Today’s New York Times has an op-ed piece by Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild, entitled “The Kindle Swindle?” about the Kindle 2.0’s ability to read text-to-speech (TTS), which I’d been talking about earlier this month.
The Authors Guild has also put up a web page with demos of the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature here.
The scary thing is just how good the Kindle’s TTS already is. When the president of Amazon.com was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this week he made it sound like the Kindle’s TTS ability was akin to that of Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer: cold, artificial, not something you’d want to listen read to you for extended periods of time. But I don’t think he was being entirely honest (maybe because he realizes the implications for Kindle’s business at the expense of author’s rights and royalties). Because in the YouTube clip on the Authors Guild site of the Kindle 2.0 reading–it’s not perfect (the timing and emphasis is still a bit weird) but it’s pretty good and the voice at least sounds human. I could imagine listening to it for an extended period and not being bothered.
Just below the YouTube clip are clips of old TTS software (old–as in 2004) reading the same passage of “The Gettysburg Address” as the Kindle 2.0: suffice to say these older voice synths sound like Stephen Hawking. But that was only four years ago and the Kindle’s new voice has come light-years. It really won’t be long before the Kindle’s voice is just as good as a voice actor’s.
This should be of HUGE concern to authors who hope to make any money from the audiobook rights to their work in the age of the Kindle…