Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice.Amazon says that more than 230,000 titles are now available to download to a Kindle, and early reviews suggest that the new version improves the device's usability.
"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."
An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won't confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.
It's not clear, however, when it will be available in the UK. As Bobbie Johnson writers in The Guardian, to sell Kindle 2 in this country, Amazon will need to overcome several hurdles relating to the use of its wireless technology.
Update (13 Feb 2009): The Authors Guild (USA) has now put up an official statement on its website.
We're studying this matter closely and will report back to you. In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven't yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn't the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books.
Bundling e-books and audio books has been discussed for a long time in the industry. It's a good idea, but it shouldn't be accomplished by fiat by an e-book distributor.