The bookstore has been locked.
There is a velvet rope, and a bouncer at the door.
You can wait in line, like everybody else. Your money is good. You have a lot to contribute.
When you get to the front, the one-headed Cerberus looks you up and down. You are handed a piece of paper.
You look at it. It’s in some language you don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense to you. You can’t read it.
The guard’s face is impassive. You aren’t told to leave. You aren’t told anything. Somehow, you know that asking a question is useless. You search the eyes for some answer. They aren’t cold, they aren’t hard…it’s as if you aren’t even there.
The next person in line pushes past you. It’s nothing personal. You are just in the way.
You move away slowly and join a crowd of the rejected.
You search the faces in your group for some clue….what was wrong with you? It’s not obvious. Certainly, a number of you are older…past fifty, anyway. There are a couple of people with guide dogs. There’s one person in a wheelchair with a mechanism holding a book in a clamp. With others, you can’t see any common factor at all.
All you want to do is buy some books.
You ask if anybody knows where else you can go to spend your money.
One person knows about a place you can order some books through the mail.
Another knows a little store that will sell you something…but they only have a few books.
There’s a charity that will give them to you. You don’t really want charity, though. You have the money! You just want to buy a book, like everybody else! You don’t want to use public resources. You don’t want to be at the mercy of whatever books they happen to have.
You look at all the bestsellers in the window. The latest novel from your favorite author. An important political book on an issue that was the source of hours of argument in your home last election. Hey, there’s a stupid self help book you would never read…you can’t even buy that.
You start to walk away. As you move further down the line, you notice that it’s starting to look more like your group as you get further away from the door. The people who got there first aren’t like the people who got there later.
You wonder how the bookstore is going to stay in business if they keep turning people away.
Does the E in e-book stand for “Excluded”?
I went to bed sad last night, and woke up with this first on my mind.
Another major publisher has begun blocking text-to-speech in Kindle books.
I don’t know why this one is such a greater weight on my spirits. I’ve never had such a hard time writing something. I’m actually having a hard time writing anything this morning. I’d started a humor piece, and I’ll finish it. But I’m not feeling in a very joyful way.
It could be because this is number four of the Big Six to follow this business strategy. Is it just because that makes it the majority?
Is it because I really enjoyed reading a recent novel which I see now that people who need the text-to-speech can’t do?
That might be it. I listened to parts of that novel…sight-read other parts of it. I don’t need the text-to-speech, it’s just fun and convenient for me.
Other people do. Yes, there are alternatives. But going into the store, looking at that book, and seeing “Text-to-Speech: Not enabled” barrier…I felt bad for people who just want to buy the book.
I rarely get mad…that’s just not who I am. I don’t think publishers are doing this because they want to hurt anybody.
I think it does hurt people, though.
Yes, there are alternatives…they are inconvenient and complicated.
The text-to-speech on the Kindle was a huge breakthrough for those with print disabilities. They could get books at the same place and at the same time everybody else did…even share them with the family. They didn’t need special equipment, or special editions. They didn’t have to be different.
It’s important to understand that it didn’t cost the publishers anything to let people have it. Amazon licensed software for the Kindle. Nuance developed it, Amazon paid for it. If publishers did nothing, it worked.
Publishers have done something though, in increasing numbers. They’ve said you can’t have text-to-speech in Kindle books. It doesn’t matter if you have a print disability…a vision issue, or a debilitating condition that makes it hard for you to hold books and turn the pages. It doesn’t matter if you just want to keep reading in the car.
I think this restricts the market for e-books. Look around you at your friends and family…how many of them are going to benefit from text-to-speech? If not now, as their challenges increase with age?
Why would they refuse those customers?
They’ve said it’s to protect the audiobook market. I don’t think the evidence is there that text-to-speech hurts the audiobook market. My guess is that it may actually help audiobooks, by accustoming people to listening to books. It was recently indicated to me that one publisher wants to keep audiobooks separate from e-books.
Text-to-speech is not an audiobook. Not legally, not functionally.
You know what I think?
I think they don’t want to give you something for nothing. I think, more than that, they want to delay the adoption of e-books.
E-books level the playing field. Right now, the twin barriers of production and distribution make it hard for small publishers to get much of the market. E-books remove those hurdles.
The longer the Big Six can stretch out the dominance of paper, the bigger advantage they’ll have. That’s a business argument to raise the prices, delay the releases…block text-to-speech.
They’ll probably give you all of that back if they start losing marketshare to the independents. It’s a free expansion of your market. You can announce it with great fanfare.
They can’t wait too long. Over the next year or two, people’s loyalties will realign. Market leaders get passed up when they overestimate loyalties.
Amazon, by the way, is trying to encourage text-to-speech. To get the new seventy percent royalty option that’s coming, that is one of the conditions. You have to enable text-to-speech.
That’s something. You may not be able to read that book that was on TV or on the radio or in a magazine. You might not be able to read the book that everybody is talking about. But you will have something to read.
That gives me some hope, and hope is the anti-venom for the poison of disappointment.
I’ll smile later. I don’t stay sad for long. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing. It will still bother me, but it won’t stop me. I think making people happy, increasing the amount of joy in the world is important. I’ll still try and be funny.
I’m going to miss buying and reading books from those publishers. I’ll miss telling you about those books. I’ll feel sad for the people who lose the benefit of text-to-speech.
But I’ll look forward to the future. Things may get worse, but then they get better. People shape society, and I believe that people want other people’s lives to improve. Look at opportunities one hundred years ago, and look at them now.
You can’t stop progress.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.