A few weeks ago, just after the introduction of the new Kindle 2, the Authors Guildcomplained that Amazon’s eBook reader had a text-to-speech function. According to Paul Aitken, the Guild’s executive director, this meant that Amazon would have to pay for audio rights for every book downloaded onto the device. Today, Roy Blount Jr., the Guild’s president, echoed this sentiment in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
This somewhat odd piece by Blount opens with a comment about how the author’s father died because he was the president of too many ‘well-meaning organizations.’ While it is not clear that this has anything to do with the Kindle 2, it is surely meant to set the mood for the rest of the article.
Blount argues that the Kindle is sold and marketed as a “new, improved, multimedia version of books.” That is a strange statement, given that Amazon barely mentions the text-to-speech functionality on its own site (though, granted, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos does mention it whenever he talks about the Kindle 2 in public).
Bout also argues that the voices of the Kindle 2 are “quite listenable.” And indeed, the text-to-speech function of the Kindle 2 represents the current state-of-the-art when it comes to commercially available screen readers. But nobody would want to listen to these voices for a long period of time. They still can’t replace the work of experienced voice talent and can become rather annoying if you have to listen to them for too long.
As Henry Blodget points out, authors are already getting paid for the sale of the book on the Kindle, and now they (or the Guild members that represent them) also want to get paid for the audio rights on top of this. Maybe more importantly, it should also be acknowledged that most users might never make use of the text-to-speech feature in the Kindle, so Amazon would have to charge users extra for a right they might never make use of.
Sadly, instead of lauding Amazon for bringing the book into a new era (or at least trying to do so), the Authors Guild has decided to focus its efforts on arguing about what is essentially a non-issue.