Speech Technology Magazine

 

Kindle 2's TTS Flare-Up Quickly Extinguished

Amazon will let authors and publishers decide whether text-to-speech will be available for their specific titles.
By Leonard Klie - Posted Apr 2, 2009
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Amazon on February 23 began shipping its Kindle 2 e-book reader with text-to-speech functionality that lets users have their selections read to them. Less than a week later, it ceded control of the TTS functionality to authors and publishers, allowing them to decide whether the audio output would be available for their specific titles.

Seattle-based Amazon said in a statement February 27 that it would modify its systems “so that rights-holders can decide on a title-by-title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title.” 

The Author’s Guild, a New York-based organization representing more than 8,000 writers, had asserted that Amazon was violating copyright laws by adding audio playback to its e-book library without first acquiring audio rights to those titles. Amazon denied those claims, stating emphatically that,“Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: No copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given.” 

Nonetheless, it caved to the pressure. “We strongly believe many rights-holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat,” the company said. “We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.”

The Author’s Guild called the move by Amazon a victory, noting in a statement to its members that, “For most of you, Amazon’s announcement means that it will now respect your contractual right to authorize (or not) the addition of computer-generated audio to your e-books sold for the Kindle.”

With the new TTS feature, dubbed Read-to-Me and using technologies from Nuance Communications, Kindle 2 owners can switch back and forth between reading and listening, and their spots will be automatically saved. Pages turn while the content is read to them, so users can listen hands-free. They can choose between several male and female voices, which can be sped up or slowed down to suit their preferences. 

Users have access to more than 240,000 books, magazines, and newspapers, plus more than 1,200 blogs, through the Kindle Store. 

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