My justification to an author for unblocking text-to-speech
Regular readers know that I don’t buy books where the publisher has blocked text-to-speech (TTS) access.
I’ve talked a lot about the issue, and I know some people have probably heard enough. 🙂
I did want to share something with you, though.
There is a new book coming out which I would like to read…it’s by an actor and writer whose work I have really enjoyed.
When I saw that TTS was blocked, I could have just said, “Oh, well.”
Instead, I wrote to the author.
I’ve had some success in writing to publishers and authors before…years ago, I wrote to the publisher of
to suggest they make an e-book edition (this was in the very years). I certainly got the impression, based on our correspondence, that my e-mail had an influence.
I’ve also sent publishers proofreading notes, and been assured that at least some of my suggestions would be used when the book was updated.
I don’t think that any of this is because I’m a blogger…I’m hardly famous. 🙂 I say that just to suggest to you that communicating with publishers and authors can work…although I don’t know if it will in this case, yet. 🙂
I’m always careful to be respectful, and not critical…of course, that’s me in real life, too (except when I’m just with my Significant Other making fun of things on TV). 😉
So, I had first written a short comment…in private. I don’t want to call people out in public on this (I’ll be disguising identifying information below). I don’t think that’s helpful.
I heard something back from a representative, saying they had checked with the publisher, and that there was going to be something better than TTS: an audiobook.
The representative also nicely asked me to let them know if the audiobook “…doesn’t provide the options necessary to address any disabilities for our readers”.
I put quite a bit of work into my reply, and I wanted to share it with you:
Thanks so much for replying, and for looking into the issue with [the publisher].
I’m sure the audiobook will be a lot of fun! I would expect [the author’s] performance, being both an actor and the author, to add another dimension to [the book].
That’s what an audiobook, such as [the publisher] is describing is: a performance. Listening to a great audiobook is like going to see a movie. It’s not just a way to access the book, it’s another piece of art.
Text-to-speech is very different. It’s just a way to get to the words in the book. It’s much more akin to having a large print book than it is to seeing a movie.
There are three basic audio “channels” for a book to get to readers:
1. An audiobook. This is a recorded performance, and people use this for a different type of experience. They expect to pay separately for it, just like they would for a movie based on the book. They would purchase this from a store (such as Amazon). The author would get a royalty or other arrangements would be made for compensation, if the book is still under copyright protection
2. An audio version produced especially for people who can certify a disability. Thanks to an amendment to U.S. copyright law in 1996, these can be produced without first getting a license from the rightsholder. These can only be created by “authorized entities” and are produced in specialized formats that often require special equipment to hear. It might be made available for free. The book may be read by a volunteer, or produced by software. It is typically not a performance by a professional. The disabled would get this from an organization like https://www.bookshare.org/cms (after certifying the disability)
3. Text-to-speech (TTS): this is software (created from a person’s voice) which, in a streaming manner (not recorded), reads a book out loud. It does not interpret the text, and is not created individually for each book. License is not required to be purchased to make this available. As I understand it, publishers can legally block TTS access, as long as an accessible version of the book is available to those who qualify as disabled. Nothing needs to be done to prepare a book for TTS: a Kindle Fire with TTS can read personal documents out loud, for example. A publisher has to make an effort to block the access. Once a reader has a device with TTS, there is no additional cost to access the book in that way, and the author does not get an additional royalty
To answer your question about the needs of the disabled: certifying a disability is not an easy thing for everyone to do. Books under that structure are not always made available in a timely fashion.
However, the broader group affected by the lack of TTS is made up of those people who have print challenges which do not rise to the legal level of a disability. That might be a vision issue, but it could also be another medical issue (such as the ability to hold a paper book and turn the pages).
A group called the Reading Rights Organization, an umbrella organization which included: the American Council of the Blind; American Foundation for the Blind; Lighthouse International; National Federation of the Blind; and many other non-profits, protested publishers blocking text-to-speech…at the same time that the “specialized editions” were available.
There are also people who simply want to use text-to-speech when driving or exercising (to name two circumstances). They would not necessarily buy an audiobook: they intend to mostly sight-read the book, but don’t want to lose the opportunity to enjoy it when sight reading is impractical.
The suggestion has been made that unblocked TTS may reduce audiobook sales, and that may have been [the publisher]’s thought. However, since TTS has been widely available (when the Kindle 2 was released in 2009), downloadable audiobook sales have greatly increased. They have doubled in England since 2011:
The Association of American Publishers (AAP), the leading industry group, had this to say about downloaded audiobooks in 2014:
“Though this category is relatively small (48 million units) compared to downloaded eBooks (510 million units), downloaded audio continued its multiyear growth track. The category hit record growth in both units (27.0%) and revenue (26.8%) over 2013.”
That doesn’t seem to show much of a negative impact from TTS.
Finally, the top Audible audiobooks in Amazon’s “Featured” listing have both audiobooks and unblocked TTS access:
- Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (Audible book narrated by Reese Witherspoon)
- Grey by E L James (Audible book narrated by Zachary Webber)
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Audible book narrated by Clare Corbett,, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher)
It’s worth noting that there are people (including me) who will not buy books with TTS blocked. That is probably not a large group, but my guess is that some of them are influencers.
Again, I want to thank you for your conscientious effort to understand this issue more fully. I do hope that the decision is made to remove the block to TTS access on [the author]’s book…I would really like to read it and promote it to my readers.
If you have any further questions, feel free to ask. Regardless, I wish [the author] success with the book and her other future endeavors.
I’ll keep you informed. If TTS is unblocked on this book, I’ll definitely link to it for you!
One unrelated point: I’ve decided to move most of my coverage of the
to another blog of mine
There’s just a lot to say about it, and there will be a lot more the rest of this year. It doesn’t really fit the main thrust of this blog (e-books and devices which display e-books). I know some of you care about the Echo here, too, so I will provide links to The Measured Circle’s coverage. I’ll just mention one thing: I recently started a hashtag: #TeachAlexa, for people (including me) to use to suggest things that the Echo could “learn”. I just started it this weekend, and there are already close 40,000 impressions. I’ve got a lot to build over at TMC for the Echo, but I think this is going to work the best.
Update: just to clarify, based on a couple of comments from some of my most loyal commenters and readers. 🙂 You will not need to start reading The Measured Circle to find out about my Echo coverage if you are an ILMK reader. I’ll link here…if you do want to read about the Echo, it will just be a click to get there. I actually considered doing a poll on moving it…but I want to try it this way. I may do a poll later to see how people think it is working, but I have a lot more room over there to set up reference pages and posts. I appreciate the comments so far!
What do you think? Are you okay with my Echo arrangement? Is TTS an issue for you? Did you think I made a good case for not blocking it? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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