A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
TELL ME A STORY
The book world is panicking. (Again.) The latest version of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader has a text to speech function that enables it to read a book out loud. Admittedly it’s still quite computer-speaky, but the technology is better than it used to be, and is improving all the time. The prospect is getting some people very hot under the collar.
Organizations including the Authors Guild (sorry about the lack of an apostrophe, but they appear to have mislaid it) have said that the Kindle’s ability to read out a book violates an author’s audio rights. I think they’ve got this all wrong.
Ever since books have been in existence they have been read out loud. Parents of younger children spend hours in this activity, as do teachers in primary schools. Some enjoy the experience of being read to all the way up to adulthood. All the Kindle is doing is providing that service without the need for a third party. Someone listening to a book on a Kindle has already paid for the book. If they then want to take in the information they have purchased by listening it, or for that matter by printing it off on rice paper and eating it, there should be no problem.
In their moan, the Authors Guild identifies why they are in such a spin. ‘Audiobooks surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2007.’ Surprise, surprise, it’s all about the money.
Now, as an author, I’ve nothing against getting money from books. I depend on it. But I feel that complaining about the Kindle’s capabilities because audiobooks earn so much is a bit like bemoaning how little pre-recorded cassette story tapes earn now compared with ten years ago. Those of us with children of a certain age will have worn out many a spoken word audio tape – but they are going the ways of dinosaurs and eight track stereo players. Story tapes are now a dying technology. As text to speech gets better, CD and MP3 audiobooks will go the same way. It’ll take a while. Some audiobooks are fully dramatized, and the technology has a way to go before it can cope with that. But audiobooks were only ever a transient form. To make a big fuss about them misses the point.
A book is a form of communication between the author and the reader. Although some aspects of the medium totally transform that communication -illustration, for example – it really makes little difference whether a straightforward piece of text is taken in through the eye or the ear. Of course I would say that. There aren’t any audio versions of my books yet, so it makes no difference to me financially. But even if I did have some audio bestsellers, I’m not convinced how many people would buy a Kindle version and audio version as well. It’s a red herring. A waste of time and effort. Let’s concentrate on something more fruitful.
Brian Clegg has had over 30 books published. His latest, Ecologic, was published in January 2009 by Eden Project Books. See http://www.brianclegg.net for more on Brian and his books.