Stony Brook-based Charmtech Labs LLC, the startup behind text-to-speech software Capti Narrator, has partnered with free electronic book provider Project Gutenberg to offer free audiobook versions of over 50,000 titles.
Capti, originally developed to help blind and vision-impaired people use the Internet, allows users to listen to a variety of text documents across the Web, including news sites, Google Drive, Dropbox and now Gutenberg’s collection of public domain books at Gutenberg.org.
“Anything that puts literature in people’s hands is fantastic,” said Greg Newby, director and chief executive of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, a not-for-profit that collects books in the public domain and digitizes them for free download. “There’s just lots and lots of people who like to listen to books,” Newby said.
Through Capti’s online browser or mobile app portal, users can access any of Gutenberg’s ebooks and have them read aloud. Newby said his organization does not grant exclusive licenses, and provided its collection free of charge.
Founded in 1971 by the late Michael Hart, widely recognized as the creator of ebooks, Gutenberg has been approached before by companies looking to turn its collection into audio. However, Newby said its project with Charmtech is “the first time it’s really been fully functional and successful.”
Founded in 2010, Charmtech initially focused on creating software for the blind. Since then, president and CEO Yevgen Borodin said the company has expanded its reach and is now focused more on providing educational institutions with resources for special needs students and students learning English.
“The company has been going through different pivots over time,” Borodin said. While the company still markets its software to the vision impaired, Borodin said expanding into education provides a larger consumer market.
Over the last two years, Charmtech has received about $1.8 million in grant funding from several government entities, including the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. In 2014, the company was recognized by the Federal Communications Commission for making the Internet more accessible to the disabled.
For Borodin, who spoke to Hart before his death in 2011 about Charmtech’s plan to offer the collection with audio, the recent announcement is a satisfying end to a five-year chapter.
“I made a promise to him that I’d make it happen,” Borodin said. “I feel like we have finally fulfilled the promise.”