Amazon Backs Down on Text-To-Speech Feature

Well, that was quick. A little too quick, if you ask me. Only a week after the Kindle 2 was released, Amazon has decided to do an about face on its Text-To-Speech feature given the pressure from the Author’s Guild. The Author’s Guild maintained that Amazon was in essence creating a third market (the Text-To-Speech market) that had no licensing provisions, and therefore no compensation to the publishers or authors. They also maintained that this would hear the growing audio book market.

Instead of blanketly enabling the feature that would allow the text of any e-book to be read through the computerized speech feature, Amazon will now allow each publisher to decide if they wish that feature enabled for its books. Of course that means that some publishers will probably exact a price for doing so and we’ll have to wait and see if Amazon will eat that cost or pass it on to customers. I’m sure we’ll hear some protests on a number of fronts about this, especially from those with disabilities that would benefit from this as an access feature.

You can read the full text of Amazon’s statement after the jump, and here’s a link to an interesting interview with the CEO of the Author’s Guild on Engadget that obviously was conducted before the settlement.

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. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.


Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights-holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Customers tell us that with Kindle, they read more, and buy more books. We are passionate about bringing the benefits of modern technology to long-form reading.

Via The New York Times


  1. Hmm…since this has been the case with Microsoft Reader books since, well, for years, and since Amazon used to carry Microsoft Reader books, I don’t see how this situation caught them by surprise. Very interesting. I think there’s more to this particular story.

  2. I think this is actually not a bad solution for Amazon. They don’t monetize the feature, and they give the rights holders the opportunity to add value to their book. I’ve read that the number of copies an average book sold is actually very low. Like in the hundreds of copies low.

    If the majority of books sold include text-to-speech rights, then I could imagine that consumers will come to demand it from every book sold there. Never underestimate how annoyed people will be when a function is disable, even if they are not likely to use it.

  3. The Author’s Guild is simply trying redefine the ownership concept of a book purchase and turn it into a restricted consumer licence, in this case for a specific sensory modality. But their biggest bug-bear is the second hand book market, and ultimately would love to make it illegal to trade or transfer your book licence.

  4. xread,

    Unfortunately, the first sale doctrine means they would need to rewrite the copyright laws to get that done.

    Ultimately, I think this was a contractual issue resolution for Amazon, who is still trying to get some of the popular writers into their library.

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