19 December 2010

Exploring Audio, Books & Apps

I recorded my first audiobook in 2007 online using the Hipcast.com podcast recording service (then $60). I offered it for sale on the now defunct "Wordcast" service of Audible.com, the premier online audiobook service, which at that time cost $50. I issued a paid news release via Prweb.com (then $120). No copies actually sold via Wordcast. After the demise of Wordcast, I tried Payloadz.com also without any success.

I subsequently decided to try CDBaby.com on the promise they could get my audiobook into the iTunes store, at a cost then of about $54. Since CDBaby is primarily for music, their upload standards are much higher than for audiobooks. They prefer high quality files either in WAV or FLAC format, but will accept MP3. Files must be stereo, 44.1 kHz (44100 Hz) sample rate, and 16 bit, or will be automatically rejected by their upload system. Most audiobooks are recorded using a single mono channel, 22 kHz (22050 Hz) sample rate, and 32 bit; so, I had to re-sample my original Hipcast recordings using the free Audacity audio program in order for CDBaby to accept them, which did work. This involved copying the original track to mimic stereo, but increases the ultimate size of the files on download. For whatever reason, CDBaby did not get my audiobook into iTunes, but did sell a number of copies.

For my first audiobook I used an external microphone with analog audio jack, but for the second one I got a digital USB headset. I recorded my second audiobook straight into Audacity, using the CDBaby required settings as default. In order to save as MP3 from Audacity, you will need to add the LAME MP3 Encoder plugin. I followed CDBaby advice and uploaded WAV files, but next time will use MP3 instead due to sheer size. I found plenty of good tutorial videos on YouTube which helped me learn how to use Audacity. Once you get used to Audacity, it seems quite straightforward, but can initially appear daunting without a background in audio.

There are a number of good audiobook apps for iPhone. Audiobook apps come in two types, natural voice recordings and synthetic readers. There is really a lot of classic literature available now as free audiobooks, as well as in ePub format. There is also a lot of contemporary audiobooks for sale. Further, the new ePub format for ebooks can be read by many text-to-speech readers using synthetic voices, while still somewhat staccato, are not as bad as they once were. Free audiobook iPhone apps include Audiobooks (Free), Free Audiobooks, Best Audiobooks, and Top100Audiobooks. Audible has its own free iPhone app, for purchasing their audiobook products. The "vBookz - Free Audiobooks" app costs $3.99, but contains many ePub ebooks and includes a text-to-speech reader.

There are some other cool iPhone audio apps too. I particularly like the "Web Reader - Text to Speech" app for $1.99, which enables Safari to read web pages to you via text-to-speech. I also like FeedOrator ($0.99), for reading RSS feeds to you out loud. There are at least 4 apps which will read your Twitter stream on the go, such as SpeakTweet and Monica. Monica includes Facebook, and also does voice-in or speech-to-text. Monica is really more of a multi-functional virtual agent, which I actually prefer to the much ballyhooed Apple Siri Assistant. There are other free speech-to-text tools available for the iPhone. I have tried "ShoutOUT - Speech-to-Text Messaging, Facebook and Twitter" and "Dragon Dictation", which also supports posting to Twitter and Facebook.

New: From the Balkans to the Baltics by Bike, 1989-1991 (AudioBook), by M. L. Endicott

Vagabond Globetrotting 3: The Electronic Traveler in the New Millennium (AudioBook), by M. L. Endicott

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