My justification to an author for unblocking text-to-speech

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

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

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 (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:

  1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (Audible book narrated by Reese Witherspoon)
  2. Grey by E L James (Audible book narrated by Zachary Webber)
  3. 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

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

to another blog of mine

The Measured Circle

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.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.



16 Responses to “My justification to an author for unblocking text-to-speech”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    What, no poll? You’re just going to decide to do with your own blogs without giving the rest of us a vote? Dang, I forgot how to make an evil grin.

    I have no objection to posts about Echo here. I don’t know if I’ll ever purchase one, but I find your articles and other readers’ comments interesting. Since The Measured Circle doesn’t seem to update very often, I don’t check it very often, so if you could include links to any articles about the echo when you do a roundup, I would appreciate it.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      That’s definitely the plan! People who have been reading this blog will still be able to get to the articles easily enough, I think. I just don’t want it to overwhelm the book stuff. 🙂

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I have too many blogs to read on a daily basis as it is now. I have from time to time taken a look at The Measured Circle — I have found that 90-95% of what’s there is of no interest to me. I would consequently prefer that you keep the echo content on the ilmk blog.

    It seems that ilmk covers far more than kindles at this point: Amazon and the publishing industry in general. Perhaps instead of moving echo content, you might consider a name change for ilmk to more accurately reflect the actual content covered.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I appreciate your opinion.

      I wouldn’t change the name of the blog: it’s too well established, and I do think it’s the heart of why I started the blog.

      Yes, ILMK has expanded what it covers over time…and I do get pushback on that. I’ll make sure you can just click a link to get to an Echo article from TMC. I realize that would be a problem is someone was reading the blog offline. Please keep me informed as to how you feel about it: nothing is ever in stone forever for me. 🙂

  3. Mary Perkins Says:

    I think your thoughtful response to the TTS issue was great. I can also understand that many people do not see the difference between TTS and audio books. Here’s hoping they get the point you made so well.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mary!

      I really appreciate your kind words! That means a lot to me.

      Like you, I hope they remove the block from this title…and eventually, all of them. 🙂

  4. Jennifer Jeffreys Martin Says:

    You are so diplomatic, Bufo! I love the way you write. I don’t use TTS all the time, but sometimes I need it, because of vision and physical limitations. I am not as dogmatic as you; I will buy a book without it, but really I think it should be an integral part of an e-book. I agree that some people don’t understand the difference between TTS and audiobook..

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jennifer!

      Thanks for letting me know!

      I understand that not everybody has the passion about TTS that I do, and that’s fine. 🙂

  5. Allie D. Says:

    I’m not very worked up about the TTS issue, as I’m not a big fan of listening to audiobooks.*
    However, I understand that you and others have very strong feelings about this topic, and I am ALWAYS in favor of writing or attempting to deliver clear messages to companies or people. It is not something that happens enough. People tend to complain in a more general fashion and I hate to see reviews on Amazon that say things like “I hope the publisher reads this.” (I hate it because: in the vast majority of cases, they will not.)
    All this is to say, good job getting things written clearly and sent out. If you don’t know exactly who to send it to, go a step down – or a step up! – send it, and ask where else you should direct your letter/email. Or send it to multiple places. It is not ALWAYS effective, some people think it is weird, but sometimes you do get your point to the person you want. Otherwise how will anyone know that there is a problem?
    So, I very much appreciate your enforcement of this point, with your post here. Learning how to write such things is a skill that should be more widely taught. You don’t want to insult anyone, there can be things at work that you don’t know about, etc…and then there is the extreme importance of clarity. Which I can see are all things that you have achieved in this example of yours. Many people are hesitant to be vocal during such situations; it’s a shame, and so I think it’s great you are spreading the idea for others to think of and perhaps draw from into their own experiences.
    Ok the End. 🙂

    * Bufo, I once told you I’d give you my two actor-read audiobook exceptions, and here you go: The only audio books I really enjoy are Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, both of which are narrated by Jeremy Irons and in those cases I can’t imagine listening to the beautiful words reduced to TTS. Those two novels also bear the distinction of being written from the POV of a single narrator, which I think is what makes it work so well. And oh it is lovely to listen to Irons’ voice! even when saying vile things. They are also unexpurgated, which to me is vital.
    (I imagine TTS books are unexpurgated by their very nature, but I do not know for certain.)
    I am not saying they should not be available in TTS, but they are exceptions I thought of after you said you did not like audiobooks “narrated by actors”, so that they don’t unduly influence your opinion. In these cases, each book is enhanced and actually more easily understood when narrated directly by the protagonist.
    Oh I also like the original Winnie-the-Pooh stories read aloud on tape but that involves sentiments of family car-trips and is REALLY a different issue! 🙂

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Allie!

      I am humbled by your assessment!

      I also think there is value in making an effort…even if the goal is not achieved. It can make you feel better about yourself…and can help you hone your skills. If you do nothing, and your goal is not achieved, you’ll never know if you could have made a difference. If you try to change something, and it doesn’t change…you know you tried.

      As to your footnote: I need to be clear that I don’t like to listen to audiobooks…unless I’ve read the book already. Then, it’s fine: as I mentioned, like going to a movie. 🙂

      Jeremy Irons is great! In some ways, Irons is the modern George Sanders, one of the great voices of all time (and they have both voiced cartoon big cats, interesting enough. Jeremy Irons was Scar the lion in The Lion King, George Sanders was Shere Khan the tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book).

      I have listened to some wonderful audiobooks! John Cleese reading The Screwtape Letters comes to mind. Lou Diamond Phillips really surprised me on an audiobook I got for free…it was…Dead or Alive, by Tom Clancy. I’m not saying Phillips was Jim Dale, but much better than what I would have guessed.

      Oh, and yes…TTS has the same words as the e-book. Nothing is one to prepare the book for TTS, so it’s exactly the same.

      • Allie D. Says:

        Bufo: It’s just good sense! It seems to me that people tend to be way too passive. A couple of years ago, I was at a movie theater for a weekday afternoon matinee; due to the time the theater was almost empty – aside from me, I think there was a couple, and several almost-teen kids… well we’re all sitting there, and not even the previews came on. The lights didn’t dim. I looked up and could see that nothing was on in the projection room. I was on my own at the time; I had no one to discuss this with. So I got up and went to find someone to fix it, while everyone else sat silently staring at the screen. Seriously. Even the small group of people sat forward staring and did not have any conversation with their own companions.
        Maybe they thought they were witnessing a movie version of John Cage’s 4′33″ 😉
        Anyway the movie theater people seemed grateful to be told there was a problem! They got it going real quick after I grabbed the first employee I could find.
        But the real, notable problem there is NOT the movie theater making a mistake; it is the passivity of the viewers. Which translates directly into this thing where no one complains. People don’t seem to feel they have the *right* to complain – about anything! – is what I have observed over the years.

        And yes we all love Jeremy Irons. I believe I am very slightly young for George Sanders. I’d have to wiki or imdb him. For the moment I’ll take your word. Take care!

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Allie!

        Actually, being a group (especially of strangers) probably suppressed their response. It’s like the bystander effect. One person by themselves would likely have said something. If it was all one family, they would have been more likely to take action. It’s partially that there is a risk in their acting (what if someone had yelled at them to sit down?) and partially herd mentality.

        I’d say to YouTube George Sanders instead. 🙂 You’ll be able to see a short clip and get a sense.

        If you want to watch a whole movie, I’d suggest:

        * All About Eve (a very well written movie regardless)
        * The Picture of Dorian Gray
        * Disney’s The Jungle Book
        * Village of the D*mned
        * or one of the Falcon movies if you want a “B movie” 🙂

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        I would say that “The Falcon” rated more than a “B” moniker — thanks mostly to the suave debonairness of George Sanders. Incidentally, Sanders only appeared in the first 3 of the Falcon movies — after that the role was taken over by Sanders’ real life brother Tom Conway for nine more Falcon outings.

        Sanders also appeared in five “The Saint” movies — none of which (IMO) were as good as “The Falcon”, and certainly nowhere near as good as the TV series starring Roger Moore (:grin).

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        Oh, let me be clear! Being a B movie doesn’t have to do with quality or enjoyability! It has to do with how the movie studio would bill it. A series movie (there were series movies before TV series) like The Falcon would have been below the headliner title in a theatre (and there would have been cartoons, and a newsreel). It’s more the B side of a record…and there have been great songs as B sides!

        I appreciate you adding that additional context. I was familiar with it…but it will no doubt encourage other people to enjoy the Falcon…and Moore’s The Saint!

  6. Eileen Says:

    A very well-reasoned argument and one I totally support!

    I have to admit, however, until the end of last year, it really didn’t matter to me one way or the other. Over the past few years, I have gradually shifted (surprisingly) to using various models of Kindle over books, since it’s so much easier for travel and even just to carry a couple of books around all the time–I never have to worry about not having something to read.

    Anyway, I had a second wrist surgery then end of the year and concurrently picked up a trade paperback I’d been waiting to read (since I had nowhere to go for a while). To my shock and dismay, I found it extremely difficult to hold the book for more than a couple of minutes! Even after recovery, I am left with weakness in my hands and wrists, and anticipate a time in the future when I could fit into the broader group you mention who could benefit from TTS, especially since we have a family account with 4 other readers (to date).

    Isn’t it a shame that sometimes we only take a position on an issue when it hits close to home?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Eileen!

      We are far more likely to react to personal experience, and that seems natural to me. I don’t think it’s shameful for that reason. 🙂 However, we can also react vicariously, or on principle. That’s really my case with TTS. I enjoy it, but if I didn’t think other people were affected disproportionately, I wouldn’t stop linking to those kinds of titles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: