How to convert text articles into audio (and why you might want to)
Clear your backlog of unread stories.
You spend your day browsing the web and, from time to time, you’ll stumble across an interesting story. You don’t have enough time to sit down and read it, so you open it in a new tab and tell yourself you’ll save it for later. But a week later it’ll probably still be there, waiting for you to catch up, or for your browser to close unexpectedly, causing the tab to fade into oblivion.
If this often happens to you, and you find yourself getting way behind on your reading, know there’s an alternative: listening to it. This means you can multitask and keep up with your favorite websites and articles while you’re commuting, exercising, doing housework, or just chilling out at the end of the day.
You’ve even got a choice of ways of going about it.
This platform was built to turn web articles into spoken audio clips—perfect if you’re able to get through podcasts much more quickly than written stories. You can queue up five articles a month for free, but anything over that requires a $36-per-year subscription.
The service is still in its alpha stage of development, which means parts of it are unfinished and buggy, but it’s already perfectly usable. Once you’ve signed up and logged in, you can add articles to your podcast feed by using the Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox extensions, or by sending links to your personalized email address, which you can find on your dashboard.
Once you’ve got a few articles queued up, you can choose the voice that reads them, and listen on the web, or add your personal feed to your favorite podcast app. Note that some of these platforms, including Spotify and Stitcher, don’t support this type of custom feed, so it’s a good idea to check if yours is compatible.
When you’ve got too many stories pending, Pocket rides to the rescue by helping you save and organize web articles to read at your leisure. You can store web pages in Pocket using the mobile app or the platform’s browser extensions—they will all be there waiting for you, ad and clutter-free, for whenever you have time to catch up.
Pocket also offers the option to transform written articles into audio. In the mobile app for Android or iOS, tap the headphones icon on the toolbar. If you’re on the home page you’ll see playback controls for your whole reading list, and if you’re inside an article you’ll get to listen to just that story. Alongside play and pause controls, you’ll see a cog icon, where you can choose one of 15 voices for Pocket to read your articles.
This feature is free, but the platform also has premium plans starting at $5 a month ($45 a year) that include more fonts and highlights, plus full-text search.
Like Pocket, Instapaper saves web articles for you to read later, but you’ll need a premium account for the text-to-speech feature. This will set you back $3 a month or $30 a year, but if you want to get familiar with the platform before paying anything, you can sign up for free.
Another drawback is that Instapaper’s audio playback feature only works on mobile, not on the web, so you’ll need the app (available for Android and iOS) to catch up on your unread articles, which you can also cue up on a playlist. With the home screen and your list of saved pages in view, tap the three dots in the top right corner and then choose Playlist. Select one or more articles to listen to, then tap Create Playlist.
As with the rest of the apps on this list, you can change the voice that reads to you, but you’ll need to do so from your phone’s settings, as Instapaper uses your device’s default text-to-speech voice. On Android, from Settings go to Accessibility and Text-to-speech output, then tap the cog next to Preferred engine and choose Install voice data. On iOS, open Settings, then pick Accessibility, Spoken Content, and Voices.
There are other text-to-speech options available that may suit you better than the ones we’ve mentioned on this list. If you subscribe to Apple News Plus ($10 a month), for example, you can listen to a selection of stories in audio format. From the News tab inside the app, you can tap Audio to see a selection of available stories, or you can open an article you’re interested in and select Listen when audio playback is available.
Audm is similar to Apple News Plus in that it provides audio versions for selected articles. This means you can’t just add anything you like to the app to listen, but it offers a polished and intuitive experience. The service costs $8 a month or $57 a year, and the mobile app lets you browse through available titles and download them for offline listening, too.
You can also get your phone or computer to read out anything on screen whenever you like. It’s not quite as useful as having a dedicated app, but it can be helpful sometimes. On Android, for example, go to Settings, then choose Apps and notifications, Assistant, Say “Hey Google”, and make sure you turn on Hey Google and Use text from screen under Use screen context. You can then say, “Hey Google, read it,” when you have an article open in Chrome, and playback controls will appear on screen. You can also pick from a variety of voices and adjust the playback speed if you need to.
Siri can do the same trick on the iPhone. From Settings, pick Accessibility and Spoken Content, and turn the Speak Screen toggle switch on. Once you enable the feature, you can say “Hey Siri, speak screen,” to have anything on screen read to you. Alternatively, swipe down from the top of the display with two fingers, and you’ll be able to listen to the current contents of the screen, like a web page, for example. Playback controls and speed adjustments will appear automatically.
If you’re on Windows, you can use a tool called Narrator to listen to websites and any other text on your screen. You can turn it on from Windows Settings by choosing Ease of Access and Narrator. You might also want to pick Text only under Change what you hear, otherwise the narration will include all the menus and window headings. To launch Narrator and its control interface, press Win+Ctrl+Enter.
Finally on macOS, with your web browser or any other application open, select Edit, Speech, and Start Speaking to have your computer read the current document or web page. To adjust the settings for the feature, including the voice the system uses and the speed it goes at, select Accessibility, then Spoken Content from System Preferences.