Round up #144: Kanada, Amazon pulls an Ursula

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 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, 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? (,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


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.


7 Responses to “Round up #144: Kanada, Amazon pulls an Ursula”

  1. Rosemary Bodley Says:

    Just a suggestion: use asterisks and footnotes so that you don’t continually interrupt the narrative to explain lingo for what I assume the majority of your readers are already more than familiar with.
    I always enjoy your blogs.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Rosemary!

      I appreciate the suggestion.

      Hmm…it seems to me that it would be far more disruptive to reading for me to define all the terms in footnotes. I do use footnotes sometimes, but only when you don’t have to return to where you were to resume the narrative. Part of that has to do with the devices on which people read the blog…for example, it would be pretty hard on a SmartPhone to find where you were again if it was five hundred word away (which might be several screens).

      Picture the flow:

      Word 25: don’t know the term, but there’s an asterisk. Scroll to the bottom to find that footnote. Now, I know the meaning. Back up to where I was…in the middle of a sentence.

      Word 100: don’t know the term. Back down to find the double asterisk…then back up

      and so on.

      I think people who know the terms may tend to be people who are more comfortable with technology. I’d rather have someone who is not comfortable have the definitions in situ (so they don’t have to go looking), then have a comfortable person not have to read the definition (which I don’t see as much of a burden, personally).

      I also define terms I use when I speak, in many cases, especially for my students (who are adults). In fact, I’d say I don’t write that differently from the way I speak, generally, although I’m not sure that’s really true. 🙂

      Thanks again! You did get me to think about it, and that’s a good thing.

  2. cassie Says:

    Bufo: speaking of public Libraries. With my KK and new Fire 8.9, I only use Library2Go, and love it and thankful to have it. but I wish the library had more digital books. i.e., Oregon does NOT have any books by Kate Morton. I wonder how they purchase what they do have? who decides I wonder? is it a big cost to them?
    thanks for sharing your thoughts/opinions/facts. great blog !!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, cassie!

      Well, the first Kate Morton I checked is published by Simon & Schuster… and they aren’t currently licensing e-books to public libraries at any price, I believe.

      There’s a lot of controversy about that practice, of course.

      Libraries pay a lot more to license books than individuals do to buy them, and that does have to be a consideration. You can always contact your library with suggestions, but if the publisher won’t license them, there is really nothing they can do.

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    The analyses I read in the business and technology press do not see the Ivona acquisition as a TTS play. Even though much of their current business is in TTS, the purchase is more centered around their voice recognition capabilities which are seen (at least in Europe) as being competitive with Nuance’s. The purchase is seen as more of a Siri play, and that future kindle fires will incorporate significant voice recognition capabilities.

    As you know I am skeptical about the long term prospects for small independent bookstores, and for public municipal libraries. I take surveys such as that done by Pew with a grain of salt. Both independent booksellers, and community public libraries reside in a soft place in our hearts. We see them through rose colored glasses with great gobs of nostalgia larded on 😀

    I do see a short term role for the community library as a place to provide internet access for the underserved. But this role won’t last more than a decade (if that) — we are adopting as a matter of public policy (and telecommunications tax policy) the provision of broadband access to all. This endeavor is similar in many respects to that of a few generations back that telephony should be available from every home and domicile in the nation. Contrast this with the policy in Europe where telephone access was not a priority. When I was going to school in Switzerland in the mid sixties, most people did not have phone in their homes. If you wanted (or needed) to make a phone call, you went to the post office in the town center where “Telfon Kabine” were available.

    The main NYC public library on fifth avenue is undergoing a massive renovation. In the planning for this library administrators wanted to move as much as 90% of their physical collection to warehouses in NJ. Most of the NYC collection is primarily of research interest, and it was felt that researchers could be accommodated just as well from the warehouses. As you can imagine, the public outcry was ferocious, so the plan was scaled back: only 70% will be relocated :grin

    I actually expect large research-oriented and some university libraries to survive, but as digitization proceeds apace, people will be able to borrow ebooks from anywhere over the internet, and in that scenario you need only relatively few digital repositories to support ebook lending. At some point budget strapped community administrators are going to look at their local libraries which contain pbooks that no one needs or wants anymore, and with universal broadband access — even providing terminals for internet access isn’t going to seem so important. So as money is always tight at some point the preponderance of small communities are going to make the decision to close their libraries.

    Nostalgia will slow the process somewhat, but I’m afraid the small local community library is toast IMO 😦

  4. Kindle Paperwhite now available in 175 countries « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] recently wrote about Amazon extending availability in Canada, but this is  different from that. That was a case of […]

  5. Do you need a quiet place to read? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Pew survey on libraries in the digital age […]

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