Monthly Archives: February 2009

Kindle 2 Audio: How Does It Sound?

February 25, 2009. Text-to-speech (TTS) programs have been in use for a number of years, and they’re improving.  As Roy Blount says in an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Kindle 2′s TTS isn’t Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter,” but it’s listenable. There’s no need to take our word for it; have a listen to the sample below.  To give you an idea of how this technology is improving, we’ve uploaded a couple samples of TTS available from Apple’s Macintosh operating system released in 2005 — the default voice (“Fred”) and the best-sounding one, to our ears (“Vicki”).  (We chose Apple as a reasonable benchmark of where the technology stood four years ago because its TTS software is generally considered quite good.)

IBM is one of the companies aggressively involved in developing this technology.  For an example of its work, go to the IBM Research site and try its “expressive” samples.

A Brief Guide to the Benefits of the Authors Guild v. Google Settlement

February 25, 2009.  The settlement strengthens authors’ rights and will, if approved by the court, result in millions of dollars of payments to authors. At least $45 million will be paid to authors and publishers to release claims for books that are scanned by Google by May 5th of this year. But that’s not the most significant part of the settlement, in our view. We expect the licensing that this settlement would enable, particularly of out-of-print books, will result in far more revenues for authors over the coming years.

The settlement covers essentially all in-copyright books that were published by January 5, 2009. (Some authors have told us that they think of the settlement as covering only books for adults or nonfiction books. This is incorrect. Books of all types are covered by the settlement.)

We think it’s in the strong interest of authors of all books, whether in print or out of print, to go to www.googlebooksettlement.com and claim their books. Here are some of the benefits of doing so:

1. If you file your claim by January 5, 2010, and a book in which you have a copyright interest is scanned by Google before May 5, 2009, you will be entitled to a small share (at least $60 per book, but up to $300, depending on the number of claims) in a pool of at least $45 million that Google is paying to release claims for works that were scanned without rightsholder permission.

2. By registering, you’ll be able to share in potential revenues for uses of your works under several new licensing programs that the settlement enables. Here are examples of licensing revenues you may be entitled to share in:

A. Revenues from printing out pages from your works at terminals in public libraries.

B. Revenues from ads that may appear near “previews” of your works at books.google.com.

C. Revenues from sales of special online editions of your works.

D. Revenues from institutional subscriptions that may include your works.

Important note: Only out-of-print books will be included in these programs by default. In-print books will be included only where rightsholders affirmatively elect to do so.

3. By registering, you’ll automatically enroll in the new Book Rights Registry, which will give you a considerable amount of control over the rights to your works, including your right to withdraw your work from the licensing programs described above.

The important thing is to assert your rights. It’s easiest to do so by setting up an account at www.googlebooksettlement.com, the official settlement website. Once you’re logged in, it’s generally most efficient to claim your works by searching the database of titles by your name.

There are many more details, which the attached document spells out. For those who would like more information, we’ll soon be announcing a new series of phone-in seminars. You will receive that e-mail later this week.

Please feel free to forward and post this message: non-Guild members are entitled to the same advantages of the settlement as Guild members.

E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon’s Kindle 2 Adds “Text to Speech” Function

February 12, 2009.  On Monday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon’s Kindle 2 e-book reading device at the Morgan Library in New York. Most of the changes from the first version of the Kindle are incremental improvements: the new Kindle is lighter and thinner, for example, and Amazon eliminated the scroll wheel. One update, however, is wholly new: Amazon has added a “Text to Speech” function that reads the e-book aloud through the use of special software.

This presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry. Audiobooks surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2007; e-book sales are just a small fraction of that. While the audio quality of the Kindle 2, judging from Amazon’s promotional materials, is best described as serviceable, it’s far better than the text-to-speech audio of just a few years ago. We expect this software to improve rapidly.

We’re studying this matter closely and will report back to you. In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven’t yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn’t the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon’s use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books.

Bundling e-books and audio books has been discussed for a long time in the industry. It’s a good idea, but it shouldn’t be accomplished by fiat by an e-book distributor.

Reading to your kids note: A Wall Street Journal article quoted a portion of an interview with Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken regarding the Kindle 2. The remarks have been interpreted by some as suggesting that the Guild believes that private out-loud reading is protected by copyright. It isn’t, unless the reading is being done by a machine. And even out-loud reading by a machine is fine, of course, if it’s from an authorized audio copy. Others suggest that challenging Amazon’s use of this software challenges accessibility to the visually impaired. It doesn’t: Kindle 2 isn’t designed for such use. The Guild continues to support efforts to make works truly accessible to the visually impaired.