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Global content, AI and some challenges

I woke up today with the following news from The Verge: "Spotify is going to clone podcasters' voices - and translate them to other languages" (for those who want to read it in full, click here). I won't go into all the points of the article here, but especially the title and all the implications this may - or may not - have for our industry.

Since the early days of digital content, a major premise has been: sell your content to the world with just one click through the internet. Is that true? In a way. I'll list it here:

  • Books have territorial rights, so if you're the author, yes, you can easily put it up for sale worldwide... if you're a publisher, it gets complicated because the author or agent will probably sell that book in another territory to another publisher.

  • Podcasts are less territorial - in rights and execution - because there is no (until now) translation. At the same time, they are more territorial in terms of subject matter: there is no podcast in Brazil that is produced by two people, and the same podcast has two other hosts in another country recording the same content in another language.

  • For both text-based content and audio content, translation is always important because the local language is and will always be the primary language of content consumption. Consider that in Brazil, English proficiency is 3% of the population.

  • For audio content, in addition to translating the text, there is an additional step of re-recording in the local language, which makes it all more time-consuming and expensive (which can already be somewhat cheaper, considering AI in the equation).

With these points in mind, it's still worth highlighting another one: global access doesn't automatically mean global consumption. Imagine you have the rights to content, make it available on the internet in all countries in available digital shelves, but in Portuguese. What will happen? Nothing! N-O-T-H-I-N-G. No one in Canada will find your content in Portuguese, on any player, just because you selected the territory as "world" for sale.

Then you say: ohhhhh, but what if I translate it into English (or in the case of Canada, add French)? It's done, I published it in the local language and solved this problem!

The answer is a nothing with a slightly better chance of evolving into almost nothing. Why? Because, again, global access doesn't automatically mean global consumption. What are you doing for people to discover your content in that country? What kind of promotion are you doing? What community have you already built in Canada, France, Finland, or Argentina?

The content needs to be promoted, boosted, worked on, fostered so that it is found, purchased, and consumed. Without that, publishing worldwide means the same as not publishing (okay, maybe there's a remote chance that someone will come across your content in another country, but statistically, we tend to zero).

The publishing industry found - or was found over time - by this strategy of "rights are territorial, and to publish and sell in other countries, you need a local partner." This is not just a matter of legislation. It's a tool of strategy: commercial, marketing, and editorial. With this, in addition to ensuring the legal aspect, you ensure that there is someone with local strength to not only translate that content into the country's language but also use their local presence machinery to make that content "discoverable" (sorry for the invented word). Then, you have a chance for that content to have a life beyond the borders!

With these points in mind, we can begin to think about what this news from The Verge means. Because what it will do is start bringing to podcasts, which, being a more recent medium and because of the content's characteristics - the author is the voice and also the star of the content in most cases - have less history of translations and exchange between countries, whether in search, consumption, or sales. Of course, there are cases of podcasts that have traveled, Dr. Death from Wondery is one of them, Patient 63 from Spotify is another. But then we are talking about content that is more similar to a book (in narrative mechanics and rights) and that has local promotion strategies, as well as being less dependent on the original voices.

Of course, AI resources can be interesting as a tool for accelerating the translation of content, whether text or audio, but they are not perfect yet (I say this from my own articles that I translate monthly). But yes, in my opinion, they can accelerate this part of the process, but they don't solve the others.

The same work of promotion is needed, whether it's a podcast, a printed book, an ebook, or an audiobook, so that people in that specific country discover that content. That's the difference between the tool and what we make of it (perhaps a glimmer of hope for us humans amidst the revolution and evolution of AI).

All of this leads to the conclusion that, yes, the internet allows us to be global, but it doesn't make us global automatically... I'll say it again, global access doesn't automatically mean global consumption. In other words, always think that the tools are there more and more to help us translate, produce, distribute... but more than that is needed for Brazilian content to be successful outside of Brazil... and that "more" is not just the language!


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