Archive for the ‘Text to speech’ Category

Finding Whispersync for Voice or TTS enabled books

September 22, 2013

Finding Whispersync for Voice or TTS enabled books

Kindle books have a lot of features that p-books (paperbooks) don’t have. However, not all of them work in all books or all types of devices/apps.

You probably don’t care about all of them equally, either.

For example, I won’t buy a book without text-to-speech (unless it is a graphic novel where the feature isn’t possible). I typically listen to it for hours a week in the car, and I don’t want to support books which don’t have it, because I feel that blocking the TTS (which is the way it works…if a publisher does nothing, TTS works) disproportionately disadvantages the disabled.

For you, though, TTS (software which converts the visual words into spoken words on the fly) might be no big thing. Most people probably don’t use it…that would be my guess.

On the other hand, you might like Whispersync for Voice, where you can sight read part of a book, switch to an audiobook (a recording of a person reading the book out loud, typically…very different fromTTS) and pick up where you left off.

Me? Meh. I just don’t use that…I’m not a big fan of audiobooks, unless I’ve already read the book (I don’t like the actor/author interpreting the characters for me), and I don’t tend to re-read very much. I can absolutely understand why people like it, though.

What’s weird to me is that Amazon doesn’t make it equally easy to search by all the different features.

Oh, I suppose some of it is marketing. If you point out that some books have TTS, you are really pointing out that others have blocked it…that may not be a message you want front and center as a retailer.

So, let’s take a look at finding books where you can use these two features, and then you can use one or both of them…up to you.

Whispersync for Voice

Amazon has a special easy-to-use web address for this one:

http://www.amazon.com/immersion

This actually takes you to the front page for this feature, which explains it and gives you links to free WSV books, ninety-nine centers…and in a wonderful new feature, it will automatically search your Kindle books looking for matches!

That was cool! It’s the best listing of WSV books I’ve seen. It shows you, easily, who the narrator is, and how much you’ll save getting the book as WSV as opposed to buying it separately as an audiobook (which you would have to do if you hadn’t bought the e-book). For me, for example, it showed this for

More Than Human
By Theodore Sturgeon
Narrated by Harlan Ellison
List Price: $20.97
Upgrade Price: $3.99
You Save: $16.98 (81%)

The fact that this is read by the truly significant author, Harlan Ellison, makes this much more intriguing for me.

If you want WSV, it’s easy to find.

If you only want books where text-to-speech hasn’t been blocked? Not so much.

Amazon doesn’t let you search by that, and doesn’t have a page for it.

What I’ve done, however, is use Google.

You can specify the site you want Google to search, by starting your search with something like “site:www.amazon.com”.

I’ve then added some search terms to make it more likely to find what I want.

For example, Kindle book product pages will have the term “ASIN” (Amazon Standard Identification Number) on them. That helps cut down on false positives in my search…for one thing, TTS gets discussed in the Amazon forums, and if I don’t include that ASIN, I’ll get a number of hits for those discussions, not for actual books.

Here is the search I used:

site:www.amazon.com “Text-to-Speech: Enabled” ASIN “Kindle price”

and the results:

https://www.google.com/#q=site%3Awww.amazon.com+%22Text-to-Speech%3A+Enabled%22+ASIN+%22Kindle+price%22

Again, it’s not perfect, but it will work pretty well. You could add other things to that search if you want…for example, an author’s name:

site:www.amazon.com “Text-to-Speech: Enabled” ASIN “Kindle price” “Harlan Ellison”

or a topic:

site:www.amazon.com “Text-to-Speech: Enabled” ASIN “Kindle price” vampire

If you are wondering when to use the quotation marks and when not to use them, use them if you need more than one word to be taken as a single term. For example, if I did “vampire romance”, the found books would have to have that as a phrase. If I did

vampire romance

it will probably find books which have the word “vampire” and books that have the word “romance”. When I tested it, there were many, many more results when I didn’t use the quotation marks.

Have fun getting an earful of your books!

While we’re here, let’s do a quick poll:

Want to tell me more about it? Do you find that people consider it inferior to listen to books rather than sight-read them? I’ve gotten that from people: “You didn’t read it, you listened to it.” I wonder if those people think people with print disabilities aren’t reading the book? I will say, though, that I think my retention may not be as good when listening…perhaps because there is less mental processing involved. Do you prefer audiobooks over TTS? If so, why? Have you ever listened to TTS because you didn’t want to pay extra for an audiobook? That is, I think, why some publishers block TTS…they think that’s what happens. Feel free to let me and my readers (which likely include some publishers) know by commenting on this post.

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

I’d love to recommend your books, but…

August 26, 2013

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.

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

August 7, 2013

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

I was honored recently when September Day, the voice artist behind the text-to-speech software used on second generation Kindle Fires, left a comment on this blog.

I’ve always liked voice artists (Paul Frees is a personal favorite), but I do feel like I have a different connection to September Day. I typically listen to text-to-speech on my Kindle Fire HD for hours every week…I’ve spent a lot of time listening to September!

September was kind enough to answer some questions for me and my readers:

ILMK: While many of us have spent so many hours listening to you that we feel like we know you, we realize that we actually don’t. Tell us a little bit about the life path that brought you to doing the voice we hear on our Kindle Fires.

September Day: I was a veterinary technician for 13 years right out of college. I absolutely loved it, but it was tough on all fronts; physically, emotionally, mentally. One day, I started to consider a career change and remembered that back in my youth I had loved a particular local radio station. I would call in and chat with the DJs and one of them, the commercial production guy, would constantly ask me to come in and record but my shyness held me back. In 2007, I finally got the guts to give it a try and 6 months into my career, I was voicing at the MTV VMAs. By the way, that same DJ from my teenage years happened across my voiceover website years later. We reconnected and have been married 3 years this October with 2 little girls and a baby boy.

ILMK: You’ve done a variety of voice work, including announcing the MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) and voicing MJ* in a Spider-Man motion comic. You’ve also appeared on screen in a movie. Your delivery has been quite different in different situations. When you recorded the voice that we have with Ivona, do you consider it acting, or something else? Are you thinking of a character, perhaps picturing the person speaking?

SD: Working with Ivona was unique in many ways. One has to keep a consistent tone for many days, many hours a day. They were asking for a youthful voice and I am 36 so I have to work to keep that youthful pitch. The acting part was keeping the mental fortitude to keep the pace and tone level throughout every single sentence. It was perhaps, the absence of acting. I was permitted no inflection of my voice except for the last words of some sentences. I had to read all of “Alice in Wonderland” and many, many news stories from the AP wire. As Ivona is based in Poland, it was the European AP wire, which is *much* more difficult and unfamiliar

ILMK: Have you done any audiobooks? How is that different? Do you listen to text-to-speech or audiobooks for your own entertainment?

SD: I have done a few short audiobooks. It’s not my favorite aspect of the industry simply because of the long recording time. Also, there are times when I am requested to edit my own audio, which is the bane of my existence as a voice talent. I don’t listen to many audiobooks as speaking and listening to speech is my job. I much prefer music of the classical, house, electronic, world and ambient varieties.

ILMK: Presumably, once you’ve recorded a voice for software like this, you don’t know how or where it will be specifically used. Have you ever been surprised by encountering your own voice in your daily life?

SD: Oh yes! I had no idea of the plans for the software. I had assumed it would mostly be used for GPS navigations or IVR. There have been times I have been in line at the bank or grocery store and have heard my voice coming from a tablet. The first time it happened, it was incredibly surreal. I was holding my daughter, just kind of snuggling and whispering in her ear that she was going to get a lollipop from the bank teller when my voice spoke up reading out loud. We both turned and my daughter shouted, “Mama”!. I had to explain everything to about 15 bank customers and 4 tellers. It was hilarious!

ILMK: Many of my readers are also authors. It can be hard to balance your creative life and your personal one. Is there anything about being a voice artist that makes that easier?

SD: Definitely! Having a home studio means that I can work in pajamas!… or less. I’m able to squeeze in auditions and jobs during naptime and after the kids go to bed. I also take my recording setup on the road when we travel, so I’m able to work and finance our travel as we go. That is really convenient. Because I have been doing it so long, auditioning and editing can be done very quickly and gives me plenty of time to have other outside interests and be a mom.

ILMK: What’s it like when you record a voice like this? Do you do it out of your home studio, or do you go to a studio? Does anyone direct you in your performance?

SD: For this particular job, I went to GM Voices, a large studio in north Atlanta. The Ivona representative would call in on what’s called a phone patch using Skype and listen as I spoke. It was his job to make sure I didn’t lose pace or tone and to help with the pronunciation of the names of prime ministers from European and African countries.

ILMK: Are you given specific material to read? Are you reading actual books, or are they words and sentences designed for use with the software?

SD: Yes. I read over 196,000 prompts from “Alice in Wonderland”, the AP wire, and many just random sentences. Apparently, the software knew beforehand the sounds it needed from me and so it crawled the web to find sentences that would make me deliver those sounds. I do remember one particular sentence I’ll never forget: “Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.” It was the line we played at the start of each session for me to get the tone perfect again.

ILMK: Do you do any research into the “proper” way to pronounce things? Some words are pronounced differently in different regions of the country, for example, and you may also be encountering scientific terms or (in the case of science fiction, fantasy, and proper names), made up ones. How do you decide how to say it?

SD: Honestly, we say it every way it can be said. That is true in all aspects of VO. When a script contains a word or number that can be said different ways, it’s easiest to just give every variation because inevitably, the one you choose will be wrong.

ILMK: Do you ever re-record, because you want to change your performance?

SD: All the time! Sometimes, a 60 second commercial session can take a half hour to do depending on the director, how many people from an ad agency attend the recording, how creative the team is feeling. Sometimes, they re-write the whole thing on the spot. Most times, it’s done quickly, but I have had sessions last for 8 hours for a 30 minute infomercial.

ILMK: About how much time did you spend recording for Salli, the voice we hear on the current Kindle Fires?

SD: Salli was recorded over 8, 8 hour days with short bathroom breaks. I couldn’t eat between takes because that changes how your mouth sounds so I would always leave the studio starving! I had also just given birth to my first baby girl 4 days prior to the project so sitting that long for that many days wasn’t easy. It was at that point that I got the reputation in the industry as “hardcore”!

ILMK: Is there is anything else you’d like to say to my readers? Many of us are very grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy books when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so.

SD: I’m very honored and pleased to be the voice of the Kindle Fire. I have always enjoyed volunteering in the community and throughout my voiceover career, I have donated my services to many nonprofits including reading for the blind and print handicapped. Knowing that my voice is able to help these people on a global level now is so rewarding.

===

Thanks again to September Day for taking the time to answer these questions is such an entertaining way!

* MJ is Mary Jane Watson, an important love interest for Peter Parker

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

Round up #171: XBOOKS, Stephen King’s latest horror

May 21, 2013

Round up #171: XBOOKS, Stephen King’s latest horror

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Up to 25 specific Kindle children’s books for $2 each

One reason why the Kindles with Special Offers have been more popular than the ones without has been the offers on books.

Well, I’m always happy to see book offers extended to even those who decline advertisers reducing the price of their Kindles in exchange for viewing the ads.

Today, AmazonLocal has a

deal on Kindle children’s books

You don’t need to have a Special Offers Kindle, although you do need to set up an AmazonLocal account if you don’t have one.

The deal is any of up to 25 specific children’s books for $2 each.

You need to claim this deal by Friday.

The

deal details page

shows you the books. However, if this is available to you (it may not be in your country), I’d go ahead and get it. If you don’t use it, it hasn’t cost you anything.

Enjoy!

XBOOKS?

Microsoft is making a big announcement today at 9:30 Pacific about the next XBOX. There has been a lot of speculation about how it might integrate with your TV.

One obvious question to me (but maybe not to most of the people covering this) is will it somehow incorporate the NOOK, since Microsoft has invested so much money in it?

I don’t think most people are going to want to read e-books on their TV screens.  I have a hard time seeing that: my TV is more like music in the background for me…I don’t tend to stare at it and not do anything else at the same time, as would be necessary when sight-reading a book.

However, I can see three applications.

One would be to have text-to-speech. NOOK has never done much with that, but I could see having my TV reading a book to me while I folded laundry or worked on a spreadsheet.

Another would be to select books on an XBOX, and then have it send them to an EBR (E-Book Reader), phone, computer, and so on. Especially given the Kinect’s increasing Minority Report type gestural interface, it might be fun to make it seem like you were using your fingers to take a book off a shelf and open it. When shopping, it could include book trailer videos. I suppose you could make in-game purchases of e-books a possibility as well…although I’m not sure that many videogame characters have interesting libraries…

The third one would be to play to kids…there are many interactive book apps where you might want to bounce between a bigger screen (where shared reading might happen) and a personal screen.

My best guess is that we won’t hear anything about “XBOOKS” (just my off the cuff term for e-books on an XBOX), but wouldn’t it be cool…

Male and Female Announcers

I’ve been using the CNN App on my Kindle Fire with the sound off in the morning (while I exercise). That way, it doesn’t disturb my Significant Other. That means I’ve been using “closed captions” (those are words that appear on the screen to show you what is being said, basically…you have to choose to see them).

Generally, even though the show is live, they tend to be pretty accurate. I can see why they are so important to some people, and I’ve been happy to see them become more available on the Fire.

However, there is something…intriguing to me during the commercials (yes, those get closed captioning as well).

Sometimes, a voice is just described as VO (voiceover). Sometimes, though, it says “male announcer” or “female announcer”.

I love how the internet lets people be judged just on their thoughts (and the way they express them), if they want. To help give people that freedom, I try not to identify inherent characteristics much. I try to write these posts without reference to gender, for example.

So, I’m interested as to why the closed captioning identifies the gender. Oh, I guess I know why…people being influenced by a stated gender (even for something genderless like a computer), is demonstrated in The Man Who Lied to His Laptop (which I highly recommend). That would be an interesting study: are people more likely to buy something that is stereotypically female, just because the closed captioning says, “Female Announcer”? I would guess that is the case, but a study would give that hypothesis validation (and give an idea about the extent of the effect).

I also find it intriguing that music is usually just represented by two music notes. I would think that they would describe it: “spooky music”, “triumphant music”, that sort of thing…but they don’t, usually.

Unintended consequences: Amazon business details to be revealed?

Hm…maybe this is why Apple still wants to go to trial in the legal action with the Department of Justice over the Agency Model.

In this

Publishers Weekly article

by Andrew Albanese, you can read about Apple trying to make documents from Amazon public in the case, and Amazon fighting it.

Tech writers get annoyed that Amazon doesn’t release specific sales figures, and honestly, I do think that secrecy has a negative impact on people trusting Amazon (although many people do trust the e-tailer…in a recent poll I did, more than ten percent of people said that trusting Amazon is why they bought e-books from them.

Amazon is arguing that releasing the information publicly would hurt their competitive advantage.

Apple argues that Amazon’s filed documents would not do so, and it’s not unreasonable for them to want the evidence about the different business models to be out there.

I’m not quite sure how this will go. If the judge feels that releasing it would hurt Amazon, they could look at them in closed session. If they do get released, it could be  embarrassing  for Amazon, although I don’t think it would be devastating. Sure, the blogosphere would be all over it, but that’s not the same thing as damage. I wonder if we might even learn things that make Amazon look good?

Stephen King’s latest horror…no e-book edition for Joyland

Oh, the conglomeration of contradiction that is Stephen King!

The author led on e-books…at first. Then, there was the “windowing” (delaying the e-book version) and blocking text-to-speech access (which may not be a decision made by King, but could certainly be influenced by arguably the most powerful author in the world).

I’ve written about this before:

My Response to Stephen King

This is more of the same issue.

E-books advance accessibility. It is perhaps noble to want to advance brick-and-mortar bookstores…but not doing an e-book is choosing a commercial enterprise over individuals with challenges. That includes print challenges, but also with mobility issues. Yes, they can order the p-book (paperbook) online, but according to this

Wall Street Journal article by Jeffrey Trachtenberg (you may have to search for “Stephen King Says No to E-Book, to Scare Up Business” in Google to be able to read it), King said:

“…let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Easier for some than others…and this doesn’t even accomplish that goal, if people can by the book online (which they will be able to do).

While King’s biggest book of the year, a sequel to one of the author’s most popular books, is not being windowed, it is scheduled to be released with text-to-speech access blocked.

I think The Stand is one of the great American novels, and I try not to judge the art by the artist. However, I have to admit that emotionally, these moves make me like Stephen King less…not necessarily as an author, though.

I should be clear: I probably wouldn’t have bought the new Stephen King books right away, even if they were available in digital form. I don’t tend to buy big name fiction like that when it is first released, although I do sometimes. I have a lot to read, and don’t usually feel the urgency. My concern here is really for others…and I always hope that Stephen King will recognize who is impacted the most by these choices in the future.

What do you think? Do you want to know Amazon’s business details? If they come out, do you think it would hurt them? Will Microsoft mention e-books with the XBOX? Would you sight-read a book on a TV? Are you aware of being influenced by the gender of announcers in commercials? What do you think of Stephen King’s decision not to do an e-book version? Is a good move to support brick-and-mortars? Was calling the decision a “horror” over the top (I was a bit ambivalent about that…I liked the tie-in to King’s genre writing, but thought it might be overly sensationalistic)? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

Update: thanks to regular reader and commenter Joe Bowers for improving this post.

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

KDD: The Host, AmazonLocal deal on kids’ books

March 30, 2013

KDD: The Host, AmazonLocal deal on kids’ books

One of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is The Host by Stephenie Meyer for $1.99. Undoubtedly, this is to tie into the movie version of The Host, which is opening this weekend.

Actually, that’s one of six books from that author that are on sale.

Another one is in the author’s mega-popular Twilight series:

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (The Twilight Saga)

That’s not one of the main books, of course…so why aren’t I linking to those?

Simple: they block text-to-speech access.

I really haven’t written much about that for a long time (although I do mention it), but I don’t deliberately link to books which block text-to-speech access.

Publishers have to basically insert code into a book to stop text-to-speech (software which reads a book out loud) from working. If they do nothing, it works…that’s why you can use text-to-speech on personal documents: nothing needs to be done to prepare them.

I used to not buy anything from companies that blocked text-to-speech, but I decided it was a better statement just to not buy the specific books. That gives more data to the publishers: e-books on which we don’t block TTS do X, e-books on which we do block it do Y.

I think blocking it has become more uncommon. These six books are all published by Hachette. Why block some and not others (especially when one is in the same universe)? I think it might be because the decision to block was made a couple of years ago, and hasn’t been reversed…whereas newer books didn’t block it.

Let’s see:

  • Date listed on the Amazon product page: July 18, 2007: blocked
  • August 7, 2007: blocked
  • August 8, 2007: blocked
  • August 3, 2008: blocked
  • June 5, 2010: not blocked
  • August 26, 2010: not blocked
  • November 8, 2010: complete collection, not blocked*

I tried to isolate variables: five of the six  books are from the same imprint (they are all from the same publisher), and all have Whispersync for Voice enabled. So, it doesn’t appear that the presence of an audiobook version is the deciding factor. Hm…I may need to do some more analysis of this at some point.

The

http://local.amazon.com/national

AmazonLocal deal skews a bit younger. :)

Get a free voucher at the above link in the next two days or so, and you can use it to buy up to 32 kids’ e-books from the group shown here:

Exclusive Offer for Amazon Local Customers: Select Kindle Kids’ Books for $2 Each

for $2 each. There are some interesting titles there, including a Jane Yolen.

You must use your voucher by April 10th…please read the details at the link immediately above to make sure this applies to you, and remember, you need the code first before buying the book(s).

This is the second time in the past two weeks that Amazon has done an AmazonLocal deal on a bunch of books…I like it. :)

Enjoy!

* Update: one of my regular readers and commenters, Tom Semple, pointed out that you can get the complete collection bundle without text-to-speech blocked

The Twilight Saga Complete Collection

That’s the four main novels and the novella. Right now (today), that’s not the best deal, if you ignore the advantages of text-to-speech: it’s priced at $32.78. You can get them individually right now for $13.95. It does seem to follow the timeframe idea, though. Otherwise, why block it in one edition and not another edition of the same book from the same publisher?

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

Round up #144: Kanada, Amazon pulls an Ursula

January 24, 2013

Round up #144: Kanada, Amazon pulls an Ursula

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

E, eh?

In this

press release

Amazon announced yesterday much greater Kindle integration in Canada. Canadian customers have been able to buy books from Amazon.com in the past, but this sets up a solid localized presence, such as we see in some other global locations. The Paperwhite and Mindle (my name for the “entry level” Kindle) are now available directly to Canadians, they can now access a Canadian Kindle store from their devices (as opposed to buying from Amazon.com), and Kindle Direct Publishing expands as well.

While generally a big positive, this may have some people seeing takeaways also (which seems to be always the case). It may be necessary now to have the appropriate credentials (a Canadian address and payment method) to get some e-books and other media. Canadians living  in the USA may see books they would like to purchase, but not be able to do so because of their now American credentials.

On the other hand, this may bring more contemporary books in French and on topics of more interest to Canadians into the USA store as well…if they are produced for the Canadian market and Canadian Kindle store, they can also be sold in the USA (if they have the rights).

I haven’t heard yet, but my guess is that KDP authors’ books will automatically be made available in Canada if you have stated global rights, but I’m sure we’ll hear shortly. Yep! I just checked and my latest book, The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations, is available in the Canadian store, and priced at CDN $0.99.

This also, by the way, goes right after Kobo, which is headquartered in Canada (but owned by a Japanese company).

Amazon buys Ivona text-to-speech

As regular readers know, I use text-to-speech for typically hours a week in the car. I love that driving is no longer “wasted non-reading time”. ;) I do drive quite a bit, and it lets me enjoy that much more than I did with music or talk radio.

I’ve been using TTS on my Kindles since my Kindle 2, and I’ve written about how I find Ivona, the TTS on my Kindle HDs, to be much better than the RealSpeak, Vocalizer, or Pico (which we have had on other devices with the Kindle name).

In this

press release

(and a private e-mail), Amazon announced that they have acquired Ivona (“I liked it so much, I bought the company”).

It’s interesting that the press release notes that

“IVONA offers voice and language portfolios with 44 voices in 17 languages and more in development.”

Does that suggest that we may be getting additional voice options for our Kindle devices?

Well, not necessarily, although I think it increases the likelihood. When Amazon buys a company, they don’t buy it just for their own use, but for its position in the market. Ivona will undoubtedly continue to sell  licensing to other companies, and perhaps even direct competitors to Amazon.

The ability to have a different voice on your machine is important, though. It’s not just that it sounds different, but that it can do a different language. The way text-to-speech works is that it doesn’t just sound out every letter, but makes use of phrases and sentences. If it had to sound everything out, it would be pretty incomprehensible (“campaign” might pronounce the “g”, for example). For TTS to do good French, or Russian, it needs to have been initially created in those languages.

TTS takes up memory, so I don’t think you will suddenly get the choice of 44 languages on your Kindle Fire HD. I do think you may be able to download different voices from the Amazon Appstore in the future (and they might or might not be free).

I think this also means that we might get Ivona on our Kindle Fire generation 1s, but I’m not sure about that.

One more thing: Amazon’s vast resources, and willingness to invest in the future with a present loss, suggests to me that they might do celebrity voices. Recording the voice for TTS (which is then reassembled as needed by the software) is labor intensive. However, can’t you see them paying for Samuel L. Jackson or Jane Lynch to become a voice option? Sure, I could have picked some other people, but have you heard Samuel L. Jackson doing Taylor Swift? (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&ved=0CEIQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fallthingsd.com%2F20130121%2Fviral-video-samuel-l-jackson-channels-taylor-swift-oh-goody%2F&ei=llYBUc_mNtHZigLcvoCwDQ&usg=AFQjCNF2EYKFHNK0PYG3OQpzM3c3iJr_9g&bvm=bv.41524429,d.cGE)?

There’s a lot of investment in having a star do this, but that could be an Amazon exclusive while Ivona continued to serve its other commercial uses.

Pew Internet: “Library Services in the Digital Age”

Major research firm Pew has placed on line this

summary

of a recent survey they did on library usage.

I know that I have readers that are passionate about public libraries and their current and future role in society, and I strongly recommend reading this piece.

They asked patrons and employees about current use and possible future use, and provide some very interesting statistics.

I don’t want to take too much away from them, so I’ll just cite a couple of things:

  • More than half of the respondents thought that public libraries should “definitely” or “maybe” move some printed books “…out of public locations to free up space for tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events”
  • I was fascinated by the apparent lack of impact of the Kindle on library goes. They asked how public library usage had changed in the past five years (the Kindle is a bit over five years old). 52% said it hadn’t changed. 26% said it had increased…and 22% said it had decreased. That’s not that big of a net change (although the change is positive). I would have expected something which revolutionized the way serious American readers read books to have more of an impact. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was a positive impact: I’ve borrowed public library books on my Kindle much more recently than I’ve borrowed a public library p-book (paperbook). Perhaps restrictive publisher policies on public libraries and e-books has dampened the impact?

The Guardian: “WH Smith plans to open more stores after Christmas boost”

Guardian article

W.H. Smith is a very well-known and influential UK bookstore chain (although they do much more than that, and in more places…I’m sure I’ve bought something in a W.H. Smith store in the USA, probably in an airport). They were influential in the creation of the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) system that we will use.

So, it’s interesting that they plan to open more brick-and-mortar stores in the future.

Barnes & Noble shouldn’t see that as too much of a ray of hope, though, and it’s certainly not all about paperbooks. Just as B&N has done, Smith’s has expanded other product categories in the stores, including stationery. They have invested online, which can provide support to the brick-and-mortars.

They had one the Guardian calls a loss in “underlying sales”.

Still, I”m impressed that anybody is opening more brick and mortar stores that carry the same products you can get online.

What do you think? If you are a Canadian, are you seeing any impact on what’s available to you? If you have both US and Canadian credentials, how will you decide which store to use (or will you have two accounts?)? Does it concern you that Amazon bought Ivona, or is that a good thing? Oh, and did you get the reference to Ursula? That’s the sea witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid that “bought” Ariel’s voice. It wasn’t stolen, and you might commonly hear…it was a bargain (although Ursula certainly used underhanded methods…er, “undertentacled?). ;) Whose voice would you pay to have reading you your books? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

Kindle Fire 8.9″ has Voice Guide: coming to 2nd gen 7″

December 10, 2012

Kindle Fire 8.9″ has Voice Guide: coming to 2nd gen 7″

Well, this was interesting!

I haven’t had time to take a day just to explore my Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB, and I’m still discovering things.

I read in this

Amazon press release

that Voice Guide and Explore by Touch are coming to all second generation Kindle Fires early next year.

I was excited to try it out. As regular readers know, I’m quite interested in the accessibility features of Kindles (especially text-to-speech).

Swipe down – More – Accessibility

I did, however, make the mistake of turning on both Voice Guide and Explore by Touch before learning more about them.

Voice Guide functions like it does on the Kindle Keyboard, Wi-Fi (the Keyboard line has been the only one with audible menus), pretty much. You touch something and it tells you what you touched. No problem there, and it worked well.

Explore by Touch meant that as you touched something it told you what it was…but it didn’t do anything. That makes perfect sense for those with vision challenges. However, I couldn’t quite figure out how to get it to do things at first.

If you tap it and let it announce it, then tap it again, that’s what does it.

That was quite confusing trying to swipe at first. The big problem with that? I couldn’t get it to swipe down so I could turn Explore by Touch off! However, I got the hang of it within five minutes or so.

I can see this being very useful. When I opened a book, it also plunged right into text-to-speech…nice!

Not too surprisingly, I couldn’t get it to read me a website.

However, I could completely compose and send an e-mail without vision! How liberating that might be, although speech to text would be easier, of course.

If you do have visual challenges, I’d be very interested in your feedback on this.

By the way, a quick note on another app, since the Kindle Fire 8.9″ is on a $50 off sale right now.

This appears to be only available for the 2nd gen Kindle Fire devices, but you can use

FREE Calls with magicJack

to make phone calls with your Fire! I’ve tested it a little bit…yes, for no charge,  I could make a phone call, and I was told that the sound quality was pretty good.

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

Is the battle for text-to-speech over?

March 27, 2012

Is the battle for text-to-speech over?

As regular readers know, I’m very interested in the blocking of text-to-speech access in Kindle store books.

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll just say it: I don’t like it. :)

I think it disproportionately disadvantages the disabled. I think publishers have the right to do it (under the current interpretations of the Copyright Office), as long as they have some version of each e-book that has some kind of “read aloud” available…even if that version is limited to those who certify a print disability.

I think it’s a bad idea for them to block the access, though.

I’ve been periodically checking on it…seeing how many books have it blocked.

My impression recently was that the big publisher who had been blocking it have started to back off on that policy.

Well, I just checked the top twenty sellers in the Kindle store:

Rank TTS Publisher
1 Yes Scholastic
2 Yes Scholastic
3 Yes Scholastic
4 Yes Scholastic
5 Yes Random House
6 Yes Beacon
7 Yes Random House
8 Yes Random House
9 Yes Indie
10 Yes Penguin
11 Yes BelleBooks
12 Yes Random House
13 Yes Hachette
14 Yes Straightline
15 Yes Random House
16 No Hachette
17 Yes Indie
18 Yes Bell Bridge
19 Yes Tyndale
20 Yes Random House

As you can see, only one of the books blocked text-to-speech access…that makes it 95%.

Now of course, I considered the possibility that the nature of the top twenty has changed. You can see, though, that there are books from Random House in there that aren’t blocking it…and they led the move to block the access in the first place. They used to have a policy that they blocked it in all of their e-books.

There are also books from Penguin and Hachette not blocking it.

I figured that I’d better also check the New York Times bestsellers, though. That’s a very different mix of books, by the way. It may be that the NYT list is becoming less relevant. They haven’t figured out how to measure e-book sales very well, I think. For one thing, they don’t even count indies. For another, they don’t count e-books available at only one vendor (like Amazon).

Still, I ran the New York Times bestseller hardback fiction equivalents:

NYT Rank TTS
1 No
2 Yes
3 Yes
4 No
5 Yes
6 Yes
7 Yes
8 Yes
9 Yes
10 Yes
11 Yes
12 Yes
13 Yes
14 No
15 N/A
16 Yes
17 Yes
18 Yes
19 Yes
20 Yes

While the percentage was higher (about 16%…three out of the available 19…surprisingly, one book wasn’t available in a Kindle edition), it was still quite low, compared to the past.

It’s always possible that publishers will start blocking the access again, but I do feel like we’ve surmounted a hill.

There have been people who have actually protested this, in particular

http://readingrights.org/

I’m happy to see that those with print disabilities, print challenges, and who simply like to listen to text-to-speech are finding it increasingly as convenient as other people do to get the titles they want.

I do think this trend increases the chances that we’ll get a text-to-speech app on the Kindle Fire that can work with Kindle store books.

Regardless, I consider this good news. :) I know it’s a small sample, but I do think it’s a telling one.

Feel free to tell me what you think…

For more information on the text-to-speech issue, see

http://ilmk.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/the-disabled-deserve-to-read/

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

Woo-hoo! Text-to-speech on the Kindle Fire (for some books)

November 18, 2011

Woo-hoo! Text-to-speech on the Kindle Fire (for some books)

Tom Semple, you are my hero this morning!

Tom is one of my regular readers and commenters, and very technically adept.

As ILMKerss know, I use text-to-speech for hours a week, typically, on my Kindle Keyboard, Wi-Fi. That’s the software that reads text out loud (unless that access is blocked by the publisher). I’ve done that since the Kindle 2.

I took my Kindle Fire to work with me yesterday, partially to test it out as a work device for me. I was able to take notes somewhat effectively, which is important. I was away from wi-fi most of the time, so I got a sense of those limitations. With a little forethought, it’s not bad, although I would have had to go somewhere at lunch to use the internet on it…it wouldn’t have been far, though…I could have done it, had lunch, and been back in an hour easily.

I left my reflective screen Kindle at home…which did create some separation anxiety. :) That’s how I suffer for you.. ;) Just kidding, but the part that drove me nuts was a forty-five minute drive without enjoying a book.

I’d like to be able to use the Kindle Fire when at work, and the reflective screen Kindle at home (for longer form reading).

Without text-to-speech, though, the Kindle Fire would fail me getting to and from work (and I work different places different days).

Now, thanks to Tom Semple, I have a potential solution!

I had downloaded Quickoffice Pro when it was the FAOTD (Free App Of The Day). It’s $14.99 right now.

Tom told me that it did text-to-speech (I had found the Pico TTS app on the Kindle Fire, but I did think it was being used).

So, I tried it. I didn’t test it on a Kindle store book, and it didn’t give me that option. What it do was let me pull in a document from Google Docs…and it did read it out loud for me!

It’s much slower than the setting I use on my Kindle, but it definitely worked.

I didn’t have a book in there…it was reading a relative’s wish list for the holidays. :) I downloaded A Tale of Two Cities from Project Gutenberg in plain text format.

I uploaded it to Google Docs (having it keep the txt format) using my Significant Other’s netbook. I didn’t try downloading it directly to the Fire yet..that might be possible.

I was able to open it through Quickoffice, then tap the bottom of the screen and tap the megaphone icon.

Boom! Text-to-speech!

I haven’t found a way to adjust any voice options. This one was somewhat like the female voice on the Kindle on the middle speed, I’d say, but it might work for me. I’ll test it out in the car today.

I use text-to-speech with personal documents now, and it will work for that. Again, I don’t expect it to work for Kindle store books (even the minority that do not have Digital Rights Management…DRM), but I read a lot of things that aren’t. I can work this for magazine articles and work documents, and public domain books. That may be very helpful for me.

Does it make the device more accessible for those with print disabilities? I’m not at all sure how they would start something…I haven’t found audible menus or feedback yet.

However, this greatly enhances the value of the Fire for me. I prefer TTS to audiobooks, if I haven’t read the book yet. It would take some adjustment to get used to this voice for me, but still…woo-hoo!

This also clearly suggests to me that we could get text-to-speech on Kindle books on the Fire with an upgrade.

Thanks again, Tom Semple! I’m always grateful that readers take the time and make the effort to comment on the blog. We are much wiser as a group than I am as an individual, and those comments let me share this wisdom with you.

Update: the voice worked for me in the car, although it is slow for me and not as clear as my K3. However, there was a problem in using it for a book…it doesn’t know where I stopped. It would work for short stories, articles, and work documents, though.

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


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