Why The Author’s Guild is Wrong about the Kindle

The Author’s Guild has objected to the text-to-speech features of the new Kindle, suggesting that it somehow jeopardizes the rights of authors (See: will lawyers kill the Kindle). They are wrong on many counts.

First, it is not a copyright violation.

If you read a book out loud, is that different from reading it silently? If someone reads a book to you, does that mean you both have to buy a copy of the book? What if you hire someone to read to you? Of course not. So why would an automated reading device be any different? It is not.

Now a true audio book is different from a printed book. Why? Because it is a derivative work – a performance of a book. It is a new work that is derived from the original.

Some might argue that speech-to-text is also a performance of a work and subject to a new copyright – and it would be, if you tried to sell and market such a work. A similar situation exists with translations. If you wish to translate a book and sell the translation, you have to get permission from the copyright holder. But if a friend comes over to read a book in a foreign language and translates it for you as they read, that is perfectly fine. Text-to-speech is that high-tech friend.

But the copyright argument is not the biggest reason that the Author’s Guild is wrong about the Kindle. The real problem is that they are acting against the best interests of authors.

Here’s why.

Let’s consider audio books on CD in two categories. In general fiction Amazon.com shows 13867 results. In SF and fantasy, 1891 results.

Why would someone buy an audio book? Possibilities include:

  • Unable to read (visually impaired)
  • Too lazy to read
  • Wants to utilize commute time (while driving, on public transit).
  • Enjoys the performance.

Let’s assume that the first three of these represent 75% of the market, and that it can be replaced by text-to-speech. Let’s also assume that few people would buy both the print and audio book. Since audio books cost more than print books, text-to-speech technology should result in some drop of income to these authors as people choose to buy the print book instead of the audio book. If audio books represent 10% of a book’s total sales, and if we assume the audio book pays an author twice what a print book does, the author will lose 50% of 75% of 10% of their income – a drop in 3.75% of their income.

Of course, this would have a much greater impact on audio book publishers – but then why isn’t the audio book publisher’s guild complaining? Surely the Author’s Guild wouldn’t make such a fuss over a 3.75% drop of author’s income.

Especially when you consider the following:

Amazon lists 403,000 results just in general fiction, almost 90,000 books in SF and Fantasy. Or put another way, maybe 3% of printed books have audio books available. If there’s one thing we know about the market – when prices drop, people tend to buy more. Text-to-speech effectively reduces the cost of audio books which means people will buy more – and now they’ll be able to choose from any title, not just those with audio books available. Ultimately this will benefit far more authors as book sales increase overall.

While the numbers I use are largely hypothetical, the principle is clear – text-to-speech is good for authors. It makes their existing books more accessible and opens them to markets (commuters, visually impaired) that were otherwise closed to them. Authors win. The consumer wins. A few authors might lose a small amount. And audio book publishers potentially lose – they will have to market their good purely based on the quality of their performers, not just on the fact that it is an audio book.

The Author’s Guild should live up to its name and acknowledge the fact that the Kindle’s new text-to-speech feature is neither a copyright violation, nor is it counter to the interests of authors.

2 Responses to “Why The Author’s Guild is Wrong about the Kindle”

  1. Scott Mitchell Says:

    Dan, I agree that for the vast majority of authors the text-to-speech feature proposed for the Kindle won’t have any significant impact on the bottom line. But the Authors Guild (I assume) doesn’t represent ALL authors, it represents its members, of which there are around 8,000 (according to Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authors_Guild). My guess is that the Authors Guild is made up of more big name authors, the ones that are likely to have audio book version, than small time guys like you and me.

    I agree with you that the text-to-speech functionality would be nice and would have no impact on the vast majority of authors.

  2. Cheryl Says:

    So, my wife likes reading. In fact, she likes reading A LOT! We have so many books, we could probably fill the Library of Congress. So, when Amazon came out with the new Kindle Wireless Reading Device, the first thing she brought up was that her birthday was coming up. As if I would forget….yeah..probably would. So, she showed me the Kindle and at first I was a little hesitent. To me, it just looked like another gadget that she wanted to have and would probably never use. So, I looked into it and came to find it very interesting. So, as her birthday approched, I really had no solid ideas about what to get for her, since she has almost everything. Then one night, I really made her mad somehow, probably just being a dumb guy, and I went on the computer and looked up the Kindle once more. I sat there reading reviews, specs and features and thought that maybe if I would buy her the Kindle for her birthday, she wouldn’t be mad at me anymore. So, I swallowed my pride and made the purchase. And just to butter it up a little, I bought a beautfil violet leather case and a flexible light to go with it. Along with that, I bought the extended warranty just in case. We have two children who love to play with things that are not theirs to play with, so I thought that would be a good idea.

    In just under two weeks, the Kindle arrived at our mailbox and I was lucky enough to get to it first. I opened it up and thought I could hear the sounds of harps and violins playing all around me…it was that cool. I turned it on and was amazed at the clarity of the screen and the light weight of the device. So, just like I do with any new device, I left it sitting on the charger to get a nice full charge before my wife got to it. As her birthday got closer, I was excited to finally get myself out of trouble by presenting her with her new gift. The day came and so I gave her her birthday gift. To see the look on her face was absolutley priceless. I opened it up for her and showed her a few features and also showed her how easy it was to use. She was amazed at its size and weight and the beautiful clarity of the liquid ink screen.

    Also, we live in Germany and so the wireless capability is not available to us here, but I read into it and the site said the we could download the books onto our computer and tranfer them through USB onto the Kindle. So before I gave the Kindle to my wife, I looked up some books that I thought she might like and bought a few new titles to put on the reader. She opened up her Kindle and turned it on and waiting inside was the new relase from Karin Slaughter, along with a few titles from James Rollins. She was so excited, she began reading right away. So to all of you who love to read and who are running out of space for actual books, we recommend this ebook reader. We wish you all the satisfaction that we have received and hope you enjoy this as much as we have so far. Good Reading to you!

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