Audible, the Amazon-owned audiobook producer and retailer, announced a new feature that will allow its customers to listen to and read along with books at the same time.
The new feature, called Audible Captions, will display text synchronized with the audiobooks’ narration, USA Today reports. While it will be available to all Audible customers who pay a $14.95 monthly subscription fee, the feature was developed with students in mind, according to the company.
“We know from years and years of work, that parents and educators, in particular, understand that an audio experience of well-composed words is really important in developing learners,” Audible Chief Executive Donald Katz told the newspaper.
Audible announced the new feature in a promotional video posted to YouTube. The video shows a mobile device playing an audiobook version of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” with text captions appearing as the novel is narrated.
Users will be able to highlight words from the captions and look up their definitions online, or find translations to other languages, all within the Audible app. They’ll also be able to change the font type and size for the captions.
Audible initially launched the feature in public high schools in Newark, N.J., where the company is based. It plans to give free packs of 75 audiobooks with captions to high schools across the country this year.
News of the feature was met with concern by some authors, publishers and literary agents on Twitter, who wondered whether it would raise rights issues for the books’ copyright holders.
“Unless Audible has purchased print rights for the title or the reader has purchased the book in print form (physical or ebook) and unlocked captions’ with a code or something, I’m not sure how this is legal,” novelist Erin Bowman tweeted.
Agent Ginger Clark also expressed concern about the feature, tweeting, “Am I the only literary agent who saw that Audible news and immediately emailed her contacts at all the independent audio publishers with my concern? No? You are all doing this? Good for you.”
Audible is the largest producer of audiobooks in the world. The company was founded in 1995 by Donald Katz, a journalist and author, and purchased by Amazon in 2008. It recently opened a new facility in Newark, a workspace called the “Innovation Cathedral,” located in a large former Presbyterian church.
Audible has not announced an exact date for the debut of the Captions feature, but USA Today reports it will be available in an Audible app upgrade “in time for back to school.”