Retailers, consumers and prices
Your new Kindle is talking — but not paying
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.