Amazon has backtracked a bit on the Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature, which riled up the Author's Guild.
Amazon's most recent move (statement, Techmeme) is designed to appease the Author's Guild. The Author's Guild argued that the text-to-speech feature, which allowed a robotic voice read a book to you, was a substitute for audio books. Therefore, Amazon should be paying audio rights to authors.
The Author's Guild argument is ridiculous on many fronts. And now that I have been playing with my Kindle 2 review device the authors' argument is even more silly. You--at least I--can't listen to the text-to-audio feature for any extended period, but having a robot curse while reading Artie Lange's Too Fat to Fish is mildly amusing.
As many have noted the Author's Guild seems to be arguing that reading to your child is nefarious unless you pay a fee to content creators. On the other hand, it's business. Authors want to be compensated. Amazon needs authors to keep its ecommerce sales--and the Kindle store--rolling. Meanwhile, Amazon owns Audible, the leading audio bookdistributor. Simply put, Amazon and authors have a lot of skin in this debate.
Enter the compromise.
In a statement, Amazon says:
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. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.
Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat.
Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice.
This move makes a good bit of sense in the context of Kindlenomics. It's a compromise that keeps authors happy, makes Amazon's point clear and lets the market decide where the feature goes. More importantly, Amazon can stay focused on growing its Kindle market.
All Amazon wants to do is sell more books. In fact, that's all the Author's Guild wants to do too. Given that reality Amazon isn't going to sweat a little retreat once in a while. It's about the store not the features on the Kindle. In other words, it's all about the money.