How to access thousands of free audiobooks thanks to Microsoft AI and Project Gutenberg

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Project Gutenberg

Audiobooks are a great way to enjoy your favorite books while you’re driving, resting, or just don’t feel like reading. You can find plenty of audiobooks online and through other sources. But many human-readable books require a one-time fee or subscription. And free audiobooks are often read in computerized voices that aren’t exactly pleasant to the ear.

To overcome these audiobook barriers, Project Gutenberg and Microsoft have created thousands of free audiobooks that use neural text-to-speech technology to generate sound.

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The Neural TTS feature uses AI to create natural-sounding speech that matches the human voice emotion. This option allows the audiobook’s developer to select a specific voice and alter the accent, pitch, rate, pauses, and intonation to create a more pleasant tone for the narration.

Another challenge with audiobooks is that they can take hundreds of hours to create, edit, and publish. Working with Microsoft AI, Project Gutenberg was able to dramatically reduce that time by automatically creating high-quality audiobooks from existing online e-books.

“In particular, we leverage recent advances in neural text-to-speech to create and release thousands of human-quality, open-license audiobooks from the Project Gutenberg e-book collection,” said the team at Project Gutenberg and Microsoft. A paper about the project.

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“Our method can identify the appropriate subset of e-book content to read for a wide collection of books with diverse structure and can operate on hundreds of books in parallel,” explained the team. “This work contributed to more than five thousand open-license audiobooks and interactive demos that allow users to quickly create their own customized audiobooks.”

To listen to any audiobook, browse the Project Gutenberg Open Audiobook collection. From here, you can access books via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or the Internet Archive. The books are all public domain, which means you’ll find classic works by authors like William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, Jules Verne, TS Eliot, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

List of audiobooks in the Open Audiobook Collection.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Click on the book you want to listen to. You can then listen to it directly in your browser where you can pause, play, fast forward, rewind and control the volume.

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You can download and listen to books on your mobile device, using Apple Podcasts, Spotify or one of the other services.

An audio player narrates one of the audiobooks.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

“The goal of this project is to make literature more accessible to (audio)book lovers everywhere and to democratize access to high-quality audiobooks,” said Project Gutenberg. “Whether you’re learning to read, looking for comprehensive reading techniques, or going on a long drive, we hope you enjoy this audiobook collection.”

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