Who is still blocking text-to-speech access?
A Kindle with text-to-speech access can use software to read aloud any text downloaded to it…provided that the ability to do that is not blocked by the publisher inserting code into the file which prevents it.
I haven’t written much about this in a while (although it still comes up), but it is an important issue to me. I believe that blocking the access disproportionately disadvantages the disabled. Personally, I don’t get books which have the access blocked, and I don’t intentionally link to books with the access blocked in the blog (I don’t want to give the publisher money on books where that decision has been made, and I don’t want to benefit from it by people clicking on the link in my blog).
However, I do believe this is a personal decision, and there are good arguments for supporting the author by buying the book (the author often has very little influence over whether it is blocked or not).
If you want more information on the issue, see my post from a bit over four years ago
There was a time when blocking the access seemed much more common: Random House used to flat out state that they blocked it on all titles…but they later reversed that decision.
I thought it was going away. I think it’s generally a bad economic decision on the publisher’s part to block the access…I think it reduces the size of the audience. I use TTS myself quite a bit…I typically listen to it for hours a week in the car (I’d rather listen to a book than talk radio or music). That means I finish a book a lot more quickly, and need another book sooner.
Most people guess that publishers block it because they think it competes with the audiobook market. They are really two very different things. The audiobook is read by a human being (often, the author or an actor). TTS is just software (which incorporates a human’s voice, but that human was not reading this particular book…see my article
I’m sure I’m unusual in this, but I prefer TTS (unless I’ve read the book before). I don’t like the narrator interpreting the characters for me.
Whether you prefer TTS or an audiobook, though, I’m sure the preference tends to be pretty strong. They aren’t the same: it’s a very different experience. I find it pretty unlikely that people who would have bought the audiobook otherwise decide not to do it because TTS is available. If someone is print disabled and needs an accessible version, they can often get one for free (if they can certify the disability), so that’s not the audience here. From what I’ve seen, audiobooks wouldn’t tend to be their choice, because they are too slow. Many people with print disabilities listen to TTS on very fast speeds: they can interpret it that quickly, where as many people have trouble with it going that fast.
I noticed recently, though, that a number of books from the publisher Simon & Schuster seemed to be blocking access on a lot of books.
I decided to check: I like to see the data. :)
There are now a Big Five of USA trade (the kind of books you buy in a bookstore, rather than textbooks and such) publishers.
I took the top ten books for each publisher, and looked to see howmany had it blocked.
- Simon and Schuster (I searched for “Simon”): 100% blocked
- Hachette (I searched for “Grand Central”): 20% blocked
- Penguin Random House (I searched for “Penguin”): 0% blocked
- Macmillan (I searched for “Macmillan”): 0% blocked
- HarperCollins (I searched for “HarperCollins”): 0% blocked
So, with this limited sample, my observation seems to have been right: Simon & Schuster does seems to be blocking it much more.
For quite a while, I had a personal policy of not buying books from companies which blocked, but eventually became convinced (see? I am flexible) ;) that just not buying the ones which are blocked is a clearer message to the publisher. I have also communicated with them more directly and explicitly about how I feel about the situation.
S&S is the smallest of the Big 5 and, well, I don’t this policy is going to help them change that.
What might change it?
One wild possibility is Amazon buying Simon & Schuster. Amazon does not block TTS in its traditionally published books. It discourages blocking it in books going through its Kindle Direct Publishing. Leaving it unblocked is one of the things you have to do to be eligible for a 70% royalty (versus a 35% royalty).
Earlier this year, Nate Hoffelder in this
suggested it was a possibility that Amazon was in talks to buy S&S.
Being the smallest, and perhaps most vulnerable in terms of parent company relationships, it could be the most likely one.
Would Amazon want a tradpub (traditional publisher)? Maybe…they’ve owned an audiobook publisher (Brilliance). They are doing more and more traditional publishing on their own.
I don’t know that they would buy it and keep it as Simon and Schuster…I think they might be happy just owning the backlist. However, in several of their acquisitions, they have kept the names and even basic structures (Zappos and IMDb come to mind).
If they did keep it as S&S, that might even make legal challenges more likely. Buying the backlist is one thing. Operating a content producer and content distributor both can be something else. There was a time when movie studios owned movie theatre chains: that got broken up. That parallel would not be left unremarked by other publishers.
Hoffelder has called mergers before…although this is a case of it being called “possible” not “probable”.
Short of Amazon buying it, S&S could change the policy. I can tell you that we bought one of their most popular books when it wasn’t blocked…and then they blocked it subsequently. I even wrote the author on that one, because I really like the book and wanted to be able to recommend it freely.
That suggests to me that it isn’t simply a case of waiting for contracts to run out (perhaps related to audiobooks)…this decision is happening currently.
I sincerely hope they stop blocking it…we’ll keep an eye on the trends here.
What do you think? Should Amazon buy S&S? Should they buy another big publisher? Would the Department of Justice allow it? Does TTS hurt audiobook sales? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.