Jun 02

How to get Siri to read you a story

Or: How to turn your ebooks into (mediocre) audiobooks

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast Episode #15 interview with self-published

Credit: Ben Sutherland on flickr

Credit: Ben Sutherland on flickr

author Kevin Leigh. Leigh talked about trying to find time to write while constrained with both a day job and a long commute, which certainly hit home for me. One trick he mentioned was a way to get his phone to read what he had written aloud, so he could spend his commute time checking his writing for errors. This seemed like a pretty cool trick, but the app he used (Voice Dream) cost $9.99. So obviously, not being made of money, I googled around to find a more cost effective solution. What I found is a free trick to get Siri to read text documents. There is an awesome detailed write up on reddit here, but I’ll give you the short version:

1. Go into Settings:General:Accessibility. At the bottom, set Accessability Shortcut to VoiceOver. Now when you triple-click the home button, Siri will go into read-aloud mode.

2. Next, open the ebook (or any other text document) you want to hear. Triple-click the home button, and Siri will say “VoiceOver on.” Now, with 2 fingers, swipe downward on the page and Siri will begin reading, and will continue on to following pages until you triple tap the home button again. A single tap on the screen will pause the reading.

That’s about it. This works for ebooks, and any other long text document you want to hear. There are some more detailed instructions in the linked article to fine tune the process if you find you like it. For example, you might want to slow Siri’s voice down. Or you might want to lock the screen in portrait mode, because the reading will stop if the screen switches orientations.

But you may not like it at all, which is the reason for the “mediocre” in the tagline above. I love me some Siri for directions and dictating texts. But you’ll quickly realize how wide the gulf is between automated text recognition and an actual professional audiobook narrator. The downsides, which can be annoying:

1. Siri is not an actor. Obviously, all the characters are going to sound the same, and be devoid of emotion.

2. Siri does not acknowledge pauses, or chapter breaks, or endings. She just plows right through without even taking a breath.

3. Siri doesn’t do heteronyms. This was the most surprising to me. I just never gave much thought to how many words in English are spelled alike, but are pronounced differently, based on context. ‘Live’ (as in ‘Live from New York’ vs. ‘live free or die’), and ‘wind’ (‘the wind in your sails’ vs. ‘how did we wind up here?) are two that Siri is pretty much guaranteed to get wrong every time.

Overall, VoiceOver is a pretty cool trick, with some notable drawbacks. For me, if it is something I already have as an ebook (free or cheap), or something I’ve written, I’m willing to put up with Siri’s little idiosyncrasies. If it is a long book that I’m really looking forward to, I think I’ll spring for the (sometimes pricey) audiobook. Narrators need to get paid too!

Give it a try and let me know if you agree.


    • cjammin on June 4, 2015 at 10:21 am
    • Reply

    I had Siri read me your blog post, super fun!

      • ben on June 5, 2015 at 10:53 am
      • Reply

      Fantastic idea. And very meta.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.