John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Authors Guild to Kindle: Shut Up When You're Talking to Me

The Authors Guild, a trade group that once maligned Amazon (AMZN) for its “notorious used-book service,” is at it again–this time taking issue with the text-to-speech feature of the retailer’s new Kindle 2 e-book reader. Seems it feels the device oversteps its bounds by creating rudimentary audiobooks for which it doesn’t own the rights.

“[The Kindle’s text-to-speech function] presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry,” the group said in a statement released Thursday. “Audiobooks surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2007; e-book sales are just a small fraction of that. While the audio quality of the Kindle 2, judging from Amazon’s promotional materials, is best described as serviceable, it’s far better than the text-to-speech audio of just a few years ago. We expect this software to improve rapidly….we recommend that if you haven’t yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn’t the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon’s use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books.”

Hard to view the sort of roboticized nondramatic “reading” that the Kindle provides as a “significant challenge to the publishing industry.” If that was truly the case, you’d think the industry would have gone after Apple (AAPL) for VoiceOver (could it’s “Hysterical” and “Zarvox” voice options be any more realistic?) Beyond that, the idea of derivative rights and royalties for text-to-speech just seems ludicrous.

“When you buy a book, you’re also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc.,” says author Neil Gaiman “This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one’s going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors’ societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what’s good about them with it.”

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