Amazon announced on Friday that the text-to-speech feature on its recently released e-book reader, Kindle 2, would not be routinely enabled for all titles. The move, which allows rightsholders to choose whether to allow the e-book reader to convert the text of books into a digitized audio version, came in response to a claim made by the Authors Guild that by automatically offering the feature, Amazon was infringing upon audio rights.
According to Authors Guild president Roy Blount Jr., whose editorial on Kindle 2 appeared in the New York Times last week, the feature could undermine audio rights, which are more valuable than e-book rights, damaging revenue for authors and publishers. While the current text-to-speech technology is limited, Blount anticipates that the software will continue to be enhanced, posing a greater threat to the audiobook market. "You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading Harry Potter or of authors, ahem, reading themselves," Blount wrote. "But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. And that sort of technology is improving all the time."
While Amazon conceded to the new terms, the company also asserted the legitimacy of the original feature. "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," the company stated in a press release. "We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business."
Amazon, which owns audiobook publishers Audible and Brilliance Audio, has significant interest in the read-aloud corner of the market. "If there's one thing Amazon has demonstrated, it’s that it plans on selling several bazillion metric tons of audiobooks," Cory Doctorow wrote on the blog Boing Boing. "They control something like 90 percent of the market. To accuse them of setting out to destroy it just doesn’t pass the giggle-test."