I’d love to recommend your books, but…

I’d love to recommend your books, but…

This is an open letter to two people and a universe.

I think you’ve all done wonderful things, and I’ve gotten great enjoyment from you.

It’s more than that, though: I think you all have made the world a better place.

That’s why I’d love to recommend all of your books to my readers. It’s not just that I think I do have some small influence on sales. It’s because I want to support you and what you do…and what better way to do that than to help others have the great experiences I’ve had?

However…

There is a situation with some of your books. I’m guessing you aren’t even aware of it, or at least, haven’t considered the impact it has.

It has to do with something called text-to-speech.

Text-to-speech is software which can read your books out loud.

It’s not a performance: it’s another way to access the material, like making the text size bigger.

That is a huge convenience for those who have print disabilities or challenges.

Certainly, there may be specialized versions of your books available for those who can certify a print disability. Those books may even be free to them.

It’s not the same, though, as buying them in the Kindle store, the same way most people do.

Buying them in the Kindle store means that those who need that functionality can get it the same day everyone else. They can enjoy the books on an easily portable piece of equipment. Importantly, they can share the book with family members who don’t have the same challenges and are on the same account.

They want to be able to pay your publisher for accessible versions of your books.

How much does it cost to add text-to-speech to your books?

Nothing.

Nothing to you, nothing to your publisher.

Amazon has licensed the necessary software for the devices (the current generation of Kindle Fires, the Kindle DX, and older Kindles models with audio capabilities going back to the Kindle 2).

The retailer has paid for the software for their devices, because they know it helps sales. In addition to those who need to use it, there are those who simply find it convenient. I typically listen to text-to-speech for hours a week in the car. It means that I go through books that much faster, and driving is no longer “wasted non-reading time”. :) Believe me, I’d much rather listen to your book than to music or talk radio.

That’s not why I don’t buy or recommend books with text-to-speech access blocked, though. It’s because I feel it disproportionately disadvantages the disabled, even though I’m sure that’s not your or your publisher’s intent.

Oh, and when I say the access has been blocked, that’s what happens. A Kindle with text-to-speech can read any text downloaded to the device: it doesn’t have to be prepared in any special way. It can be used to read aloud  a child’s school paper, or a friend’s document about a vacation.

The publisher has to insert code into the e-book file to block the access, which I believe they have the legal right to do (as long as at least one accessible version of the book is available…even if  someone has to certify a print disability to get it).

I think that, increasingly, blocking text-to-speech access is becoming rarer. Many of the bestselling books are accessible. Yours could be, too. If you (or your agent) want more information on the issue, you can read my free summary of the situation, or ask me privately by commenting on this post and telling me it is private (I will not then publish your comment).

I do believe it is a personal decision, and I completely understand when my readers choose to buy your books and others with the access blocked. I would love, though, to both read and promote them, but it is my policy not to promote books (even from people I admire) when that feature has been rendered unavailable.

Let me address you each individually.

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen, I record your show so I can watch every one. I am a vegetarian, and a lover of animals. I admire how you use your well-deserved celebrity to help those in need. Your support of the differently-abled is clear, when you share  your joy of dance with people in wheelchairs, who you have arranged to have front row seats in your audience: an area that could easily have been filled many times over with other people who want to see you perform.

I’m happy that I can in good conscience recommend My Point…And I Do Have One, which is text-to-speech accessible. I’d like to be able to that with your other books, too.

Loren Coleman

Loren, I think you know how much I appreciate the generosity you show your readers. I recently wrote honest tribute to you in honor of your birthday.

You have so many accessible titles in the Kindle store:

I’d recommend the Tom Slick book to anyone…and I’d like to be comfortable recommending the May Kindle store release as well.

Star Trek

As a universe, Star Trek has embraced people of all different types, including those with vision challenges. Geordi La Forge, of course, had assistive technology, but it goes back further than that.  Even in the original series, a blind character is a main character in one episode, and shown as uniquely capable (truly, a case of being differently abled).

It disappoints me every time I see a Star Trek book on sale or coming out in the future, and it has text-to-speech access blocked. A universe that has such an optimistic view of the future should strive to embrace the Vulcan concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations)…introduced in the same episode I mentioned above.

I will continue to support all of you where text-to-speech access is not an issue.  I thank you for what you have done, and what you will do…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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3 Responses to “I’d love to recommend your books, but…”

  1. David Goldfield Says:

    Bravo for writing this post. I am a blind user of the Kindle Keyboard and the TTS blocking issue is a real sore spot with me. I’ve done what I could, attempting to contact the Authors’ Guild and having my inquiry go unanswered. Simon and Schuster, in particular, aggravates me to no end with nearly all Star Trek books being blocked. I’ve found that sometimes contacting the authors directly can make a difference. Fortunately, I’m a bookshare subscriber and can get most books that I want from that service, but it galls me that I don’t have the option of actually buying a book and supporting the author because of the paranoia of their publisher.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, David!

      I appreciate the kind words! I sometimes hear from people that I talk to much about this issue, but I think this was somewhat of a different approach for me. Bookshare is wonderful, but the requirement to certify leaves out some people, particularly those with print challenges which do not rise to the level of a legal disability.

      I really do like the people (and the universe) to whom I addressed the letter. I was a bit trepidatious about doing it, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was calling them on the carpet. I just wanted to…educate them, I guess, about the situation.

  2. How important is text-to-speech capability to you? topic | My Blog Says:

    […] in the alternative audiobook form. Bufo Calvin of the I Love My Kindle blog penned an impassioned open letter in this […]

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