Alexa, tell me a bedtime story (Audible comes to the Echo)

Alexa, tell me a bedtime story (Audible comes to the Echo)

Update: as June 23rd, the general public can now pre-order Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) with an “in stock” date of July 14th.

Thanks to regular reader and commenter Harold Delk for the heads up on this!

Woo hoo!

This is something people with the

Amazon Echo

have wanted, and it’s another major new feature.

Your Echo (not yet available to the public on general sale, but a number of people have them, including me, when they opened it to invitation only sales) can now read you your Audible audiobooks!

Now, some of you might be surprised that I’m excited by that. Regular readers know I great prefer to listen to text-to-speech (TTS…software reading a book out loud to you) as opposed to audiobooks…unless I’ve already read the book.

For me, an audiobook is like a movie: it gives me someone else’s interpretations of the characters. Even when the person reading the audiobook is the author, I prefer to layer that onto the words myself.

Listening to TTS is, for me, like sight-reading…reasonably neutral. Yes, there are some mistakes (is “lives” the plural of “life” or a verb, for example?), but that’s akin to typos in a p-book (paperbook)…I do okay with those in both formats.

So, there are definitely times I might want the Echo to read me a book I’ve already read.

If you go into your Echo app (you probably have it on your phone, but you could be getting to it on a computer at http://echo.amazon.com), you’ll now see “Audible” as a choice in your menu.

“Audible” is an audiobook company, owned by Amazon.

Even though I’ve almost never bought an audiobook, I have 41 books there. That’s from free audiobooks, often that you can get because you bought the e-book.

If I want to hear Tim Curry reading A Christmas Carol, for example, I can now ask the Echo to play that for me.

This also works with Audible books you have with many books you may have borrowed from

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

This could work very well for kids, although I would use it as an adult.

These are the commands (maybe we should call those “requests”….commands sounds so…imperious)😉 you can do audibly with the Echo:

  • “Alexa (or “Amazon”, if you’ve chosen that as your wake word…more wake words may be coming…that’s going to be true for the rest of these requests), play the book [title]”
  • “Alexa, play the audiobook [title]”
  • “Alexa (or “Amazon”, if you’ve chosen that as your wake word…more wake words may be coming), play [title] from Audible”
  • “Alexa, (or “Amazon”, if you’ve chosen that as your wake word…more wake words may be coming), read [title]”
  • “Alexa, pause”
  • “Alexa, resume my book”
  • “Alexa, go back  [30 seconds]”
  • “Alexa, go forward [30 seconds]”

Skipping chapter is not currently supported by voice. You can skip chapters using the Echo app.

It will, by the way, know where you were in the book…even if you were sight-reading the e-book (if it’s Whispersync for Voice compatible).

By the time the Echo is released for general purchase (I’m guessing that’s in July), it will be quite impressive and even practical.

I guess I should say a quick word about what the Echo is. It’s an “ambient computing” device. You are using it somewhat like you would use Siri on your iPhone, but it’s always on and available. It can hear you quite well…across a room, perhaps in other rooms (and the latter definitely with an included remote).

Will it become part of your life?

I think so. It has recently been passing a test of that for me.🙂 I find myself wanting to use it when it isn’t available. In other words, I spontaneously see a use for it, not just when I see it or consciously think of it.

For example, I got out of the shower this morning, and wanted to hear the news. I’m away from my Echo right now, but I just wanted to say, “Alexa, what’s the news?” I would have heard a summary from several sources, some of it in recorded human voices, some of it via text-to-speech. Instead, I had to go into a different room and turn on the TV for CNN. That doesn’t sound like much, but it was an inconvenient time.

More than once, I’ve wanted to ask the Echo for weather information when it wasn’t available.

Oh, I’ve also now reordered something using the Echo. That worked just fine. It’s really a remarkable product:

Mint-X MX2427W40DS Plastic Rodent Raccoon Repellent Tall Kitchen Trash Bags, 13 Gallon Capacity, 24″ Width x 27″ Height (Box of 40) (at AmazonSmile*)

We have animals around our house. We aren’t in the wilds, we’re in a suburb…but there is open space not far from us. We don’t see raccoons at our house, for example, but they might get under the deck. All of this gets our terriers really going: that’s part of why we are having somebody do yard clean-up right now. That should reduce unwanted animals. Oh, and I just found out one of our neighbors had a  family of red foxes under their house! As the California drought continues, we’ll see a lot more of this…particularly, cougars in the suburbs.

This product is just like a regular kitchen garbage bag…but it smells like mint. The smell is somewhat strong at first, but not unpleasant.

We had a spot where there was a rat hole, and I tried a few things. Just sticking one of these bags in the rat hole worked! No sign of them at that hole again (which I had even covered up with aluminum foil previously, which often works…they chewed through that).

I was told what the cost of reordering the bags was going to be (you can currently only reorder Prime eligible products…not order something new, and not something which isn’t Prime) and could have declined. Interestingly, despite what I just said, this order wasn’t Prime…but had been last time, I think. It still ordered it.

Let me share with you a suggestion I’ve made to Amazon (through the Echo app), which I think could be huge for them.

I suggested that they let us give items we’ve ordered “friendly names”…”Pat’s vitamins”, “Mint garbage bags”, “Fluffy’s favorite cat toy”, and so on). That’s especially useful for the Echo, but would also be valuable for searching orders at the website

It would greatly add to “stickiness” for Amazon customers as well. You might not even remember the formulation of those vitamins (although it would give you the official name when you reordered it as part of the confirmation), which would make you less likely to want to go somewhere else. If you had one hundred of those (we could have that), recreating it would be a bear, even if another site allowed it.

I told them I’d like to be able to retroactively go back through my previous orders and add those names.

We’ll see if we get it.🙂

Until then, for those of you who can, enjoy your Echo reading you a book around the house!

Whoops, one last thing: at this point, the Echo doesn’t have a sleep timer…so if you start it reading a book and then fall asleep, I assume it would just keep going until the book finished.  I suspect a sleep timer is coming…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

20 Responses to “Alexa, tell me a bedtime story (Audible comes to the Echo)”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    I made the suggestion through the app to add the sleep timer as well. Also reported that the remote does not appear to work when playing an Audible book. A kinks to work out still and some features need be added. To me this is a major upgrade and causes me to ponder what’s next.

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    * a few kinks*

  3. Zebras Says:

    Bufo:

    My husband explained to our housecleaner about the Echo, but by the time he was done cleaning, he forgot its name, and had to leave it play music till we got home.

    We’ve just listed our condo for sale, and it would be kind of fun to set up a playlist of “househunting music”, and leave a sign with instructions, but house hunters are just too distractable!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I also told the gardener how to use the power button, just in case. I forgot to mention that it would show me any requests.🙂 I don’t see a request to stop (it was playing at level ten, so it probably wouldn’t hear a shouted request), but our neighbors haven’t called to complain, either…😉

      • Zebras Says:

        I don’t think it shows stop requests, that would really clutter up the app. Looking forward to trying the audible function when I get home.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thank for writing, Zebras!

        Yep, it shows stop requests, and yep, the app is cluttered.😉

        Menu-Settings-History

        It shows everything it hears after the wake word.

        I’m looking forward to trying Audible, too!

  4. Phink Says:

    This is one of the two features I have been waiting for. I did have a third but have gotten so use to the wake word ‘Alexa’ I would not change the name if I could now. Funny how we get used to things huh. The two really big features for me are stock quotes, which will be here some day, and audible. I have 127 audible books and I love audio books myself. I think the narrator adds to the experience a lot of times. Of course it sometimes ruins the experience as well and why I like samples. Jim Dale did an absolutely incredible job with the Harry Potter series. I doubt I’ll ever read the books again but I’ll sure listen to them. Of course I have to do that on the CD’s as audible does not have them. And John Grisham’s ‘A Painted House’ was read by a guy named David Lansbury. Awesome, awesome job. It has an almost 10 minute sample if anyone wants to try it. From what I understand the Echo will play samples of books as well. Of course that story takes place just a few miles from my home and the Painted House is just a hoot and a holler from my front yard LOL.

    My favorite reading experience is immersion reading. I love to read along to the audiobook but a lot of times it’s just too expensive to buy both.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      Good tip on the samples!

      Someone I know just pointed out a necessity for more wake words. This person has two Echoes in the same house (two Prime accounts), and there are places where their hearing overlaps. That meant they couldn’t both be called Alexa, or it created a lot of confusion. Multiple accounts in the same house (think roommates)? You’d need multiple wake words. I suggested that Amazon could allow “Alexa 1”, “Alexa 2”, and so on pretty easily. The blue lights would flash on all of them at “Alexa”, but the serial number would be where all but one of them would stop listening.

      I’m sure the wake word is trickier than a lot of people think it is: it has to be easily recognized without a lot of false positives.

      • Phink Says:

        I have already thought of the 2nd Echo being a problem with the same wake word. I plan on having two someday because I want one in the bedroom as well. The two echo’s will be about 4 feet apart with a wall between them. I once said I’d change the name to ‘computer’ so I’d be one step closer to living in my Star Trek fantasy world.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Phink!

        Certainly, that was one of my first thoughts…from the original Star Trek series. They would activate (their very slow computer compared to what we have now…and you could hear the relays closing) by saying, “Computer…” That was an ambient computing device, like the Echo. However, there would be so many false positives in my house from that word that it probably wouldn’t work very well for us. If they had you say it first to recognize your tonality (when I would say, “Computer” to address it, I would say it differently then when it was a comment on our laptop or desktop), that would limit its ability to recognize other people talking to it…or you, when you are sick (for example).

  5. rogerknights Says:

    Favorite names for products is a great idea–which means Amazon will likely ignore it. (I’ve fruitlessly tried 3 times to get Amazon to fix a bug on my HD7: When I get the message, “Silk cannot print this web page,” pressing the OK button simply re-displays the message. I’m trapped in an endless loop. There’s no need for Amazon to “re-create” this event. Just a glance at the code will reveal the problem. But will the company deign to do so? Their attitude seems to be, What, we curry?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

      Well, Amazon has brought us many great things which people have talked about wanting. Just a few:

      * Add to Wish List for Kindle books
      * Gifting Kindle books
      * Lending Kindle Books
      * Audible for the Echo🙂

      With a little research, my guess is that I could list at least twenty-five…so I don’t think asking for it means it won’t happen.😉 In terms of your bug fix, I can get it to some people at Amazon that might make a difference. Care to share anything more? Any particular website? How are you trying to print? What’s the system version on your device?

      • rogerknights Says:

        I was referring mostly to the technical improvements you and I have suggested for the Kindle & Fire without any luck, and also to some of the product feature and marketing and website improvements you have suggested. I realize that overall Amazon is magnificent. (Which just makes me angrier.)

        Re the “can’t print” bug: It’s happened with various websites, but mostly with reason.com. I don’t have any choice as to how I can print. (I’m sending it to a Workforce 645.) I have the latest system, I assume by automatic update. I bought the HD7 in December and upgraded the OS within a week.

        It shouldn’t matter what I’m doing. Regardless of any weirdness at my end, Amazon’s error message should never stay stuck in a loop. Amazon’s apparent denseness in not twigging to this makes me angry.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

        I’ll pass it along.

        If you don’t have the latest software version, it’s possible it has been fixed. That’s the sort of thing that would be addressed in one of those mysterious general improvement/bug fix updates. Here’s how you can check what you have:

        Settings – Device Options – System Updates

        The current version for the HD7 is Fire OS 4.5.4.

        If you need the update, you can get it here:

        Fire HD 7 Software Updates (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

      • rogerknights Says:

        I have 4.5.4–thanks for giving me a number to check.
        Thanks for giving Amazon a kick.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

        Happy to help…

      • rogerknights Says:

        Here’s another kick you might give Amazon (I’v tried repeatedly wo result):
        Please add a tab on the home page for subscribed-to Blogs.
        On my Kindle 3 they were always front-and-center when they arrived. On my Fire I have to dig them out.
        I suspect Amazon is trying to de-emphasize its Blogs.
        Well guess what Amazon, I surrender. I’ve canceled my subscriptions to all my blogs but one.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

        I do wish they’d do more with blogs…yes, partially for my benefit, but I think blogs are, in some cases, a key point of expression for minority opinions.

      • rogerknights Says:

        PS: Instead, I’m now reading the nearly free WaPo item, which arrives both by app and by e-mail. I suspect that is a result Bezos is happy with.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

        I’m actually not planning to pay the dollar for the Washington Post…and I’m surprised I haven’t had to do that or cancel by now.

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