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Kindle 2's text-to-speech reading feature concerns author representatives

One of the interesting features in Amazon's new Kindle 2 ebook reader is the ability to synthesize text-to-speech on the fly, creating what I'm assuming is a low-quality audio version of the e-book.

Of course, copyright holders are not amused, since ebooks constitute a separate market and source of revenue for these folks.

Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice.


"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

Most audio books, at least the good ones, are performances. They are not a simple audio rendering of a text, but rather an expert reading of that text. The skill of the person reading the text as well as the quality of their voice is what makes, in my opinion, gives the value to the audio book. Of course the text being read is a large part of the value equation, but a poorly read book is not likely to be listened to.

The Kindle 2 doesn't provide this level of experience, at least not yet, and I don't expect it to any time soon. At best, the Kindle offers the equivalent of listening to MIDI versions of your favorite band. Derivative, surely, but nowhere near a replacement for the original. If anything, low-fidelity readings might generate more demand for 'proper' audiobooks.

As good as speech synthesis might be today, I can't foresee them being able to reproduce the storytelling skills of the better audio book readers. Nor will they ever be able to reproduce the uniqueness of listening to a book being read by its author.

It isn't surprising to see copyright holders again fight to defend their interested and current revenue streams. At the same time, I hope that they are also working towards realizing the market opportunities presented by new technologies.