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WaPo Is Testing Audio Articles With Amazon Tech

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The Washington Post is experimenting with audio articles on smartphones using Amazon Polly, a tech that can read words, but still sounds a bit like early speech synthesizers.

The Washington Post is offering to let consumers hear its articles rather than read them.
The Washington Post is offering to let consumers hear its articles rather than read them. Credit: Washington Post

Lincoln Motor Company is a launch sponsor and will present a brief audio ad before each article play. The Washington Post's trial will run on its mobile site for the next 30 days, during which users will be able to listen to audio versions of four articles daily across business, lifestyle, technology and entertainment, the publication said.

The Post's offering is live, and already features stories like "Can Wonder Woman save the rest of DC movies" and "Tyrannosaurus rex had scaly skin and wasn't covered in feathers, a new study says."

Amazon describes Polly as a service that "turns text into lifelike speech," but that might be a bit of a reach. Listening to stories on the Washington Post isn't a smooth experience, as Polly ended sentences in awkward fashion and sounded like a female version of Microsoft's early text-to-speech voice synthesizers, which debuted with Windows 2000.

In fairness, the Post said said it's only testing the tech, which does have some promise: In the future, the publication said it hopes to include "personalized playlists" -- think Spotify -- as well as integration with its mobile apps."

"This is a new technology that can give users more choice and better accessibility to our content, so we wanted to create an experiment to dive deeper into the user experience," said Joseph Price, product manager at the Washington Post, in a statement. "After a month, we'll take what we've learned about how users engage with this feature to develop our first iteration of a product with Amazon Polly."

Audio is poised for a significant comeback as personal assistants like Alexa, Google Home and potentially the newly revealed Apple HomePod gain traction among consumers. Marketers are still experimenting with the best ways in. Burger King made a big splash when one of its TV ads intentionally triggered a response from viewers' Google Home devices, but Google quickly shut that down.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.