Sometimes I clip the headlines just so that a year or two from now we'll wonder what the fuss is. Today's instance of that is protests by the Author's Guild that Amazon's newest edition of the Kindle has such a good way to do text to speech on the digital texts of digital books that this violates the author's rights to sell the audiobook rights separately from the text.
True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.
You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter” or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. There’s even a male version and a female version. (A book by, say, Norman Mailer on Kindle 2 might do a brisk business among people wondering how his prose would sound in measured feminine tones.)
My point of view: When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.
“Tom and I both enjoy Assistive Media: it has been one of the most innovative and enjoyable resources for material in alternate format that we have found. Putting things online which are read with REAL voices and are immediately accessible is so useful and has great possibilities. Many advances have been made in technology, such as electronic braille books and computerized voices for text, but the human voice is so delightful in comparison. I now envision instant access to drama, poetry, information brochures...anything!!
Even the best computerized voice sounds mechanical in comparison with the wide variety of sounds you get from when people really read.
And, if you want to listen to Kathleen Starling reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Social Life of Paper from the New Yorker (2002), you can hear it (and many more things) at Assistive Media.