Is the battle for text-to-speech over?

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. πŸ™‚

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:

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

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. πŸ™‚ 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

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

5 Responses to “Is the battle for text-to-speech over?”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    It’s not an either/or publisher decision. It depends upon the specific language in the contract between the author and the publisher. In some cases TTS is covered; sometimes not. If TTS rights were ceded to the publisher, then they can decide to block or not. If the rights remain with the author, then he/she can request TTS blockage or not.

    Thus the picture of what’s blocked/not blocked might be a bit confusing.

  2. Jean Says:

    I also would like to have text to speech available on the Fire, since it is one of the Kindle features I miss the most. You have shown that most publishers want their books available in text to speech, as well as other good reasons that this would be a welcome addition to the Fire.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jean!

      In the case of the Fire and text-to-speech, it’s a matter of adding software to it. Ideally, I’d like to see Amazon add it, as they have on reflective screen Kindles (except for the $79/$109 Mindle) since the Kindle 2. However, I would also purchase it if it was available in the Amazon Appstore. Vocalizer, used on the Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Touch, has been used in Android apps.

      That, however, is very different from when the access is blocked. Publishers have to insert code into an e-book file to block text-to-speech access where the software exists. Nothing needs to be done to “enable” a file for text-to-speech on, say, a Kindle Touch. It can read your personal text documents out loud to you, for example. Publishers taking the step to block it seems different to me from Amazon paying to license software. I’m sure that’s why we only got Pico on the Kindle Fire: Amazon was trying to keep the price low. I suspect that the next Android tablets from Amazon may include text-to-speech that works with Kindle store books.

  3. Lori Says:

    I’m not sure if anyone will see this but I work at a Community College in the Disability Support Svcs department. I assist students finding books in alternate format. As I have been researching textbooks most/if not all the textbooks I have found in a Kindle version have the “Text to Speech not enabled”. So I think we still have a ways to go with this. 3/21/13

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lori!

      Not too worry! If you make a comment here, I’ll see it…even when the post is about a year old, as in this case. πŸ™‚

      First, you should be aware of Amazon’s free disability plug-in. While that would require that your students read the book on a PC which already has a screen reader, it overrides the code that blocks text to speech access:

      Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin

      Second, some textbooks may be formatted as images, in which case TTS will not be available, although that shouldn’t be common.

      I agree that there is still a ways to go, even a year after that original post. I do think it’s been getting better, though.

      Oh, and I assume you are aware of for your students? If your students can certify a print disability (and are qualifying students), they may be able to get the books for free.

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