Random House came in for some ridicule last week because they have apparently disenabled TTS on ebooks they are giving away for free. I see this piece as nothing more than a cheap shot. Random House responded to the Authors Guild position opposing TTS by attempting to disenable it for the Kindle 2, as, we believe, other publishers will if it can actually be done. If they are concerned about the authors’ wrath when the capability is on ebooks that were sold and on which the authors earned royalties, of course they’ll disenable it on the ones they give away too. What confirms this piece as a cheap shot is that there is no evidence presented that any other publisher takes a different position. Why single out Random House?
The author of another piece on the same subject is very gentle about the efforts “on behalf of authors” to block text-to-speech technology for ebooks, and in the Kindle 2 in particular. The authors’ position (to the extent that the Authors Guild and those literary agents who are opposing TTS actually represent the authors’ position) is just wrong. There is no evidence that any significant number of consumers buy books in multiple forms (the three main choices being printed, e-text, and audio). Even people who do both read and listen don’t tend to buy the book in two forms to enable that; they read some books and listen to others. Similarly, people who read both print and digital don’t try to do both with the same book. (What’s my evidence? Observation. But nobody has offered the least bit of evidence to the contrary and I haven’t met anybody yet who says “you aren’t talking about me.”)
So, in fact, enabling a digital file to serve two purposes would only increase sales by offering extra value. If that’s right (and it has at least as much chance of being right as the notion that there is cannibalization), blocking TTS is costing publishers sales and costing authors royalties.
I made the argument when this first came around three months ago that the TTS capability will be ubiquitously available so that people will be able to take any text they have and apply that capability against it. All Kindle 2 does is make it a bit more convenient. So this position is a fail on several counts. The fact that it is handicapping the handicapped is contemptible. The fact that it is denying authors and publishers revenue when it is supposed to be protecting them is just dumb. And standing in the way of applying developing technology to the benefit of all writers and readers can’t possibly be a sustainable position.
We did a quick check in this office for TTS apps. I think the Authors Guild and the agents should check these out.
- Adobe’s Read Aloud (for PDFs)
- SpeakText (for Windows)
- Last month, a Text-to-Speech Open-source API was announced by Android
- And there is a TTS iPhone App called “Acapela”
Are they planning to sue the consumers who acquire and use these apps? Are they really going to add to the burden of ebook publishing the need to find ways to lock up the text against all these technologies?
Thanks to all of you who viewed the Shift speech over the past weekend. It is disappearing from our site but is replaced by a link to a new annotation platform from our client SharedBook. If you have thoughts on the speech, that’s the place to express them. There are browser limitations to that platform which are posted with the link.