Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Amazon caves to Authors Guild over Kindle's text-to-speech reading

Jack Schofield writing in the Guardian.

Following objections from the Authors Guild in the US, Amazon has caved on the text-to-speech features of the new Kindle 2 ebook reader. It will now enable publishers and authors to disable the text-to-speech (TTS) function if they want.There shouldn't be anything controversial about TTS: it's been available on personal computers since the 1970s. It's important to people who have impaired or no vision, but little used by anyone else. However, the Authors Guild argues that the audio rights for a book are different from the reading rights, even if the audio is provided by a software robot.

In The Kindle Swindle? in The New York Times, Roy Blount Jr, president of the Authors Guild, argues that "Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights." He says:
True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat. You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading "Harry Potter" or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable.

But "quite listenable" is not the same as a real audiobook, as author Neil Gaiman (pic left) -- "someone who loves audiobooks, records his own audiobooks, makes a not-insignificant portion of his income from audiobooks and has even won awards for bloody audiobooks" -- has pointed out. He says:
An audio book, read by someone who's good at it, is an audio book, an experience that's different to, sometimes complementary to, the words on the page. A computer reading to you is a computer reading to you. And at the point where they can read books to us as well as we can read them aloud to each other, we will have other things to worry about.
Read the full piece at the Guardian online.
And this is how Publishers Weekly reported Amazon's turn around.


Keith Mockett said...

It's worth reading the Guardian article and the comments that go with it. Amazon haven't totally disabled text-to-speech, they have made it the choice of the publisher on a title-by-title basis. Probably the best solution at this time. It will be interesting to see how the different publishers respond.

Keri Hulme said...

And the different rights holders, Keith, because they're willing to deal with writers/estates/ whatever as well-