Author Roy Blount, president of the Authors Guild, is outraged about Amazon’s Kindle 2: Its computer-generated voice is so good, Roy says, that it might put audiobooks out of business! And Amazon isn’t paying publishers or authors for audio rights!
“Audio rights” should not encompass technologies that convert text to audio on the fly. The audio book industry is about hiring actors and paying them to “act” out books. When you buy an audio book, you don’t get the actual book–you get a recording of the actor reading it. When you buy a Kindle book, meanwhile, you get the actual book…and then you ask your computer to read it to you. You’re paying for the book–so the author and publisher already get paid. But now they want a double-dip!
(Does Roy want “audio” royalties from teachers who read to their classes, too? Why not? Those kids are hearing the book. Is the teacher ripping off the author and publisher by not buying a copy for each kid in the class?)
In the old days, actors were so much better at reading books than computers that computers provided no competition. But now the technology has gotten better. Roy, in fact, complains that the Kindle’s voice is “quite listenable.”
Well, good. That’s called productivity.
BEING president of too many well-meaning organisations put my father into an early grave. The lesson in this was not lost on me. But now I am president of the Authors Guild, whose mission is to sustain book-writing as a viable occupation. This borders on quixotic, given all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors. A case in point: Amazon’s Kindle 2, which was released yesterday.
The Kindle 2 is a portable, wireless, paperback-size device onto which people can download a virtual library of digitalized titles. Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.
Serves readers, pays writers: so far, so good. But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.