Summary: Last week’s Digital Book World 2018 provided an opportunity to see cutting edge tools available to authors and publishers of voice first fiction. In this post I’ll provide a quick overview of some of the offerings that caught my eyes and ears and that are definitely worth further exploration.
If you’ve tried out third-party skills on Amazon Alexa you’ve probably already come across Earplay. Earplay was one of the first studios to launch a highly produced, immersive audio drama for the Alexa platform with their Codename Cygnus voice drama. Since then the company has launched additional voice first interactive audio experiences, including Jurassic World Revealed, Mr. Robot, and the recent Jack Ryan escape adventure.
The big news at DBW was that Earplay is now licensing its powerful authoring platform to publishers. The first customer in the lineup is Capstone, a publisher of children’s books that include interactive branching story adventures.
In his presentation “Adapting Over 50 Hours of Books into Interactive Experiences,” Earplay’s John Myers gave an overview of how the teams worked collaboratively to launch so much new interactive audio content onto Alexa in such a short timeframe.
You might have seen Melissa and Matt Hammersley of Novel Effect on Shark Tank earlier this year. The tech duo landed an investment offer from one of the sharks for their patented speech-based technology, but their product turned out to be so compelling, the shark was soon muscled out by other investors!
In a live demo on the DBW main stage, Melissa and Matt read from a children’s storybook as their app chimed in with perfectly synchronized music and sound effects. The Novel Effect technology recognizes keywords and phrases in the text and launches sounds at just the right moment to make the story come alive.
The big news from the conference was that Novel Effect will soon work with Amazon Alexa! This is no small feat. The company is partnering closely with Amazon to ensure that when a parent is reading a book, the sounds emitted from the smart speaker are on cue. The underlying technology detects if the reading has paused and doesn’t get distracted by side conversations. All of this tech is a lot more complex than it may appear, but the overall experience is worth the effort.
I met up with Brielle Nickoloff at DBW and got an impromptu demo of a brand new product from WitLingo. The product has the catchy name CastLingo and it offers a simple way for anyone (including authors and publishers) to record a quick audio update and publish it directly to their very own Alexa skill.
Recording is done right from a smartphone app and the uplink to your Alexa skill, which can be named after yourself or your company, is automatic. Witlingo is looking for beta participants to give CastLingo a try.
My company Tellables announced at DBW the upcoming release of a new conversational story skill. I spoke briefly about our new voice app in my talk “Publishing Books in the Age of Voice Assistants.” Our goal with the chocolate box stories is to create a conversational experience that’s engaging and entertaining and wrapped around bite-sized stories. Our design also offers an easy way for independent authors to get their stories published on voice assistant platforms without any coding or designing!
The big news related to our announcement is that Tellables is accepting submissions for mini-stories (150 – 200 words) to be included in our chocolates skill. To submit a story, authors use the simple template we provide. Selected authors will be featured on our website and are eligible to receive a monetary incentive. You can find all the details at the Chocolate Box Stories page.
DBW 2018 was a great success, bringing together the top names in publishing and digital technologies. Congratulations to Bradley Metrock (pictured above) and the team at Score Publishing for their efforts! If you missed the conference, take a look at the upcoming Alexa Conference, scheduled for January 2019. While that event is more focused on technology, it includes a track on storytelling and is sure to offer lots of insights for publishers and authors interested in voice first opportunities.