Lucienne: I've been contemplating for a few days now weighing in about the controversy of the Kindle 2's new audio feature, which will read aloud e-books which have been downloaded onto the device. Today, via Publishers Lunch, I came across Jason Pinter's very coherent piece on why this may be a problem for authors, partly in answer to Neil Gaiman's argument that this feature is a good thing.
I don't debate that it's a wonderful thing for Kindle 2 owners to be able to turn anything into an audio book. I don't debate that right now the robotic voice doing the reading is probably not terribly well-inflected and is not about to give traditional audiobook publishers a run for their money. HOWEVER, as the technology improves, authors and publishers alike may find that their rights to sell and/or produce audiobooks are infringed by this feature and that their market share diminishes because audiobooks will essentially be created on the spot based on e-books. Keep in mind that the audio rights will not have been licensed along with e-book rights. In other words, the technology has outstripped our current paradigm. If we don't develop a plan for dealing with this now, we affect our ability to fight it down the line. Better to deal with the issue before it becomes a real problem than with the aftermath, once the damage has been done.
nephele : Just to play Devil's advocate...
I understand, and agree, that this audio feature on Kindle could lead to an audio rights issue way down the line, but only if technology gets us to the point where an electronic reader actually sounds like a real person. After all, Kindle is not the first device that allows you to listen to text. Adobe Acrobat Reader has had an audio function for a number of years, which means anyone who purchases an e-book as a PDF can pop it on their computer and turn on the reading function in Acrobat and listen to their computer read the book in a rather stilted, mechanical way. How many people actually do that, however? And how many people are going to want their Kindle to read to them? Maybe in a pinch--you're about to find out who the killer in your current mystery novel, but you have to leave for work--you'll let the Kindle read a little bit aloud. But I suspect most audio-book fans would far prefer to hear the book read with some dramatic inflection and not a simple mechanical voice.
At this point, I feel like the Kindle is not an immediate threat to audio books and probably won't be for a long time. Perhaps as agents we need to consider the stage of the technology regarding contract language and find some way of drawing a line between a book being "read" by a device and a book being "verbally acted out." But right now it feels like a very big debate over something I suspect isn't a very big deal. And I can't help but wonder if anyone would have given the Kindle audio feature much thought at all if we in the publishing industry hadn't made a big noise about it.