Apr 182010

20/20 vision only beyond this point

I’d like to highlight an issue that has steadily become a bigger and bigger deal for me, and something that I think really exemplifies how several large print publishers are just taking the complete wrong tack when dealing with their readers. Instead of embracing readers (i.e., their customers) and thinking of ways to make their reading or purchasing experiences better, publishers have been raising e-book prices, delaying e-book releases, slapping on restrictive copy protection (DRM) that confuses and limits readers, blocking features like lending, and, perhaps most egregiously, blocking text-to-speech.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a technology that allows printed words to be read aloud by a synthesized computer voice. While the quality of this artificial voice is acceptable to some but irritating to others, it as an option that Amazon spent time and money building into the Kindle 2. Amazon partnered with Nuance (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking) to build TTS into the K2. That means that, in addition to all the other advantages of e-books–like adjustable font sizes that make it easier for those with poor vision to read–now your Kindle can read any e-book to you, which opens up the joy of books to the vision impaired, the elderly, or anyone else who can’t read printed words. While I’m fortunate enough to still have (relatively) good eyesight, I’m glad to see such technologies emerge to help those who aren’t as fortunate. And I’m in favor of anything that enables more people to read or enjoy the written word.

And what do I, as an author or publisher, have to do to enable this wonderful technology? Nothing. It’s already built into the K2 and turned on by default. Talk about a win-win-win. More people get to enjoy books, I can reach a whole new market, and Amazon can sell more e-books and Kindles.

Right up until the part where publishers demand that Amazon block text-to-speech on their titles.

This move just strikes me as so backwards-thinking, so antagonistic, and so wrong–considering which segment of the population will be harmed the most by the move: the disabled.

The publishers’ argument is essentially that TTS-enabled e-books will cut into their (expensive) audiobook sales. To me, it’s just another example of publishers alienating readers, and fighting instead of embracing technology. They’re so worried about e-books hurting their hardcover sales and audiobook sales, they’re forgetting that e-books are reaching new readers who are buying more e-books than they used to buy in print. They’re forgetting all the cost savings inherent in e-books, since they don’t have to print or ship or store books or accept returns or produce audio files. They’re forgetting that technology marches on, and they can march along or be trampled underfoot along with the typewriter manufacturers and buggy-whip makers. Most importantly, they’re forgetting the reason they exist: to provide literature to readers. Readers are not your enemies; please stop fighting them. How did it work out for the RIAA and the music industry?

In the meantime, all I can do (aside from posting about it here) is continue to try to embrace technology and provide value for my readers. To me, that means fair pricing, multiple formats, no restrictive DRM, and enabling text-to-speech on my novels.

  6 Responses to “Being Pointlessly Mean: Blocking Text-To-Speech”

Comments (6)
  1. If your car audio system has an aux jack (and many new cars now do), you can listen to books during your commute to and from work. The net result is you will consume books faster and will be more prone to buy another one. My commute time is generally lost time. I don’t typically buy books on tape because I prefer to read them. With text-to-speech enabled, I have the option of doing either as circumstances present themselves.

    • Thanks — that’s another good point I forgot to mention … while it’s not a moral issue (like I think TTS access is), it’s another example of where a little foresight and seeing e-books as opportunities instead of threats would help the publishers. Allowing people to “read” more by listening during their commute will increase the number of e-books they buy. What part of “win-win” do the publishers just not understand?

  2. I think i love you. because of your 25 things..
    just finished right ascension, loved it also..
    i recently downloaded kindle for mac at amazon.com for free
    .. so happy , could not read books in a long time because of eyes….. now i can enlarge the print as big as i want. get a book in a few seconds… read it . and never move a box of books from home to home again…
    that alone should get e book customers…
    do the anti TTS people not understand the basic truths of VOLUME= CASH.
    will begin declination very soon … and twiller looks to be a fun read..waiting.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments! I’m very glad you enjoyed Right Ascension and I hope you like Declination as well.

      I love the idea that e-books (and their adjustable fonts and text-to-speech) can allow more and more people to continue reading, start reading, or enjoy reading more. I just can’t fathom the mindset of someone who would want to disable those technologies and prevent people from reading.

  3. Now most text to speech voices are natural and pleasant to most people, for example, there is a voice named Microsoft Anna on Windows Vista and 7, which is much clearer than the voice of Microsoft Sam on Windows XP. I now use text to speech software, It’s a very powerful tool, besides natural voice speech, the software can save the speech into mp3 and wav audio books.

  4. i am looking over this on my kindle reader, incredibly great article

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