The best book I’m not reading
Last year, my Significant Other and I read a book that we both really liked.
That’s somewhat unusual. :)
We often both enjoy the same book, but this is one that really stood out as special…again, to both of us.
I was all ready to enthusiastically recommend it to you, when I noticed something had happened.
When we got the book, text-to-speech access had not been blocked by the publisher.
My regular readers are familiar with this issue, and how I feel about it, but I think it’s worth explaining.
Starting with the Kindle 2, Amazon put text-to-speech software on Kindles (which have audio at all).
That is software which reads an e-book out loud to you. It’s not a recorded performance, like an audiobook. It’s another means of accessing the material, like increasing the text size.
That software works with any text downloaded to the Kindle. The text does not need to be prepared: you can use it with personal documents, for example, and I’ve certainly done that.
If a publisher does nothing, text-to-speech access is available.
Some publishers choose to insert code into the file which blocks the text-to-speech software from providing access to the book in that manner.
To be clear: the publisher has to take a conscious step to make text-to-speech not work. The default position is that it works.
It is generally only the largest publishers which make that choice, and they don’t do it on all of their books (Random House used to say they blocked it on all books, but they reversed that policy).
Amazon discourages blocking: if an independent publisher using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing blocks text-to-speech, it disqualifies them from being able to get a higher royalty…they are limited to 35% instead of 70%.
However, Amazon can not prevent traditional publishers from blocking it.
Amazon does indicate if it is blocked or not on the book’s Amazon product page, although they use the language that the book is either “enabled” or “not enabled” for text-to-speech. I think that’s misleading: it’s either “blocked” or “not blocked”…nothing needs to be done to enable it. There are some books where the “text” isn’t really text, but is part of an image (graphic novels, typically). The software can’t access it then: I’d prefer the language, “blocked”, “not blocked” (or “available”, perhaps), and “unavailable”.
While I don’t need text-to-speech myself, I use it, usually for hours a week in the car. I like to say that it has changed driving time from “wasted non-reading time”. :) I go through books much more quickly that way, which would seem to me to be an advantage to publishers.
I don’t purchase books with text-to-speech blocked, but that’s not so much for my own use of it. It’s because I don’t approve of the publisher blocking TTS, and I don’t want to give them money on a book where they have done so.
Similarly, I don’t knowingly link to books which block text-to-speech, since I don’t want to benefit from that link, either.
I do this because I feel that it disproportionately disadvantages the disabled.
Yes, some books are available for those with a certified print disability (sometimes for free). In fact, my reading of U.S. copyright law (and I’m not a lawyer, just an interested layperson) is that the publisher can only block the access if there is an accessible version available to those with certified disabilities.
It is, still, inconvenient. Accessible copies through those programs are not always available when the book is first published. They can’t always be read on an easily mobile device, like a Kindle. They can’t be shared with other family members as a book from the Kindle store can. They don’t always have the same services available (like Whispersync, letting you continue where you were as you move from device to device) that the Kindle store has.
It also has a negative impact on those who can’t prove a disability, or who have a print challenge which does not rise to the level of a legal disability.
I did e-mail the author about the first book, and I have contacted the publisher (Simon and Schuster) as well. This is what I wrote to the latter:
My Significant Other and I greatly enjoyed The Rosie Project as a Kindle store book.
I am also a blogger with one of the most popular blogs of any kind in the USA Kindle store.
I was about to recommend the first book to my readers, when text-to-speech access was blocked (subsequent to our original purchase). I do not recommend books when the publisher has made that decision.
We were quite disappointed to see that the new book (The Rosie Effect) also has that access blocked. As a result, we will not be reading the book while that is the case.
I feel strongly enough about how good the first book was that I am writing a post on the topic, to explain the situation to my readers.
Please reconsider the decision to block text-to-speech access. I believe it limits the access to people who would otherwise happily purchase a copy.
Please feel free to contact me for more information, if you like.
I also need to be clear: I completely understand why someone would go ahead and purchase the book. I do not hold it against people who do so, and I am not saying you should follow what I do here. I simply want to inform you so you can make a decision about it knowing more of the background. For more general information on blocking text-to-speech, you may find this earlier post interesting:
which I allow to be distributed freely for non-commercial purposes.
The first book was The Rosie Project. As I mentioned, when we bought the book, text-to-speech access was not blocked. Even though it was blocked later, our version still has it. The new book is The Rosie Effect.
If you feel similarly about it, you might want to let the publisher know. This is the Simon and Schuster contact page:
While an author can influence (typically through an agent) whether or not a book has the access blocked, it is an action the publisher takes. I did inform the author on the first book, so I assume they are aware of it. Therefore, I’m not providing a direct way to contact the author in this post.
What do you think? Does whether or not text-to-speech is blocked affect your decision to buy a book? Do you need it yourself? If you are print disabled, do you ever use the Kindle’s (including the Fire’s) text-to-speech rather than your normal screen reader? What’s the experience like getting accessible books through special agencies? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.