Flash! Random House changes its policy on text-to-speech?
The Kindle 2 was a huge step forward in convenient access for those with print disabilities.
It introduced text-to-speech for the Kindle. I was really pleased.
Then, publishers objected.
Amazon changed the software for the “comfort” of the rightsholders, to allow them to block text-to-speech.
I honestly thought the publishers wouldn’t do it. Why would they? Text-to-speech greatly broadens the market. People with print challenges and print disabilities (and their friends and family members) would be buying books…instead of waiting for them to be made available free to them (if ever). People who had given up or cut back on reading could enjoy it again.
For people for whom that wasn’t an issue, it was still a plus for the publishers. I listen to text-to-speech in the car…meaning I go through books much more quickly than I would have otherwise.
Ostensibly, they objected because they didn’t want to cut into the audiobook market.
That never made much sense to me, as a business decision. There was no evidence that text-to-speech would hurt audiobook sales…I also thought it was likely to increase them, by accustoming people to listening to books. Remember, those with print disabilities weren’t necessarily paying for audiobooks anyway.
So, I was really disappointed when Random House led the way in blocking access. They have some of my favorite authors, and some great imprints (Ballantine, Del Rey, Bantam).
This wasn’t just a case of them maybe blocking it on some titles…they made a policy and stated it in their FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions):
“…all of our eBooks have the text-to-speech feature disabled.”
I made a difficult decision for me. I wrote to Random House and let them know I would not be buying any more of their products while that policy was in place.
It was hard because, well, I’ve always liked Random House. Yes, I knew who they were…I’m a former bookstore manager, so I actually knew who the different publishing houses were.
It was also hard because I didn’t want to hurt the authors. They couldn’t control this…they could complain, but the right had probably already been signed away. I mean, who knew this would happen?
After a while, some others of the big publishers followed Random House. I was particularly disappointed with Penguin. They had been real innovators, and produced quality editions of classics…something I think is important.
So the situation stood.
I started to notice some Random House books where text-to-speech wasn’t blocked.
In particular, there was
by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.
That came out in September of 2010. It made particular sense to me that Hawking might object to blocking text-to-speech access.
Print disabilities don’t come just from loss of sight. People with debilitating conditions (like multiple sclerosis) can find it difficult to hold a paperbook and turn the pages. Text-to-speech is one answer for that (although there are assistive technologies that can help).
Hawking has ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Blocking text-to-speech disadvantages that group.
I thought maybe they had made an exception. Hawking’s books have sold really well.
So, I was checking the Random House FAQs to see if they had changed.
Recently, they did.
When I searched for text-to-speech in the Random House FAQs, I didn’t find anything. The link I’d saved didn’t find anything.
So, I wrote to them…asking if the policy had changed.
I said, in part:
“I’ve noticed Random House e-books being released with text-to-speech enabled. The former FAQ answer saying that all titles were not enabled appears to be gone. Does this signal a change in policy? If so, what
is the current policy?”
I got a response back, that said in part:
“We appreciate your feedback and interest in the text-to-speech functionality of our eBooks. If there are works of a particular author you are interested in
seeing in the text-to-speech production, please write to them personally, in care of their publicity department using this address format:
Random House, Inc.
c/o “Publisher” (e.g. Broadway, Bantam, etc.) Publicity
New York, NY 10019″
I’d heard some authors say before that their publishers had sort of left it up to them. That didn’t seem to be the case with Random House, since they’d had that blanket policy.
This seems different.
I’ve checked several popular Random House titles and they are blocked.
This makes it sound like I should be writing to these authors care of Random House…and that it would be up to them.
If, and I stress that’s a big if, that is true, I’d go back to buying Random House books if they weren’t blocked.
After all, I didn’t stop buying books from Amazon when they allowed publishers to block text-to-speech. I felt like they were pressured into it. Amazon pays independent publishers who use their Kindle Direct Publishing twice the royalty if they follow certain rules…and one is not blocking text-to-speech.
If it’s up to the authors, I’ll feel okay going on a case-by-case basis with Random House.
I do want some more confirmation, though…Random House didn’t exactly say that.
If you are a Random House author (or an author’s agent), I’d appreciate it if you let me know if Random House has explicitly told you it is up to the author. If you want your response to be private, let me know that in your comment, and I won’t publish it.
I’m going to try going further up the chain at Random House. What I’d really like is a statement of policy that Random House will not block text-to-speech access in their e-books if the author chooses not to have it blocked.
My guess is that the default is that it is blocked at RH: that the author needs to ask for it not to be blocked.
If I confirm this is a change in policy, I’ll trumpet it from the rooftops…and I’ve got some books to buy.
For more information on the text-to-speech issue, see this earlier post.
Feel free to let me know what you think…and again, I’d appreciate it if you are with Random House (as an author/agent/executive) and let me know if this is official.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog