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.