Amazon.com backtracks on Kindle text-to-speech

Kudos to Amazon.com, the makers of the Kindle 2.0, for doing the right thing.

As reported on Friday by the Associated Press, Amazon.com said it would allow copyright holders to decide whether they will permit their works to be read aloud using the second-generation Kindle electronic reader’s new text-to-speech feature.

The move comes nearly two weeks after The Authors Guild expressed concern that the feature–reading text in a somewhat stilted electronic voice–which was intended to be able to read every book, blog, magazine and newspaper out loud, would undercut separate audiobook sales.

Amazon said in a statement that it, too, has a stake in the success of the audiobook market, and pointed to its Brilliance Audio and Audible subsidiaries, which publish and sell professionally recorded readings.

“Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat,” the company said.

Amazon is working on the technical changes needed for authors and publishers to turn text-to-speech off for individual titles.

I think this is the absolute best solution to this issue. After all, it was never the contention of the Authors Guild (or anyone, I think) that the Kindle 2.0 should not be able to read Text-to-Speech. Rather, the issue was that authors and publishers should have the right to decide whether this feature was in their best interest as regards individual books, and not have their rights (and a potential revenue source) cut out from under them with no consultation.

In the press release (which follows below, in full), Amazon.com said “publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.” I, for one, hope that Amazon.com is right, that the Kindle is the ‘next big thing’ and that it gets people reading and buying more books, in whatever format. That will be good news for everyone.

– S.

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Statement from Amazon.com Regarding Kindle 2’s Experimental Text-to-Speech Feature

SEATTLE, Feb 27, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Customers tell us that with Kindle, they read more, and buy more books. We are passionate about bringing the benefits of modern technology to long-form reading.

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