if we self-publish?”

Ryan Dingler 12:28

The publishing house actually isn’t too important. It’s more for the legal context of it, so that we know who we’re dealing with. If you self-publish, you can just put your own name or whatever pen name you go by, kind of broadly across all of your books. It’s less of a tool that’s used for consumers, because they normally would think of, I buy from this author or I buy in the series. It’s more for us to understand who as an entity we’re dealing with.

Mark Lefebvre 12:54

Okay, great. And a follow up question to what we just were talking about was the bundles. Stephanie asks, “Do you have to have all the books up first, like a complete series, before you can take advantage of that series bundling tool,” that functionality?

Ryan Dingler 13:11

You don’t need all the books up, you do need two books up at least, hence the part of the bundle. So all you need is two books in a series for it to start. And just to tease a little bit, we actually spoke about this like five to six months ago, but we’ve been working on it, we’ve been delayed a little bit. We actually have the ability to let publishers provide series bundle discounts. And the way that you can think about this is, it’s like a box set. It’s not out today, I expect it to be out in the next couple of months. But in a box set, let’s say you have seven books in the series, and you know, if they buy individually, it’s $70. If they buy all seven books together, the publisher would typically say like, maybe it’s 25% off. So we have the same ability to do that in our store, where a publisher can provide kind of three tiers. So you can say like, buy two save 5%, buy four save 10, buy six save 15. And we market that to consumers as part of an incentive to get them to buy more right away and commit to the series. So from there, we’ve actually seen tremendous success in Japan, we have quite a growing business in Japan with manga. And a large percentage of our sales actually come from these series bundles there.

Mark Lefebvre 14:26

Wow. So this series bundle thing is live now, but the pricing structure is something that’s coming in the near future. Right?

Ryan Dingler 14:33

Exactly. So the publisher bundled discounts is coming in roughly like a month or two. And with that, we’re also providing kind of insight into series that you’ve seen some of our competitors providing, so you can actually see how we structure your series rather than just kind of, I put in the series name and number, hopefully they got it right. We’ll be able to show you if we got it right according to what you were thinking.

Mark Lefebvre 14:59

Oh, that is fantastic. And I do understand, and I do encourage people listening to this to have some patience, because when you’re developing things, plans kind of get out of line and things take longer and some of the beta testing and early testing requires you to make changes to the development. So it’s just a rough estimate. But ideally, this is mid-2022, probably by the end of the year that’ll be something that’s a live feature for authors to take advantage of. And publishers, of course,

Ryan Dingler 15:25

Yeah, most certainly. We’ll have it out quite soon. We added more, because we found that publishers sometimes didn’t understand what series metadata they had provided us, and we needed to provide them more transparency about it. So we kind of added.

Mark Lefebvre 15:38

Yeah, cuz it’s, you can’t fix it if you can’t see what’s wrong. So that is great. Let’s talk about, I know there’s already an existing tool that you made available for authors to use, and I’m not sure a lot of authors have taken advantage of it. But you have this new promotions, I guess I call it a tab over on the left nav. Can you talk a little bit about the options and choices and how people can DIY their own promotions on Google Play?

Ryan Dingler 16:06

Yes, certainly. So right now, there are two types of promotions that we offer. There will be a third, which is the series bundle, the one I was just talking about, it will live on the same page. If we want to, we can also get, there’ll be a series subscription that’s entirely separate. But I’ll focus on what we have already.

Mark Lefebvre 16:22

You get me excited about these things.

Ryan Dingler 16:25

We’re very excited to talk about it. So happy to chat about it. There are two ones today. There’s promotional pricing, which is kind of the one we already talked about. And then promo codes, promotional pricing, that one is the ability to, for a book drop the price for all users. So you can, like we said before, schedule a price. I want it to drop by 20% from May 1 to June 1. And you can do it that way, you can do it in bulk through CSV. And this is changing the price for all users in the Google Play bookstore. And the second is promo codes. So this is one that we launched about two years ago. And it allows you to provide a discounted price for a subset of users that you specifically choose. So you’re, most people are familiar with promo codes. You get a code, and you can distribute it to whomever you like. And you can provide a discount that is anywhere between zero, it can be entirely free if you wanted to give it out in a newsletter to the first 100 people that can sign up. Or you can say I want it to be 30% off, and they can use that code to get 30% off the normal list price of the book.

Mark Lefebvre 17:36

Oh, that’s fantastic. And one of the things that I believe happens when you create a promo, if you put more than one book in a promo, Google Play will automatically build a landing page with just those books on it for you.

Ryan Dingler 17:48

Yeah, that’s exactly right. So with a promo code, if you do multiple books, you’re giving the user the ability to choose between one of those books, we’re looking to add that to choose multiple. So if you have five books, and you want them to choose two, that will be coming soon. But right now, if you put in five, let’s say, it creates a landing page with all five books, and they can choose one of the books that they want to redeem. So you can imagine, if you have like three series, you put in three book ones, and they can choose which series they want to start with.

Mark Lefebvre 18:20

I love that. I love that idea. I mean, I just recently took advantage of that, because oftentimes authors will put the first book in series free, but they may want to get people, encourage them to try, you know, one of the other books in the series. They can put up the whole rest of the series and say, okay, go get any other one of these books you want. You choose, I’m not going to choose for you, you choose, which I think is a great functionality. But it’s limited, right? You can’t just go and create 15 or 20 promos every month, there’s a limit to that?

Ryan Dingler 18:49

There is a limit. We think it’s fairly high. So you can create three campaigns per month. But each campaign can be 5,000 redemptions. So there’s not much of a limit in terms of that. So it’s 15,000 per month. But you do need to be a little bit strategic with how you want to allocate those or what you want to put in those promotions. Because once you use the three, you got to wait the 30 days to go to the next month.

Mark Lefebvre 19:13

Right. So I wanted to highlight a couple things you said. You mentioned that there’s a limit to redemptions and the user has the control over how many do you want to give away for free? Or how many of these coupon codes do you want allow at 30% off or 50% off or whatever? It kind of protects the author but it can also be something used strategically. I think you mentioned something, I want to repeat this because I think it’s important for authors, is the call to action. Sense of urgency is, hey, in a newsletter, you have to be one of the first 100 people to click here to get it, or something like that. Just makes it a little bit more exciting, instead of people going yeah, I’ll get to it eventually.

Ryan Dingler 19:51

Yeah, exactly. So you can put anywhere between one and 5000 as a max redemption for that campaign. Let’s say you put it on during, you can also put it by country. So I only want to offer this in the UK, for instance. And then only users that are in the UK and the first 100 can redeem it. And you also can put it by time. So you can say, you know, the first 100 or by midnight tonight get to be able to redeem this promo code.

Mark Lefebvre 20:17

Okay, wow, I love that idea. Because that sense of urgency really makes a difference in short-term promotions. Are there, before we get to the next topic that we wanted to discuss, a new feature that you’ve launched for everyone recently that was in beta for a while? Are there any other strategies or tips that you would love authors to know about how to sell more on Google Play?

Ryan Dingler 20:45

One that’s kind of outside of our platform that I think is general, but I always like to reiterate, is just to make sure wherever you’re marketing your books to also include Google Play Books. You know, there’s, a lot of different users choose a lot of times what book they want to read based off of, is it available on the platform that I read on? So if you have other retailers there, make sure to put us there. If you do have us there, you should definitely join our affiliate program, you get 7% of all the purchases that the user makes within the first few days. And then you can use, the other thing I would like to say is, if you have a newsletter that you use, the promo code functionality is a good way to bring new users on to Google Play Books, whether they purchase through some other means, maybe they purchased in print and they want to purchase an ebook. We are a part of Android and Play Store. So we have a large percentage of users on Android phones who have a great experience for ebooks.

Mark Lefebvre 21:42

That’s fantastic. I mean, I’m going to be doing a book signing next Saturday, and what I plan on offering and taking advantage is, I’ve created a coupon code with Google Play. And I’m saying, you know, if you buy the book here, I’ll scan this code, and it’ll take you right to the place where you can get this book for free on ebook now. That way, they have the one to read on their phone, and then they can walk away with a nice signed copy as well. The other thing I do want to remind listeners and viewers about is including all the links to all the retailers, including Google Play Books. If you use Draft2Digital already, you may be taking advantage of Books2Read.com, the Universal Book Link. And we automatically will go and find the Google Play link to add to it for you. It’s one of the functionalities, you can go and add your affiliate code, your Google affiliate code, into that as well so that you’ve created a universal link. And if you’re a huge fan of Google, and you want that to be prime, you can slide the Google Play logo right to the very, very top left corner. So it’s the first one that’s visible. So you have that functionality as authors, I just want to remind people of that. Another follow-up question from Jenny. So Jenny was just asking, this is more for me. But she said for the discount, this was the price drop I assume you mean, Jenny. “Is that similar to the tool D2D offers for setting your own regional pricing?” Yeah, it’s very similar, Jenny. It’s managed territorial prices at Draft2Digital. Google Play, you can go in and you specify the region and price and it’s very, very comprehensive. But also the price promo you can schedule in advance and also do it by territory. So I think they’re very similar. Similar systems, just a slightly different user interface probably.

Ryan Dingler 23:28

They sound pretty similar. And that’s exactly right. You can choose country and date range, and obviously price for that.

Mark Lefebvre 23:34

Yeah. So I’m already seeing the comments and questions because I was teasing this out. But I wanted to get to, I wanted to get to Google Play. So Google Play the store has always had audiobooks, I get my audiobooks there from Findaway Voices, most of my audiobooks are getting into the Google Play Books store from Findaway Voices. But I’ve also, I was lucky to be one of the beta users of the AI narrated audiobooks. Can you talk about that? Because this is something that you’ve made available to all users now, or all authors?

Ryan Dingler 24:09

So we’re available in eight countries now for auto-narrated audiobooks.

Mark Lefebvre 24:13

Okay. Obviously Canada and the US?

Ryan Dingler 24:16

Canada and the US, the UK, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina, as well. And then Australia and New Zealand.

Mark Lefebvre 24:23

Awesome. Okay, so Google Play AI narration. What is this magical thing that you’re talking about?

Ryan Dingler 24:31

Yeah, so maybe just the short story is, instead of being read by a person, auto-narrated audiobooks are read using Google’s text to speech technology. To go into the backstory just a little bit, we launched audiobooks on the Play Store a little over three years ago, actually right before I joined. And one thing that we noticed is that there’s a massive gap between ebooks and audiobooks. 95% of our ebooks don’t have an accompanying audiobook, and it’s not because some of these ebooks wouldn’t make good audiobooks. Aome would. Obviously, there’s some textbooks that maybe you don’t want pronounced for the math formulas. But most of them would be good audiobooks if it wasn’t so much for the cost prohibitive nature of creating an audiobook today. So we thought, okay, we’re Google, we have a great text to speech team, a great research team working on machine learning, artificial intelligence, is there something that we can do in this area to make it easier for publishers to do that? And that is the creation of auto-narrated audiobooks. We’ve been working on this the entire time I’ve been at Google. So three years from initial idea to launching our beta a couple of months ago in 8 countries. We have found kind of one challenge with creating automated audiobooks, there are things in an ebook that you maybe don’t want in an audiobook. Do you really want your table of contents spoken? No I don’t want that, I don’t want the copyright in there. Maybe there’s some footnotes they want to exclude. So we’ve actually gone about the process so that you come into our store, you have an ebook that’s already for sale with us that’s in epub format, which is very important, we want to make sure we don’t have to convert from a PDF or something like that. And we convert that to our own document type. And they have an editor and they can see exactly what they would see pronounced or spoken in the audiobook. They can fix things, whether it’s the table of contents or other things to exclude. And they can hear and choose narrators that they want for their audiobook. We have 35+ narrators and a lot of different options.

Mark Lefebvre 26:37

Oh, wow, that is fantastic. And one of the things that I think there’s some questions, I’m gonna pop them up. So first question is Ace Adams asks, “Does the voice sound human? Or does it sound like a robot?” I added that extra, that wasn’t the question.

Ryan Dingler 26:55

Yeah, I think that’s the main challenge. So you know, working as we’re part of Google, this is something that has been done in the Google research, actually, it’s called Google Brain in other areas of Google. And the whole goal is to make it sound as much like a human as possible. So we think we’ve gotten to a place where the text to speech starts to sound a lot more like a human. And you can see this for yourself, we have a link that we can put up to just listen to some samples. We have a landing page where you can just see some of the different narrators, get a minute or so sample of each one to understand it. Quality does vary by the narrator that you select. And it’s also a personal preference. The one challenge that we have, which I’m sure you’ll be impressed by the voices as they’re, as we’ve gone through, we’ve been impressed ourselves. But the challenge is that the text to speech doesn’t always know what it’s narrating, right? It’s not saying, oh, this is a very kind of, this is a joke that the character is saying. They don’t say it in a joking manner, because they don’t understand the text yet. And so we’re working to make that a possibility. That is not the current state of it. So if you have text that has a lot of emotion, whether it’s romance, or it’s a sci fi, or it’s a comedy, you need to take that into account as we do the audiobook.

Mark Lefebvre 28:16

Okay, cool. And so we have a comment from Elena who said, “Just made my book on auto-narrated audio format. And I must say the voice sounds really, really good.” And I have to say one of the ways I’ve used this is, so I have several of my books, I’ve paid professional narrators and loaded them through Findaway Voices to get them on to the Google Play store. But what I’ve experimented with is, that cost me a lot of money. So I charge quite a bit of money for that to try and make my money back because that’s a business. But Google Play, and we should just reiterate that this is a free tool. It’s a free service that you can use. And I think the only catch is, you can take the file and use it elsewhere. But if you do that, you have to publish it to Google. Right? It has to be available to Google customers, right?

Ryan Dingler 29:07

Yep. So that’s right. For the beta program, it’s entirely free. We do plan to have a small nominal fee just to cover the cost of creating the audiobook on our side. But we do have the ability, we do let publishers distribute as wide as they want. As you said, the only ask that we have is that if you do sell it somewhere else, you sell it on our platform as well, because we helped create it for you. And then you sell it at the same or lower price just to make sure we’re competitive in the market.

Mark Lefebvre 29:35

Perfect, perfect. I love that. And as I was saying, I’ve got the one I’ve paid a lot of money for, I’ve got it up there. It’s on Google. So there’s my ebook. There’s my full length, professionally narrated human voice. But then I’ve also started to, I think only have three or four of them so far. Then I have the Google AI voice narration. I even created my own little logo to indicate, just to be clear, that this is a … and I think I’ve used Mike as my narrator, he’s one of the voices that’s available. And I usually make that available for 99 cents because I think, okay, it didn’t really cost me anything, let’s make this accessible to more people, which is a great thing. But I think in one case I even made it free, because you can. I can make it free. And I did that to match the ebook, which is also free, as well. So there’s experimentations that you can do as authors now. Great question from Monica that’s related to this is, she asks, “Can we post AI narrated books from Google Play, provided we published it on Google Play, to YouTube for streaming, for example?”

Ryan Dingler 30:36

Yeah, definitely, you definitely can. We have no restrictions on that, if it is free on YouTube, which by necessity is free, given that it’s also free on Google Play, but you have the ability to distribute wherever you would like.

Mark Lefebvre 30:48

Which is fantastic. I love that flexibility. I mean, you’re giving people tools, and you’re letting them experiment and play. And you’re also doing a lot of learning there, too. And I imagine, as you mentioned, that the technology is going to continue to improve and continue to get better. One of the questions I sort of had for you is, recently, because one of my narrators was on vacation, and the other one was on honeymoon. And it was going to be a dual narrated male female alternating chapter voice. And I thought, oh, we could use Google Play for this, except one of the limitations is I can only pick a single voice. I can’t say Voice A for chapter one, Voice B for Chapter 2, or is that something potentially in the works?

Ryan Dingler 31:28

Definitely in the works, kind of another thing that’s hopefully coming soon. It’s going to be a little bit farther out than series bundles. But we’re looking to do exactly that. Not even at the chapter level, which we will have, but at the word level. So if you have dialogue back and forth, you have let’s say 10 different characters, you could have 10 different narrators in the book to make sure each one gets represented themselves. And it provides a little bit easier understanding. So if I switch from Mike to Heather, or something, or Michelle, it helps the user, the listener understand it a lot more.

Mark Lefebvre 32:03

And I do have to say for anyone out there who’s curious about how a book like that would sound, I would say, check out the last few books by Michael Connelly in audio. The Renee Ballard Harry Bosch thrillers are alternating male female voice, and they also do the dialogue. It is a wonderful experience. I kind of fell in love with that, which is why I wanted that for one of my own books. I thought, what a great service, what a great option. And then Stephanie asks, “Do you have different accents for the voices?” So Stephanie for example is looking for Caribbean. I would say I would be looking for, you know, Canadian accents, maybe an East Canadian accent?

Ryan Dingler 32:44

We do have different accents. We are limited in the ones that we have, I don’t think we have, unfortunately, a Caribbean or Canadian. But we do have a lot of other ones. I think we have in English, six or so accents, five or six accents. These are a bit challenging sometimes to get because the way that these voices are created is, there’s actual voice actors that come into the studio. We do a recording. And we use that to inform what the model sounds like. So we need to bring in people that have these as part of it. And that’s actually kind of a whole Google project to make sure that we have a representative sample of voices as part of it.

Mark Lefebvre 33:19

Well, I volunteer for Ontario, Canada accent. I have hundreds and hundreds of podcast audio of me just speaking, if you want. I’m happy to send it off to you guys to help you out if you want to get a Canadian.

Ryan Dingler 33:33

I will talk to the team. It’s kind of a whole team, as you might imagine, for all of Google Assistant. As you know, Google Assistant is probably the most prominent Google product with a voice. You guys do a lot of the work and we kind of take a lot of their benefits that they do and put them in our product.

Mark Lefebvre 33:51

Yeah, she’s listening to us right now. So we have to be careful not to call her out. And I guess the question was about Southern dialects and slang and stuff like that.

Ryan Dingler 34:04

We don’t have any Southern dialects yet. We unfortunately only have one American accent. We have a British, Indian, Australian accents today. We are always looking to add more. That’s an area that has been challenging for us, because we when you do Google Assistant, you don’t have a lot of that diversity of voice and it’s much more important in audiobooks than you would in an assistant. So that is something that we’re looking to add, but we don’t have today in terms of slang. So this is kind of one area that I wanted to talk about, we have the ability to do pronunciation corrections. So if you go into the tool, and you put in some things that are written how they might be different than spoken. So let’s say you put in four pounds, but instead of pounds you put in lbs, it actually says four pounds. So we convert the text into what we think that the user is trying to say. And there’s other examples of this. If you put in 6/5/2022, you know, it’ll say the date as if it as if it was there. I don’t know if the data set, but let’s say it was June 5 2022, it’ll say just like that. And you have the ability to make corrections like that. So let’s say you have a lot of new names in your book that I, the example I always go to is Hermione when it was pronounced Hermione, or no one knew exactly how to say it. And so in this example, you can just go in and you can right click on a single word, and you can say, I want to edit the pronunciation. And you can either type in what you want to try to make it a little bit more phonetically spelled out, or you can actually speak it into a mic. And it records what you’re saying, and tries to interpret exactly how it should be said. And then you save it down. And you can apply to all instances in the book or a few instances, if it’s unique to that area.

Mark Lefebvre 36:00

That is fantastic, because I didn’t even know that you did that. Because prior, when I did some of my nonfiction books for writers, it couldn’t pronounce Lefebvre, as most humans can’t either. But all I did is I went into the manuscript, and anytime my name was mentioned, I changed it to LeFave. And it got it perfectly. I had to do a little bit to find and replace, but it didn’t realize that it was doing the machine learning on the fly, when you when you go in and enter that. That’s fantastic.

Ryan Dingler 36:27

Yep. And we do have a find and replace as well. So you can use that. And we do use the information to hopefully correct things in the future. But it is still on a book level. So you need to do it by every book. Again, there’s always things to build, we can always look to build it so you can do it across books and things like that. But it’s kind of what we would love to hear from publishers, what are the tools that you think would make the product even better?

Mark Lefebvre 36:51

Oh, that’s fantastic. I’m just going to share this feedback from Kendra, who says, “I did try using year as a setting (2140) and I did have to manipulate the text because it was reading it, obviously as 2,140 because it’s a computer.” But that may be part of the learning on the fly to write in context.

Ryan Dingler 37:11

Yeah, I think that is probably a good example of what’s called text norm, doesn’t know how to interpret 2140. Because it’s so much in the future, a lot of the things that Google deals with, they don’t typically have to say those types of dates. So that might be partially it. They also do look at the context of the words around that word. But sometimes we get it wrong. And that’s why we built the tool so that publishers can fix that.

Mark Lefebvre 37:38

I’m wondering if somewhere in the BISAC code is like, well, it’s science fiction. So we’re gonna make this assumption. Well, even though even though Y2K, going back into tech, I don’t know if you were in tech during the Y2K bug issue, you’re probably too young. But all that a lot of the computer systems did was, they didn’t fix the underlying problem, we just assumed if the year was greater than 50, that it was 19. And if it was less than 50, it was 20. We’re gonna have a problem in 2049, I’m guessing. So.

Ryan Dingler 38:10

It’s assumptions like that, that we kind of get into trouble where we’re making guesses about what it is versus just letting the machine figure it out in general. And when publishers provide these corrections, they’re actually informing us to make better selections and pronunciations the next time. So it is a continuously learning learning environment.

Mark Lefebvre 38:28

I love that. I love that. So another question related to audiobooks that Monica has is, “Is Google Books planning to add a way for authors to upload their own human narrated voice?” So you know, Monica probably has purchased the rights to audiobooks and would like to just load them directly. Is that going to be a possibility?

Ryan Dingler 38:46

Yes, it will. That is something that we’ve also been working on. We have been a bit slow to roll it out partially because of, we want to make sure we do it in a very logical way for us to make sure that we’re not dealing with pirated content. It’s always a challenge to deal with pirated content as an open platform, because anyone can come in saying, hey, I own this book. And we know that they don’t have the rights to it. So we’re trying to do that in a very consistent way as we go to audiobooks. And there’s some new tools that we have to build to make sure we’re able to detect pirated content, but we are working on that one, and we’re almost done. So I think that’s something that you can expect maybe by the end of the year that you have the ability to upload your own audiobook, whether it’s human narrated or even machine narrated from another platform.

Mark Lefebvre 39:35

Yeah, though we understand the struggle when you have a free tool available, how sometimes not-nice people try to use them too, for nefarious purposes.

Ryan Dingler 39:49

The solutions just take time to build.

Mark Lefebvre 39:51

So I’m just scrolling through some of the questions wanting to make sure I got to most of them that came in. Can I ask a question about the Google Play ebook reader? Or is that outside of your realm?

Ryan Dingler 40:05

Yeah, you can ask about it. We actually don’t have an ebook reader. But we exist on basically any type of phone, so an iOS, Android and web. Tablets and things like that.

Mark Lefebvre 40:17

Because Tracy had asked a question about, potentially was with one of the tablets, and I’m not sure maybe this is something she can email into support, but that there were some issues with it that weaken the reader experience. But she says it does have some powerful differences and advantages. And I’m assuming she’s maybe talking either about the Android or the iOS version. I’m not sure which one.

Ryan Dingler 40:38

And this is a dedicated ereader?

Mark Lefebvre 40:42

I thought, oh, I thought she was talking about the app. But you said there isn’t a Google Play …

Ryan Dingler 40:47

There is no ereader. There are some ereaders that actually use Android as an operating system. And they sideload Play on it. So there are ways that you can get an ereader that has ours, but it’s not officially sanctioned by us, but it does happen.

Mark Lefebvre 41:04

Oh, and Tracy says, “Yes, there’s a reader. I use it,” so interesting. As I’m trying to keep up with the comments, Nana just asked, “Is Google Play now on Draft2Digital?” No Nana, you can’t get to Google Play through Draft2Digital. But we just wanted to interview Ryan, because we love Google Play too. And we want to make sure authors are empowered and informed on all the options they have for publishing life. Another question is, “How does Google handle bow and bow?” Or was it bow and bow? I’m not sure the context, Mike.

Ryan Dingler 41:39

Yes, this is an area that I have learned much more than I thought I would ever learn about. So when there’s a homograph, two words that are spelled the same that are pronounced differently, how do we know? So we have some rules in place to say like, if this word is before this word, it’s said like bow. If this word is before this word, it’s said like bow. We can’t cover the entire cases of when this occurs. So we also try to use machine learning to understand whether we’re saying in the right context. As we said before, we don’t always get this right, we think we get it right a large percentage of the time. So if I grabbed my bow and went to shoot the arrow, hopefully we said bow, and then I went to bow to the person next to me, we would say in that context. There’s other examples here, there’s actually a lot more homographs than people would think. But if you go into Edit Pronunciation, we will actually show you the alternative pronunciations that we were considering if there were any, which there will be other ones, whether if it’s a homograph or if it’s a date, you can say a date in many different ways. We provide all those options, so they can, instead of just typing it, they can just click oh, that one was meant to be bow, apply in this instance? And then look at the next time to see if they got it right.

Mark Lefebvre 42:58

Okay. Thank you. That is so cool. I didn’t even know that that functionality was there. I’m so excited to go back in and play with it. Ryan, where can people find out more about Google Play Books? I mean, most people just go to Google and search right? That’s how they find things in the universe?

Ryan Dingler 43:17

That is our hope both in our product and broadly at Google. That’s exactly what you can do for our platform. You can go to Google and type in Google Play Books publishing, you’ll be directed to our online signup flow. If you don’t have an account, you can learn more there. You can also add auto narrated to that query. And you’ll go to our page to learn more about automated audiobooks.

Mark Lefebvre 43:37

Awesome. And again, I think you have the URL for g.co/play/autonarrated, if you want to look, that’s for some samples that you were talking about, right?

Ryan Dingler 43:47

Yep, samples and you can go in to either create an account or go into the account directly and see where you can create auto-narrated audiobooks.

Mark Lefebvre 43:57

Awesome. Ryan, I want to thank you so much for spending time with me today. I want to thank the wonderful live audience for asking some fantastic questions. If you like this show, you can check us out most often every Thursday, one o’clock Eastern. You can find out who we’re interviewing. We’ve got stuff lined up for the next many, many weeks. You can bookmark D2Dlive.com just to be notified of it. You can follow us on the various social medias. You can get insights over at d2d.tips/insight. And you can subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook, as a matter of fact, go to almost any URL and just type in /draft2digital at the end. And if we’re there, you’ll usually see us popping up. Ryan, thank you again so much for hanging out with me today. And have a wonderful afternoon.

Ryan Dingler 44:49

Thanks, you too.