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The Kindle a Swindle Because of Audio Feature? I Think Not



Roy Blount, Jr., the president of the Authors Guild is among those concerned about the Amazon Kindle’s new audio feature and its possible effects on revenues for writers. He’s written an Op-Ed in the New York Times laying out his case that the feature makes every book on the Kindle an e-Book and an audio book in one. He’s not the only one making this comparison and raising the issue.

That said, I disagree with the premise. At least in its present form I think anyone trying to compare what I’ve heard from the Kindle’s audio feature (admittedly only over the net and not directly) to an audio book is stretching things a bit too far in order to squeeze in on another market. Given that owns Audible (an audio book publisher) I doubt they would be interested in killing off that growing market with the future advances of the audio feature on the Kindle. It just doesn’t make sense.

Mr. Blount complains that the Guild is being assailed for its position and cites one of those complaints from the Electronic Freedom Foundation that “parents everywhere should be on the lookout for legal papers haling them into court for reading to their kids.” He calls the EFF’s statement sarcastic, but I don’t think he helps his own case by stating (in what I hope is sarcasm):

For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial 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.



  1. Sumocat

    02/25/2009 at 2:08 pm

    The Authors Guild is putting the interests of their few, wealthy members ahead of the majority. Only a handful of books ever get turned into audiobooks, notably well-known works that are either free-for-use classics or bestsellers. However, the possibility of getting an audio version, in addition to a print version, could help more authors move more copies.

    Podcast companies, like Escape Pod, are already putting this into practice when they podcast readings of licensed work. While I’m not familiar with their compensation model, I assume a company that distributes their work for free and operates in part on donations can’t be paying too much to authors for their work. So what’s in it for authors? Marketing that will help them move more units. If they can help authors sell more books, then why can’t Kindle’s reading feature?

  2. JC

    02/25/2009 at 2:38 pm

    Escape Pod pays $100 a story. For a genre fiction market, that’s not bad. It’s not a pro sale rate (unless your story is really short). However, it’s a prominent sale and there are definitely fine markets that pay less. (In case I’m not clear, there isn’t very much money in short genre fiction.)

    The Authors Guild’s fallacy is the notion that the text to speech feature is enough like an audiobook that it devalues audiobooks. (i.e., why buy an audiobook if the Kindle 2 will read it to you.) I find that really hard to believe. I think those who want audiobooks will continue to buy audiobooks rather than having their Kindle read to them.

    Having said that, I note that all the arguments against the Authors Guild position boil down to “the text to speech isn’t good enough to substitute for an audiobook.” As ridiculous as their position is right now, they may be laying groundwork for some future date when text to speech is better.

  3. Joel

    02/25/2009 at 2:40 pm

    His argument seem pretty weak. If I buy a book, what does it matter if a paid actor, a computer or if I read it. I haven’t seen anyone buy a book and the audio version.

    It seems to me that the Author’s Guild wants to charge you twice for the ability to choose.

  4. Sumocat

    02/25/2009 at 3:47 pm

    Suddenly the $10 a page I made on my first sale doesn’t sound so meager.

  5. Tim

    02/25/2009 at 4:39 pm

    Good point, Joel. I personally have never bought a book and the audio version. One or the other. No one I know of has done it either. I would have expected the Author’s Guild to be more interested in the intellectual property aspect. It does not seem to me to be close to an act of copyright piracy.

  6. SAM

    02/25/2009 at 10:39 pm

    Listening to a c-o-m-p-u-t-e-r v-o-i-c-e d-r-o-n-e -on-can-be most-boring.

    The audio books I’ve listened to have background music, sometimes sound effects, along with a professional actor/orator who is interesting to listen to…

  7. Paul Harrigan

    02/25/2009 at 11:45 pm

    I think Blount’s greed in trying to say that I am creating a derivative work when I have a K2 use its text-to-speech features is absurd. Under this analysis, when I read a story out loud to my child, I am doing the same. How is he to distinguish it from my having it appear to me in bigger fonts when I use reading glasses?

    The point is that I bought the book and am reading it on my Kindle, sound or video.

  8. Ben

    02/26/2009 at 2:44 am

    Yea, this is stupid. And it’s only a matter of time before text-to-speech becomes even more popular. Get over it.

  9. joe miklovic

    02/26/2009 at 10:54 am

    Mr. Blount needs to get a new job. It seems to me like he’s trying to find a new way to fleece the consumer. As a consumer, I’m tired of getting ripped off by the publishing industry. $30 for a new book? Give me a break. I can’t afford that kind of hobby…it would cost me $900 a year if it wasn’t for the public library. Everyone wants to be a millionaire overnight, especially at the cost of the working slobs and the consumers. Give me a break Mr. Blount.
    -joe miklovic

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