Two steps forward, one step back: Amazon (AMZN) is caving in and making the Kindle’s new read-my-book-in-a-robotic-voice-back-to-me feature optional to publishers after they complained that it was infringing on audio book rights.
In a statement, Amazon insists the new feature is legal: “no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given.” Further, Amazon thinks it could even boost audio book sales once people are introduced to the convenience of having your book read aloud to you.
At any rate, we don’t think this will do anything to impact Kindle sales; we doubt anyone is buying the Kindle for that feature alone, and we hope that most publishers will leave the feature on. Having a robot read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” is nowhere near the same experience as having Anthony read it, and shouldn’t be mistaken as such.
We’d also point you to Farhad Manjoo’s article for Slate, where he argues that the book publishing industry is on the brink of making the same mistake the record industry did. By giving so much power to Amazon — and making sure Kindle e-books are proprietary, protected, and not easy to use elsewhere — such as on a Web browser or non-Amazon device — they are at risk of losing control over their digital future the way music companies did to Apple (AAPL).
We’d note that e-book reading is still a relatively niche activity, so it’s still pretty early. But this year could be a big year for the Kindle, and now is a great time for the publishing industry to actually think about their future, and make sure they don’t screw themselves the way the record labels did. An open, non-DRM file format that can be easily moved from device to device — which it took the music industry years to wake up to — is a good start.