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Amazon Silences Kindle 2 by Request

When the second generation Kindle came out everyone was all a flap because the first version had been sold out for months. Ever since Oprah sang the praises of the device on her chat show, they’d been in short supply.

That said, with all the fuss, publishing houses were worried that the new Text-to-Speech feature on the device would cannibalize sales of audiobooks. Why would anyone buy an audiobook if they could buy the text version and just have their Kindle read it to them? (Then again, we’re wondering why someone would buy the text version when they planned to have it read to them anyway.) Surely iTunes would make more sense and it wouldn’t have that digitized voice.

Either way, The Author’s Guild had a problem with Amazon offering Text-to-Speech. Executive director, Paul Aiken, told the Wall Street Journal that the feature violated authors' copyrights, as Amazon doesn't own the rights for audio recordings. Amazon has solved the problem by offering the Text-to-Speech feature as an option, rather than a standard function.

Amazon on Friday released the following statement not sounding too happy about having to change its Kindle 2 feature:

"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 rightsholders 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."

While it’s hard to imagine digitized readings overtaking a version read by a narrator, we wonder if it really is worth all the fuss. The likes of say, The Audacity of Hope is read by Barack Obama himself. Surely people would rather fork out the cash for the audiobook than settle for a digitized version. What do you think? Is it a case of the Authors’ Guild overreacting or do you think that they’re well within their rights to be making such a fuss? Leave your thoughts in the comments.