Narrators Are Falling Asleep Making Audiobooks For The Visually Impaired

An investigation in Sweden discovered low-quality audiobooks where narrators can be heard falling asleep and entire chapters of books are missing.
March 2, 2021, 2:00pm
A black and white cat sleeping on piles of books
Jorge Fernández / Getty Images

Swedes expressed outrage online this week after an investigation revealed the often poor quality of audiobooks produced by the state-funded Swedish Agency for Accessible Media (MTM) for people who are visually impaired or have reading disabilities. 

In a short documentary uploaded to YouTube titled “Agency of Napping and Noise,” independent journalist Finn Hellman presents a collection of especially egregious examples from his six months of research. In one clip, the narrator of the novel It Would Be Night in Caracas can be heard literally sleeping for a couple of minutes before picking up again. In another, bizarre screeching noises can be heard in the background. 

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Hellman’s investigation also found that narrators repeated sentences sometimes multiple times and that in some cases entire chapters of books were missing. Common Swedish words were apparently consistently mispronounced by some narrators as well. 

Speaking to Swedish national broadcaster SVT, Hellman said, “It is really embarrassing that an authority that makes books available using tax money does not care more about ensuring a higher quality of its products.” However, he also emphasized that it was not the fault of the narrators themselves, but rather that there needs to be a stricter review process before audiobooks are put online. 

While simple pronunciation errors are perhaps easier to forgive, the same can’t be said for cases where narrators inserted their own opinions as commentary, which the Swedish Association Of The Visually Impaired discovered twice. 

The problem isn’t confined to just human narrators. A report from SVT published Monday found that audio textbooks narrated using digital voice synthesis—also released by MTM—also contained errors. Throughout one textbook, for example, the Swedish pronoun "det" (a form of the English pronoun "it") had been mysteriously replaced by the word "spaghetti." 

In a comment to Motherboard, MTM press spokesperson Eva-Lena Silwerfeldt apologized for the errors and pointed to a blog post where the agency committed to an internal review of their quality control protocols, which are usually handled by external contractors. 

“Every year we add 3,500 new titles to Legimus [MTM’s library of audiobooks], which corresponds to approximately 35,000 hours of reading,” the post reads. “We work continuously to ensure and improve the quality of the reading experience. We regret that there may still be errors in any book and will rectify them immediately.”