No, Amazon doesn’t owe authors money for audiobook rights

The Kindle 2 got a not-too-well put together thrash­ing from Roy Blount Jr. in the New York Times on Feb. 24. It’s not that the Kindle 2 steals from pub­lish­ers. Blount is OK with its busi­ness model because the device pays authors for con­tent. What Blount doesn’t like is the fact that the Kindle 2 can read aloud with a robot voice.

He writes, “Whereas e-books have yet to win main­stream enthu­si­asm, audio books are a billion-dollar mar­ket, and grow­ing. Audio rights are not gen­er­ally pack­aged with e-book rights. They are more valu­able than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not incon­sid­er­ably to keep authors, and pub­lish­ers, afloat.”

He’s con­cerned that the Kindle 2’s robot voice will put peo­ple off of pay­ing for audio books and points out that com­puter voice tech­nol­ogy devel­oped by IBM, tech­nol­ogy that pro­duces a voice of a qual­ity almost equal to a human reader, could seri­ously hurt the liveli­hood of authors — authors who are appar­ently going to be ruined by the loss of audio book revenue.

Let’s also remem­ber that this IBM tech­nol­ogy isn’t a part of the Kindle 2, which is what I thought Blount was com­plain­ing about.

Blount writes, “What the guild is assert­ing is that authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s ver­sion of books. For this, the guild is being assailed.”

Yes, you’re being assailed and for a sim­ple rea­son. You’re try­ing to charge peo­ple for the priv­i­lege of read­ing a book aloud. It doesn’t mat­ter whether the owner of a book reads it aloud or whether they have a friend read it to them, or whether that owner lends the book to a friend and that friends reads it aloud. You buy a book and that gives you the right to read it aloud in what­ever man­ner you choose. You can even scream it from the rooftops, (as long as you don’t charge for atten­dance). I’m not the only per­son who thinks so.

Blount has based his argu­ment on this “read­ing aloud” fea­ture of the Kindle 2 as if the read aloud fea­ture was the device’s major sell­ing point. It isn’t. No one is buy­ing a Kindle because it can read their books aloud. Period. They’re buy­ing Kindles because they’re cool and because Amazon and every tech­nol­o­gist on the Web told them to.

Hell, the devices aren’t even that great, if you believe some of the reviews out there.

So no. Amazon doesn’t owe the author’s guild any money because it included a read aloud fea­ture on the Kindle. If some­one wants to lis­ten to a book aloud, I’m will­ing to bet most of them will do the same sort of thing I have done for years:

Rent the audio­book and rip it to .mp3. I will be god­damned if I’ll pay 3x the cost of the hard­cover just to hear some actor read the book I want to absorb.