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Amazon Backs Down On Text-To-Speech; Will Let Publishers Decide

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
Following criticism by some authors, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is pulling back on the experimental Text-to-Speech feature in the new Kindle 2. Instead of making the automated reader available across the board, the company announced late Friday it will let rightsholders choose title by title. Amazon maintains that it has the right to offer Text-to-Speech, insisting "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." 

But Amazon, which owns audiobook companies Audible and Brilliant, also admits: "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." (The full statement is after the jump.)

The loudest shout may have been the Op-Ed by Authors Guild President Roy Blount, Jr., in the New York Times, Kindle's bestselling newspaper partner. The Guild wants "a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2's version of books."

The company seems to have realized this isn't a fight it wants to haveat least, now. Amazon is still building its Kindle library; today's 240,000-plus titles are a huge leap from the start but not nearly what the company needs to come close to the breath it offers in print. The automated feature itself is as rudimentary as the experimental web browser, with off-key pronunciation and little discretion. It's a fun gimmick but not worth a major row. Here's an example I recorded from Friday's *Washington Post* MP3



Statement from Amazon.com Regarding Kindle 2's Experimental Text-to-Speech 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.

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.


By Staci D. Kramer