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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.

  • jsloan
    total nonsense. as if the price on the device and books were not high enough. amazon caves in and reduces pruduct's feature list. publishing houses don't care about their customers only about making more money...
  • kamkal
    errr flop.
  • niz
    Whatever happened to making products that put the whats good for the customer first?

    I want an open ebook reader that doesn't force you into buying ebooks from one particular place, supports PDF, and doesn't support or promote DRM in any way. Furthermore I don't want it to have extra stuff like the phone connectvity the Kindle has. It both increases the cost and reduces the battery life, just so they can lock you into a channel to buy books through. I just want a simple reader.

    Also the reader should be accessable as a generic storage device, so that it doesn't need any drivers or other software to be installed on a PC just to be able to copy ebooks to it. Extra minus points when the manufacturer assumes everyone only runs windows, so only provides windows versions of necessary software. What about Linux users?

    The Kindle and Kindle 2 both fail on most if not all those points. I'll keep waiting until the ebook reader that puts my needs first comes out.
  • It's a load of nonsense. Ten seconds listening to even the best text-to-speech shows how unlike human speech it truly is. Are the publishing houses going to demand that all PC-based TTS programs be withdrawn from the market, too?
  • HolyCrusader
    I've never seen much point of the Kindle - it seemed overpriced and feature-light when comparing it to a similarly-priced Palm device (TX for example).

    Despite my reservations with the Kindle, I do have to side with Amazon on this and say that the Author's Guild is far overreacting. A computer's Text to Voice capabilities still need a lot of work before they can match the human voice in sound and inflection. Even an untalented voice actor will have more inflection than a computer-generated voice. Thus, I feel that fans of Audio Books would still stick with the 'standard' human voice narrating for the quality.

    When I think of it, the Author's Guild is, in a way, trying to censor or silence something it considers a threat or competition. Ironic that an organization that generally would oppose generally oppose censorship is now trying to use a form of censorship for their own purpose?
  • hellwig
    Uh oh, I think I reported Old Man Dotes to the moderators, sorry, meant to click the quote button.

    Old Man DotesAre the publishing houses going to demand that all PC-based TTS programs be withdrawn from the market, too?
    There's enough DRM on most eBooks to prevent regular TTS programs from working on copyright-ed books. TTS for Word or PDF might be nice for reports and whatnot, but the second you can buy a best-seller in .DOC format, hell will have frozen over.
  • jsloan
    one of the sad things about amazon's service is that it requires a kindle. they dont' offer it to the pc or to pda or smartphone, ect. so you have to buy their overpriced hardware. i also heard an interview where they said it does not do wifi, only works with 3g. wtf, everyone has wifi at home, work. why not put it in there. why put it over 3g alone, eventually they will be asking for moe $$$, just wait. that 3g bandwidth costs someone who will want a cut from kindle users.
  • I don't know what the deal is?
    Don't like it? Don't buy it!
  • Does this also mean I can't read to my kids? I've never gotten permission from the rightsholders.
  • Pei-chen
    Shouldn't the Author’s Guild be called Waitress' Guild in time like this?