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Your new Kindle is talking — but not paying

February 25, 2009

AMAZON-KINDLE/Amazon’s hotly anticipated Kindle e-reader got even more press on Wednesday, but not the good variety.

In an op-ed titled “The Kindle Swindle” that appeared in the New York Times Wednesday, the president of the Author’s Guild, Roy Blount Jr., took Amazon to task for its text-to-speech function on the new Kindle that began shipping this week.

The new Kindle can read books aloud — but unlike audio books, royalties are not paid to authors. Blount argues the technology Amazon uses to turn text into a human voice is quickly improving, and authors need to be “duly vigilant” about this new means of transmitting their work.

The Guild, which is studying the issue, has called the Kindle’s speech function a “significant challenge to the publishing industry.” It has recommended to its members that they bring up the issue of the Kindle when negotiating new book contracts.

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.

In his op-ed, Blount assured readers that the Guild will continue to provide free audio availability to the blind — and pooh-poohed suggestions that parents should expect lawsuits from reading bedtime stories to their children.

For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing noncommercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter.


I agree with writer’s guild. If Amazon is exploiting this capability for its own benefits, then it should also pay the appropriate royalty to the authors.


This is not right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, new technology vs. old business models, it is all about negotiated rights and payments for expressions in certain forms and formats.

In other words this is a legal, contract, and distribution issue. I want to hear what Stephen King has to say. I’ll be interested in how Random House negotiates distribution deals. I can’t wait to hear what Barnes and Noble says. Yeah, I want to hear all about it, not read it.

Posted by Larry | Report as abusive

Copyright exists to ensure that there remains financial incentive for authors to create works. The whole separate audio licensing thing is preposterous anyway. If I want to give you an audio recording of me reading you a book along with the book itself, shouldn’t that be OK? Even if I sell the book to you at a profit?

The writer’s guild is trying to take whatever they can. They should be working to make sure authors get due credit for their works as they get propagated via the internet. Instead they are wasting time picking this fight, because the macintosh from 1984 is reading their book to them. Their overblown sense of entitlement and righteous indignation remind me of the RIAA and MPAA. Blech.

Posted by ED Fochler | Report as abusive

The text to speach translation could hardly be called a “performance”. Maybe in the future, as the technology gets better, this could be an issue.

But as it is now, in my opinion, it still sounds crude, compared to a voice actor/author speaking the book.

Posted by eric | Report as abusive

This technology has been around a while, so the “signifigant change” is the first lie Blount screeches whith his sue-em-all strategy.

Microsoft Reader for desktop and laptop computers has had a TTS add-on for years. I use it (and a third-party TTS voice) quite a bit while driving. Blount needs to try taking on Microsoft before tackling the Kindle.

The publisher is saving the cost of material, labor, and transport, yet Blount wants to grab at the customer’s wallet? Get your share of the publisher’s savings, you talentless hack!


Love your article. Thanks for the insight. For others who are interested in the Kindle 2 and in the same boat as me, this site has a ton of reviews as well..check it out:

Posted by Cory T | Report as abusive

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