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Author’s Guild Tells Authors to Stay Out of the Ebook Game

AuthorsGuild  , an organization designed to promote the best interests of authors, are upset because the text to speech function offered by the Kindle 2.0 may infringe on the author’s derivative right to audio performances. “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.”  As one other blogger noted, I wonder if I will be able to read my daughter’s books aloud without the Authors Guild coming to my house and taking my books away or requesting a royalty?   

Even better, AuthorsGuild is now telling its authors to stay out of the ebook game because being part of the only area in which the industry is actually seeing growth   makes good business sense.

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.

I’m not sure who is in charge of AuthorsGuild, but I do have to wonder whether they actually want to sell books or merely hold onto their rights?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

55 Comments

  1. Jessica G.
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 20:29:55

    I just don’t even know where to start, except if there are any authors reading this, please don’t stay out of the ebook market. There’s no reason for this ridiculousness.

  2. Azure
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 21:18:16

    Has anyone ever tried listening to the “text to speech” or whatever they call the feature on non-DRM’d MS Lit books? It’s terrible. Given the choice between a free text-to-speech automated reading of a book or buying a professionally-read audiobook, I’ll pay the money and enjoy the book every time.

    I sincerely hope that authors considering releasing their backlist as ebooks won’t decide against it because of this.

  3. Tina Burns
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 21:23:54

    Because I should be PC here’s my typed response…

    “HUH?”

    Bet you can guess what my comment really was…*shaking head*

  4. Emmy
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 22:25:39

    I saw that one coming. I haven’t heard the text-to-speech computerized voice, but I figured it wouldn’t be a far leap for somebody to argue that the TTS causes lost audiobook sales, since it would be easier to buy the cheaper ebook and use the TTS function.

    Of course, you have to actually buy the Kindle first, which costs a whole lot more than an audiobook. The savings wouldn’t pay out for a looooong time.

  5. Jen O
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 22:41:58

    I am a reader for a visually impaired administrator. She has JAWS installed for most text-reading, but it can’t decipher images, flash, and other non-text information.

    I can tell you from experience that even with advances in technology, text reading software still sounds more like the computer from War Games than the ship’s computer on Star Trek.

    I’m all for author’s rights, but there needs to be a balance between protection and accessibility.

  6. Mary Winter
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 23:19:27

    I am flabbergasted. I used text to speach for editing once. Hearing a mechanical feminine voice read aloud hawt polar bear shifter sex… it was hillarious. And I never used it again. If someone chooses to have their books read aloud in this way, it should be their right. If they want to hear a nice actor and better quality, then they’ll get an audio version. It’s like comparing cheap round steak to prime rib, frankly.

    I have a coworker who is dyslexic, so he uses text to speach to read aloud ebooks and I think on the grounds of accessiblity, market growth, environmentalism, and simply giving the reader what she (or he) wants… the Author’s Guild stance is stupid and quite limiting.

    I’m reminded of a comment I heard on the tv tonight…. unrelated, but very approp. here. I’ll paraphrse… “(they) looked to the future and they found radio.”

    Yep. Sounds like the Author’s Guild.

    *shakes head*

  7. Shannon C.
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 00:02:03

    OMGWTFBBQ! God forbid authors, you know, sell books.

    And everyone I’ve spoken to about text to speech indicates it’s not something they could deal with. I know because it’s how I prefer to read and after people hear Jaws on my computer that have never experienced its dulcet tones, the reaction is usually, “How the hell can you stand that?”

    When I listen to an audiobook, I’m doing it because I like the performance aspect. When I read an ebook on my computer (oh, noes! I should stop or the Authors’ Guild will get me!) I just want to know what the words are. For me, it’s more utilitarian than audio, and I suspect that people who don’t listen to text to speech software on a daily basis would for the most part prefer clawing their eyes out with a spoon than listening to a book read that way for extended periods of time, when they could have a much more enjoyable experience with the audio.

  8. kirsten saell
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 00:16:21

    I’m guessing an audiobook costs much more to produce than an ebook, and the author’s royalty payouts per copy are probably similar. Why would the Author’s Guild be concerned whether someone buys the ebook for 5 dollars and submits to the shortcomings of TTR, or they opt for the joys of audio for 12, so long as one way or the other, the author is still making his buck and a quarter? They don’t actually think people typically purchase both versions? Do they? Oh wait, they’re still living in a world where ebooks cost the same as print, and only pay 6% royalty…

    Stupid.

  9. NKKingston
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 02:31:26

    A lot of recent technology has had its wrists-slapped for touch-screen design, since it makes it nearly impossible for the visually-impaired to use the device. There’s a comment on Writer Beware that points out that even with the read aloud function, which is at least a nod in the write direction, it doesn’t read the menus, so the Kindle is still unusable if you’re blind.

    I don’t think it’s a threat to authors any more than most read-aloud programs are. They’re designed for the visually impaired, not audio-philes. While it’s possible to adapt to a book read aloud (I’ve downloaded free audiobooks based on out-of-copyright novels such as War of the Worlds and Jekyll and Hyde) they are still horribly jarring from time to time. Jekyll and Hyde paused after every Mr. because of the full stop, couldn’t pronounce the english spellings of ‘Realise’, and you can imagine how War of the World mangled Ogilvy.

    Unfortunately, actual audiobooks are out of my price-range these days. I know you have more royalties to pay, and a second strata of production, but it doesn’t help sell them. As an aside – eBooks are more expensive to produce than most people realise, bringing them almost in line with print books for cost.

  10. Jessica
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 05:40:14

    I agree that the advice is bad, but I think the issue is real. As an avid audiobook listener, I have wondered whether the TTS will infringe on audio’s market.

    I don’t think the TTS on the new Kindle sounds that bad, actually (you can hear it on the video demon on Amazon’s website).

    I also have a Garmin Nuvi GPS with TTS in a myriad of accents which sound quite good. DH and I each have our favorite “sexy” voices (mine’s the British man). Conceivably, the TTS on the Kindle could get that good, and pose a real threat to audio productions.

    Audiobook narrators vary widely in quality, but no TTS will compete with the best of them.

    Still, two things appeal to me about the TTS on an ereader like the Kindle: 1. It’s free, and 2. I can switch easily from listening to reading.

  11. Teddypig
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 06:22:59

    Comparing a professionally read audio book to current experimental text-to-speech functionality is like comparing a computer generated Poser picture to a professionally posed photograph. You can do it but you will look like an god damned idiot.

    Sure you can try to roughly say they are similar in nature but in my opinion if you can’t tell the difference between something that is cheap and meant to be simply functional for the sight impaired to something that anyone would actually pay good money to listen to then maybe you better keep your yap shut.

    Then again, this Author’s Guild/League of Dead Tree Idiots Living Under Rocks are only now reporting eBooks and their successful business model are BAD for authors BAD BAD BAD! Boooo! and they have to “investigate” this new fangled text-to-speech technology that has only been available since computers were first introduced to the market so what do you friggin expect?

  12. Kimber An
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 07:04:43

    “I'm not sure who is in charge of AuthorsGuild, but I do have to wonder whether they actually want to sell books or merely hold onto their rights?”

    Exactly.

  13. Jessica
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 09:05:52

    in my opinion if you can't tell the difference between something that is cheap and meant to be simply functional for the sight impaired to something that anyone would actually pay good money to listen to then maybe you better keep your yap shut.

    The issue isn’t telling the difference. It’s caring about it enough to be willing to pay for it.

  14. Chicklet
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 09:20:37

    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.

    Yes! I mean, really, why would authors want to sell books to people who enjoy reading so much they choose to pay hundreds of dollars for devices that let them carry 100+ books with them to read wherever they go? Those people aren’t at all smart consumers willing to take their money elsewhere. [/sarcasm]

  15. Teddypig
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 09:39:04

    The issue isn't telling the difference. It's caring about it enough to be willing to pay for it.

    Even windows has accessibility features built into it (If they function all that great is up for debate but they are there.) to allow people with disabilities to use it.

    To complain that Amazon has included text-to-speech functionality to compete with audio books when Amazon owns Brilliance Audio an Audio Book Publisher is just strange.

  16. kirsten saell
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 10:23:49

    As an aside – eBooks are more expensive to produce than most people realise, bringing them almost in line with print books for cost.

    As another aside – I’m so tired of this argument. Yes, the preproduction costs (editing, cover art, design, formatting) may be the same or similar, but the per-copy manufacturing and distribution costs are way lower. Eliminating DRM would lower the cost of ebooks even further.

    Why isn’t the Author’s Guild doing something useful, like educating and helping their author’s to negotiate a fair royalty (25-40%) on their ebooks, instead of wasting everyone’s time with this crap?

  17. Anion
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 11:07:43

    I’m sorry, I’m a little confused by all of this. Because the Author’s Guild has a point. Text-to-speech may sound like crap now, but who knows where it will be in a year or two? Isn’t it best to deal with this early on? Why is everyone acting as though the AG is somehow wrong for trying to help writers protect their rights? They’re not saying “Ebooks suck and you should never ever sell ebook rights,” they’re saying “Hold off until we get this figured out.”

    To me the fact that Amazon also owns an audiobook publisher is *more* reason for concern, not less.

    Especially when there’s a fairly simple solution, which I saw suggested elsewhere earlier. Why not make Amazon pay for the rights? Wouldn’t that make sense? Instead of turning this into an Evil Writers Hate Readers thing, why not say, Yeah, actually, if Amazon is going to sell ebooks along with an exclusive device that will turn them into audiobooks, maybe they should give up a percent or half a percent or whatever of the profit they make from that sale, and use that to reimburse the author? Or why not sell audiorights to Amazon and let them actually produce an audiobook version for the Kindle, which would be sold in tandem with the book?

    That way readers get what they need without any inconvenience to them, and writers still get paid for their rights? Why is it the authors who are wrong here, rather than Amazon who are in effect trying to sell readers something to which they (Amazon, not the readers) are not entitled? Why is it the authors who are always expected to give up rights–and the income which derives from those rights–instead of making the company using those rights pay for them? Seriously.

    Personally I think one of the great benefits of ebooks is their increased value for the visually impaired, and I would want my books in ebooks if only for that reason. Hell, if there was some way to record myself reading my books and give it free to every blind or otherwise impaired person who bought a copy, I would do it. But there’s no guarantee that *only* those people would listen or use it (and no, I’m not talking about them inviting friends over to listen with them either.)

    The fact is, when our books are pirated we’re told to get over it because it will increase sales. We’re told that we’ll have to find other revenue streams like the music industry did. Well, audiorights are another revenue stream, one that could and probably will increase in importance. Why are we evil now for wanting to make some, you know, revenue from it? Why isn’t Amazon evil, for stealing and exploiting? Does anyone really think the audio quality of the Kindle’s text-to-speech function won’t improve significantly over the next couple of years? (That’s an honest question; I’d really like to know if you think it won’t improve, and why, because I don’t know much about that technology.)

    This is why I pay my AG dues. Hey, at least they’re not pretending ebooks don’t exist the way RWA does. (How is their special Ebook Task Force doing, anyone know? Have they figured out what an ebook is yet?) At least they’re actually paying attention to things that are happening and thinking how it may affect their membership now and in the years to come.

    I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to offend anyone, and I hope I haven’t. This isn’t a reader/writer issue to me; it’s not my intent at all to deny readers or take something from them or make them pay more or anything of that nature. I love readers. I am a reader; I read three or four books a week at least, depending on how busy I am.

    I just don’t understand why the immediate solution people seem to be coming up with is for authors to get over it and give up, instead of saying, “Yeah, Amazon, why don’t you pay for what you’re using?”

  18. Shannon C.
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 11:36:20

    @Anion:

    Personally I think one of the great benefits of ebooks is their increased value for the visually impaired, and I would want my books in ebooks if only for that reason. Hell, if there was some way to record myself reading my books and give it free to every blind or otherwise impaired person who bought a copy, I would do it. But there's no guarantee that *only* those people would listen or use it (and no, I'm not talking about them inviting friends over to listen with them either.)

    Actually, there is. Bookshare has been around for at least ten years as a service for those of us who are visually impaired to read books electronically. The measures they’ve taken to make sure their books end up being downloaded and read only by the people who are supposed to seem reasonably effective to this inexperienced non-techie. If you really want to ensure that your books can be read by actual visually impaired people (who really aren’t going to be using the Kindle anytime soon), contact them and send in your books.

    I volunteer as a proofreader for Bookshare sometimes, and I can tell you that romances make it into the collection relatively quickly. And, as I said, it’s a perfectly legal organization which has a pretty rigorous screening process to make sure its members are actually appropriately disabled.

    The system isn’t perfect. In my ideal world, as a blind consumer, I could buy any book I wanted from Fictionwise on its release date or, hell, even use that new TTS feature on the Kindle without sighted assistance instead of having to wait for sometimes months or years, if ever, for someone to decide to make it available on Bookshare. But it is there, and I think more authors should be educated about what it actually is and what it does.

  19. Jen O
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 11:47:05

    @Anion: I understand what you are saying. I’m not upset that AG wants to protect author rights. It just seems that they are woefully behind the times.

    Ebooks have been around for years. Why has it taken this long for AG to look into the concept?

    I realize it is not easy to keep up with ever changing technologies. And digital information is a whole new frontier. I’m just a bit amazed that it took this long for every single segment of the publishing industry to notice that there was a world outside the wood-pulp.

    So, welcome to the 21st century, AG. Hope you can keep up.

  20. Bianca
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 11:48:23

    @Anion: TL;DR… But I did notice that you say: they're saying “Hold off until we get this figured out.”

    Which is the incorrect answer, by the way. You need to learn how to speak the lingo of business, darling! What AG is really saying is: “…hold off until we find out how to milk a dying cow, adhere to an outdated business model and, in the process, squelch badly needed innovation for the literary market. We can do it if you help us!”

  21. kirsten saell
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 11:52:52

    Again, I ask what the real difference is between someone buying an ebook (that pays appropriate royalty to the author, mind you, not a pathetic 6-8%) and using TTS to read it, or someone buying an audiobook. It isn’t like the author isn’t making money on the sale.

    I can understand there’s some legal murkiness there, but unless the author is making way less per sale on ebooks than on audio, I just don’t see what the problem is–even if the technology improves to the point where it sounds more like Jude Law’s voiceovers in A Series of Unfortunate Events than Kevin Costner’s abominably wooden ones in Dances with Wolves.

  22. veinglory
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 12:04:46

    Text to speech will improve. So I think this is a good time to establish where auto-spoken rights fit and whether they are assumed to be bundled with digital rights. It seems sensible that this be established in advance of a pragmatic need for it instead of it (for a change). Although how authors guild failed to know this was already out there on various platforms and devices I do not know….

  23. Jessica
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 12:07:22

    To complain that Amazon has included text-to-speech functionality to compete with audio books when Amazon owns Brilliance Audio an Audio Book Publisher is just strange.

    Not sure whom this is directed at, but I wasn’t complaining. I can see where the concern is for anyone who is invested in Audio (narrators, producers, etc), but as a consumer, if the inferior quality of TTS isn’t TOO inferior, and if it’s “free” once I’ve bought the book, I’m fine with it.

    Just yesterday I pulled into the driveway in the middle of a great scene in Charlaine Harris’s Definitely Dead audio. If I had that on the Kindle instead of my iPod, I would have walked into the house, taken off my coat, pressed a button and started reading from where the audio left off. Instead, I had to turn off my $20 audio, and locate my $8.00 book, and locate my place.

    I would be willing to pay extra, actually, for an enhanced ebook that included the option to turn on Johanna Parker’s outstanding narration.

    Can TTS compete with excellent narrators and outstanding production? Of course not. But again, if it’s free and convenient, it just might do.

  24. XandraG
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 12:07:23

    On one hand, AG might not be too far off. If you interpret the statement to read, “Don’t automatically sign your e-rights away in a package when you contract your print rights with a print publisher,” in which case, that seems pretty smart, especially if the print pubs keep insisting that 6-8% of an ebook sale is good money. Negotiate your rights separately, don’t toss them in the bin with a bundle for a publisher to sit on when they have no plan in place to take advantage of it.

    As far as audio rights go–I’m personally okay with someone activating the “read aloud” function on my stuff, because I’m not about to strip away the ability for a visually-impaired person to experience my story. In fact, thanks @Shannon C. for that link to Bookshare. I’m looking into getting my story to them as soon as I can. I don’t believe that a read-aloud function is comparable to an audio-book read by a real human. If the tech changes in the future, I may reconsider, but I wouldn’t actually be losing revenue if someone (who’d already bought my book, thankyouverymuch) activated a read-aloud function, whether it sounded like Marvin the Paranoid Android or Alan Rickman on XTC (although if anyone wanted to pirate my stuff into an audiobook read by an XTC-addled Alan Rickman, I’ll be the first illegal downloader in line!).

  25. Anion
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 12:46:46

    @Shannon C.:

    Wow, thank you so much Shannon! Could I ask a couple of questions? I’m a little confused by what Bookshare wants and what they’re doing. Like, they ask for the file as an RTF, but that’s generally a ms, not formatted for a book itself. Is that right? And of course I need to check with my publisher, since I own the copyright but don’t control all the rights. But thank you SO MUCH for the link!! I’m sending it to everyone I know, so let’s hope we can get more books for the library! (Oh, also, I didn’t see anything regarding content, but I did see mentions of students and textbooks. None of my books are exactly G-rated, is that a problem?)

    Jen and Bianca, I’m sorry. As far as I’m aware, the AG has been dealing with ebooks and ebook rights issues for some time. I don’t see any indication that they don’t know what ebooks are, or are trying to “milk a dying cow.” Perhaps I haven’t been paying proper attention?

    Kirsten, the trouble is that ebook rights and audiobook rights aren’t the same thing. They’re two different formats; it’s like novel and graphic novel rights. They might both be read but they are different formats (I know you know this but not everyone might). So until the entire industry stops treating them as such, they will remain different formats. The problem is that I have sold the rights to my books in a specific format, and if someone wants to publish or distribute them in a different format, they should pay me for that. I don’t much care if they want to start putting ebook and audiobook rights together, but I do care that they pay me for the formats in which they profit from my work.

    Again, why should Amazon be allowed to sell the added value of speech-to-text for Kindle books, but not pay me for that? They sell more Kindles, so they make more money, but I don’t. I understand the point you’re making, that I’d get paid for the ebook whether or not it was converted to speech. And it’s a good point, I’m not saying it isn’t. But right now at this moment, audio rights and print rights are two separate things; that’s the way it is. Those rights are separate in all publishing contracts, because most publishers don’t produce audiobooks or don’t produce them for all their books. They were created as separate rights.

    I have sold my publishers the right to print my books. I have not sold anyone the right to make an audiobook from it. *I* am the only person in the world at this moment who is authorized to produce audiobook versions of my novels. (Let’s not even get into the idea that I might have sold audiobook rights, and what a mess that might turn into when Amazon infringes on that company’s right to be the sole producers of my books in audio format.) Amazon is essentially stealing that right from me. And it’s all well and good for them to pay me for my Kindle version ebooks, but to me, what they’re doing is like buying a piece of used furniture from me and then expecting me to deliver it and refinish it for them too, and telling me that after they’ve paid me, and I can’t back out of the sale.

    Besides, this doesn’t *have* to constitute audiobook rights. I don’t have a problem with the creation of “Kindle rights,” for example, and Amazon kicking in a little something for the right to use the speech-to-text.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers here, at all. I just think there’s a better solution for authors and readers both than either “Give up your rights for free” or “You can’t listen to books on your Kindle.” And Amazon paying for what it’s using seems to be the most workable and sensible idea to me; wouldn’t that make everyone happy?

  26. Shannon C.
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 13:09:09

    @Anion:
    They ask for the books as .rtf files for the benefit of those volunteers who proofread them. Bookshare wants to make sure people get a copy of the book with everything in it that’s supposed to be there. RTF makes it easier for anyone who volunteers for them to do this. And I know that some publishers work with Bookshare, but I don’t know the extent of their programs, sadly.

    Also, re: content… The last book I dcownloaded from them was a collection of erotica. They do ask people to label books with adult content accordingly, and I know that of the volunteers I know who proofread books for the library, there are several who snatch up anything that looks like it might be hot for proofreading as soon as it’s available. *G*

  27. Robin
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 13:20:31

    One of the problems here, from my POV, is that the Author’s Guild has decided unilaterally that the Kindle text to speech function is a grab of audio rights, but that opinion is hardly shared universally, especially within the legal community.

    Sooooo, is the Guild advocating for authors to hold onto their rights or are they claiming rights where none exist, and is that really the best position of advocacy to take for authors? That basic question of whether rights exist here at all, IMO, is the question that must be settled first. Just because something resembles a right doesn’t mean it is one legally. And while Jane’s point about reading to her daughter might be slight hyperbole, I think it’s really important to thin beyond the particularities of the issue you’re claiming to advocate/protect. Because the best law is partially distinguishable from the worst law by how the unintended consequences play out (like in CA, where the guy who initially fought for the three strikes law is now trying to get it out of the state constitution because it’s been such a disastrous mess).

  28. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 13:41:46

    Surely audio rights are for when someone records someone else reading/performing an audio book in order to distribute it for profit? Isn’t the TTS function like reading the book out loud to your kid? It’s not made to be recorded and you still have to buy the ebook? I’m confused as to how that could be compared to audio rights. Well, I’m not–I do get where they’re coming from–but I think they’re comparing apples and oranges, rather than Mackintoshes and Granny Smiths.

  29. veinglory
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 13:51:27

    The auto-read function can read to the kid when you are not there, so it is a service provided by the publisher/vensor not a user action. Ultimately it will probably be indistinguishable from an audiobook at which point the unfairness may well be on the other foot as a license authors could once sell with then be automatically bundled in and lost with ebook rights. Currently this isn’t a pragmatic problem, but ultimately it will be if not addressed one way or the other.

    For example it might have been decided that because you can scan a paperback with a auto-page turner and word recognition program, the user gets ebook rights automatically with print. However, as Google just discovered, this is not how it works.

  30. joanne
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 13:58:49

    I’ll stay out of this discussion since I have nothing intelligent to add but I’m absolutely blown away by that quote by Markus Dohle, CEO of Bertelsmann AG’s Random House publishing group….. “But we have a lot invested in our digital technology. And e-books are still a very small business — less than 1% of revenue.” Can thay be right? Is that true? Seriously, I find that incredibly hard to believe. Where did he get that figure and when?

  31. SonomaLass
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 14:07:52

    I agree with Robin that there isn’t necessarily a “right” at stake here. The audiobook rights are for a separate piece of art, that involves sound editors, at least one performer, and so on. Permission to sell your book in another format, and extra cost of that format to pay the extra people involved? Sure.

    But if the machine (Kindle, laptop with accessibility software, whatever) is doing all of that based on the same file that allows me to read it with my eyes, then I don’t think it’s necessarily all that different than reading it aloud yourself, or having it read to you by another person. Just like whether I turn the page, or someone else, or the e-reader turns it for me, although that’s an imperfect analogy.

    @XandraG:

    if anyone wanted to pirate my stuff into an audiobook read by an XTC-addled Alan Rickman, I'll be the first illegal downloader in line!

    Wow, sign me up, too!

  32. Tasha
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 14:45:30

    Is is just me, or is this roughly akin to the WGA flipping out over closed captioning of television programs and movies?

    ETA: AFAIK they’ve never done so; I’m speaking hypothetically.

  33. Deb Kinnard
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 16:05:40

    @Joanne, that 1% statistics sounds like old numbers to me. I don’t, however, have the exact current percentage. Anybody?

  34. rebyj
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 16:51:08

    http://www.teleread.org/2009/01/23/the-rise-of-e-books-idpf-reports-e-book-sales-up-108-percent-and-heres-some-analysis/

    These were the most recent stats I found.

    If we conservatively estimate that overall trade sales for 2008 declined 3 percent, and e-books sales increased 70 percent, then wholesale e-book sales will rise to $114 million and overall trade book sales will decline to $24.21 billion. In other words, e-books will still only represent 1/2 of 1 percent of book industry sales, at least here in the US.

    If you extrapolate the 70 percent growth for five more years (and I would argue that 70 percent is a relatively conservative number), then e-books rise to $1.6 billion, and assuming a 2 percent growth rate of the overall trade book sales to $26.7 billion (generous), e-books would then represent a respectable 6 percent of sales.

  35. Seressia
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 17:14:44

    “But we have a lot invested in our digital technology. And e-books are still a very small business -‘ less than 1% of revenue.” Can thay be right? Is that true? Seriously, I find that incredibly hard to believe. Where did he get that figure and when?

    I’m sure Dohle was talking about his company’s revenue, not the publishing industry as a whole. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. And asCEO, he’d know his company’s revenue, I hope.

  36. XandraG
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 18:08:33

    Maybe it’s just me looking at it this way, but I see Text-to-Speech as an input/output device issue more than a right. My e-rights don’t specify between a user reading on a two-inch smartphone screen and a 36-inch wide plasma monitor. I’d take the stance that an “audio book” is something closer to a dramatic interpretation (by a narrator), whose medium provides some unique benefit and/or interpretation of the story not found in the other mediums–text novel, graphic novel adaptation, movie rights, foreign translations, etc. Whereas a TTS delivery is closer to a monitor for the sight-impaired.

    I wouldn’t consider a separate right for someone to want to resize my text to 64-pt Arial to read it better, and I wouldn’t consider a separate right for someone to need a read-aloud utility to translate the text to audio. Provided the utility’s primary use is an accessibility system to aid the visually impaired. My bottom line is that I don’t want to make it harder for the visually impaired to read my book, and I don’t want to make it harder for a person who’s already bought my book to read it.

    @Anion – I like the idea of “Kindle rights” – Amazon wants to take a huge hunk, and making them pony up an extra few percent for something that includes kindle audio delivery might be a way for a publisher and/or an author to recoup some of that massive grab.

  37. kirsten saell
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 18:17:41

    Anion:

    *I* am the only person in the world at this moment who is authorized to produce audiobook versions of my novels.

    But the question gets murky because they aren’t actually making it into an audiobook–they aren’t actually changing the format–they’re just getting their computer to read the text aloud for them. I don’t really see this as any different than if I had a person read the book aloud for me.

  38. Miki
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 19:07:49

    @rebyj: I’d be interested to see if that number included all print books available, versus the subset of books available digitally, or whether it’s .5-1% of those print books also available digitally.

  39. vein
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 19:32:11

    There is no authorative figure but most informed sources think ebook sales represent about 1% of book sales in total. FWIW I think that number is about right. I raise it at most cons and ask for dissenting opinions and have yet to hear one.

  40. joanne
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 19:51:07

    Thank you for that link rebyj it was fascinating reading. (and I clicked on the link to your blog and enjoyed watching the wonderfulness of books being digitalized so thanks for that, too!)

  41. DS
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 20:07:13

    Audiobook narrators (human not TTS) have followings. I fell in love with audio books because of the narrator of Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground. Scott Brick has his own web site with blog and lots of samples of his readings. My first Scott Brick was Devil in the White City. Lloyd James will always be for me the voice of Cazaril of The Curse of Chalion by Bujold. A good audio presentation is a performance, not just a TTS reading. It’s why I don’t mind paying more for an audio book because I get not just the author’s words but also the narrator’s talent.

    TTS is just the words and not the nuance.

    I have a GPS also that I can download various voices for but the voice doesn’t say all that much, e.g., “In 200 feet turn left.”

  42. Jane
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 20:14:09

    “They don't have the right to read a book out loud,”

    That’s the quote by the AG guy. He states baldly that the right to read a book out loud is a derivative audio copyright that is obviously violated every time I read aloud to my daughter. Heck, I read to a whole group of kids at a play center just the other day. There were a bunch of books there and my daughter wanted me to read one and I ended up with about ten kids listening to the story by the end. Come and get me, Disney (it was a sleeping beauty book).

    I see nothing different between the text to speech feature on the Kindle that would “entertain” one person in the vicinity of the Kindle as my reading to my daughter.

    By the time that AI is sophisticated enough to mimic a professional actor/reader, I suspect that AI would also be sophisticated enough to write the books. By that time, authors will have a whole new problem and that is being redundant.

  43. MaryK
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 01:35:28

    @DS:

    Lloyd James will always be for me the voice of Cazaril of The Curse of Chalion by Bujold. A good audio presentation is a performance, not just a TTS reading.

    Oh, yes! His interpretation made that book for me. I wouldn’t have gotten half as much out of it by reading it on my own.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I reject plenty of audiobooks that I want to listen to because I don’t like the quality of the narration. I’d never in a million years consider TTS an audiobook equivalent.

    Bundled audio rights – I shudder to think of it. Audiobooks are expensive, and I don’t want to listen to most books anyway. No way would I pay a bundled price when all I wanted was the ebook.

  44. Jeaniene Frost
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 03:03:34

    @ Joanne re- “But we have a lot invested in our digital technology. And e-books are still a very small business -‘ less than 1% of revenue.” Can thay be right? Is that true? Seriously, I find that incredibly hard to believe. Where did he get that figure and when?”

    1% is a correct number according to my last royalty statement, at least, and my books come out in multiple e-formats (Kindle, Sony, Mobi, etc).

  45. rebyj
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 08:38:21

    I'd be interested to see if that number included all print books available, versus the subset of books available digitally, or whether it's .5-1% of those print books also available digitally.

    Good question Miki! Someone more in the know than me would need to answer that. I’d like to know specifically about the % of print/ ebook in the romance genre.

    Thank you for that link rebyj it was fascinating reading. (and I clicked on the link to your blog and enjoyed watching the wonderfulness of books being digitalized so thanks for that, too!)

    Your welcome Joanne. I got the link to the video at that teleread link on a different dated entry. Thanks for checking my lil blog out.

  46. Jules Jones
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 10:49:55

    By coincidence, earlier this week we were talking about ebook sales in the sf writers’ group I frequent. I put up my numbers by way of example of successful small press epublishers, and a couple of the Baen authors gave theirs so we had an example of numbers at a New York print house that’s known for being particularly ebook-friendly (no DRM, the first hit is free, etc). One said he had about a third of his royalties (that’s royalties, not copies) from ebooks, the other said around 10%. As someone else pointed out, the guy with the high number is very popular with the Barflies, who as a group are heavily slewed towards people who like ebooks, and people who follow his non-fiction website, so he’s at the top end even for Baen. 10% is probably more typical — and that’s at Baen, which is likely to do better than anyone else in New York. I could easily believe 1% overall, given that most of New York is firmly wedded to DRM, with its accompanying format issues and high book prices.

  47. TerryS
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 11:35:14

    Sounds like a well thought out, carefully crafted business plan….NOT! It sounds more like a magician trying to refocus audience attention to deceive the viewers into believing the illusion. Are we really suppose to believe authors via the traditional publishing industry don’t have much bigger concerns? If total market share of ebooks is 1% then what percentage of them are Kindle 2 owners? Then what percentage of Kindle 2 owners would ever use the feature? Even in a growing market, this is a ridiculously small number. As the magician, why is the AG trying to refocus attention this way? And who is really is the target audience?

    BTW, like other posters here, I have a great respect for well performed/narrated audiobooks. This Kindle 2 feature does not an audiobook make and never will no matter how much technology improves.

    As for not having the right to read legitimately purchased books (in any format) out loud, whether to a child, an elderly parent or just as a companionable way to pass an evening, maybe the AG should expand his own reading to include such classics as “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451″.

  48. Robin
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 14:01:56

    Okay, here’s a question: how does the Kindle’s TTS function compare to those word processing programs that allow you to have your spoken words translated to written text on the computer? Wouldn’t that be the obverse of the TTS thing?

  49. DS
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 08:07:05

    I think it’s Harlequin which had a restriction on using TTS on their books. I don’t own any of their ebooks but I thought I remembered it being mentioned either here or Smart Bitches.

    Just googled an did find some Harlequin books where it was mentioned that TTS wasn’t available on certain books. I would like to know the reason behind this restriction?* I thought at the time that it seemed very unfriendly to readers with vision or literacy problems who I thought then (and still think) are the major users of TTS.

    @MaryK: Have definitely not bought audiobooks (or returned them to the library unfinished) because the the narrator was bad– or even just monotone. I also think a good narrator can improve a mediocre book.

    I think the AG would have a hard time actually proving that TTS is a separate right when it adds nothing to the book. I also think that they might come under fire from groups that support accessibility features.

    As for the “reading aloud” statement Jane quoted, it made me snort. Most people have a fond memory of a teacher or parent reading a favorite book aloud.

  50. Miki
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 15:32:16

    @DS: D’ya know, I always thought reading-aloud was disabled on DRM’d ebooks because the publishers were afraid people would use a program like “Naturally Speaking” to transcribe the book to a non-DRM’d text.

    Never occurred to me that they considered it in competition with the audiobook market.

  51. Anion
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 06:33:45

    @kirsten saell:

    But the question gets murky because they aren't actually making it into an audiobook-they aren't actually changing the format-they're just getting their computer to read the text aloud for them. I don't really see this as any different than if I had a person read the book aloud for me.

    Look, I’m well aware of the difference. I’m not trying to argue that at this particular moment text-to-speech violates audio rights or is equivalent to an audiobook, at all. I know it isn’t.

    I’m just trying to play Devil’s Advocate a little bit and think of all possibilities. My discussion of audio rights from which you quoted wasn’t related so much to text-to-speech as it was a sort of basic explanation of audio rights in general.

    I just don’t see why the AG’s caution is deserving of scorn and ridicule, is all. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, which is make sure that down the line writers aren’t finding themselves with rights taken away from them with no renumeration.

    I don’t see why writers or readers should have to lose in this situation. I think if Amazon has invented something that puts this technology in the hands of everyone, and not just the visually impaired, Amazon should have to pay for it, end of story. It’s not me being greedy, it’s me doing as the AG is doing and saying, “Okay, what could this technology be in ten years? Let’s take care of this problem now.”

    I can also confirm 1% ebook sales–actually just under–from my royalty statements. And mine sold better than a lot of similar books from the same house, according to the others I’ve spoken to; personally I think that’s because having started my career in ebooks I already had a following in that format.

  52. kirsten saell
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 11:33:08

    I don't see why writers or readers should have to lose in this situation. I think if Amazon has invented something that puts this technology in the hands of everyone, and not just the visually impaired, Amazon should have to pay for it, end of story.

    Adobe pdf has a read-aloud function, and you don’t have to be vision-impaired to use it. I just don’t understand why this is an issue now, with Kindle, when it wasn’t before. And if AG had no idea about Adobe’s read-aloud, they’re way behind things.

    Although I enjoy playing Devil’s advocate, too, heh, I think authors would be better served by AG letting authors know this is one thing to take into consideration before negotiating their ebooks rights–not necessarily telling them to hold off until some vague future date when the guild gets around to looking into it.

  53. JoAnn Kawell
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 07:49:22

    Great post, good comments.
    When the Authors Guild sent out email to members crowing about what a good thing they were doing for members by opposing the Kindle2 text read feature, I sent them a long reply which basically said what most people here are saying:
    They are WAY late in figuring out what to do about ebook rights, they seem clueless about what the text reader is and how it works (and that the same thing is already very widely available), they should be concentrating on how to
    help authors get the best deal in the publishing world that is emerging rather than clinging to the past.

    In my view, the Authors Guild did do a good thing for authors by keeping Google from grabbing, copying and uploading books without author or publisher permission,
    but this latest campaign is really counterproductive for authors. Unfortunately I despair of writers representative organizations ever “getting it” when it comes to new technologies.

  54. Anion
    Feb 26, 2009 @ 13:23:36

    Thought this op-ed by the AG President might interest some of you; turns out IBM has already patented a computerized voice which is apparently indistinguishable from a real human voice.

  55. Cheryl C
    Apr 06, 2009 @ 15:05:58

    by Tasha February 13th, 2009 at 2:45 pm
    Is is just me, or is this roughly akin to the WGA flipping out over closed captioning of television programs and movies?

    ETA: AFAIK they've never done so; I'm speaking hypothetically.

    I was thinking the same thing, Tasha.

    I can see both sides of this issue, but agree that there are many other programs out there (Adobe is one) that offers a “read aloud” feature similar to Kindle’s TTS. I am surprised that, with so many e-books available in .pdf format, that this issue has not been addressed previously by AG or someone else.

    My opinions on both sides of the issue have already been stated by others (probably better than I could have). So, I will offer a possible solution instead.

    In the even that Amazon (etc) did not choose to buy the audio rights to a book, a possible solution would be to limit the number or words that TTS could read at a time. It would not be a fluid read (or as fluid as TTS currently is anyway), but would still assist those that have difficulties reading the words because of a vision imparement or are not sure of pronounciation due to a language barrier. There is usually a “highlight” feature on e-book readers, so the reader could highlight the words that they wanted read aloud and click a button for it to begin.

    If TTS were only to allow a continual reading of 8-10 words at a time, it would be (in my opinion anyway) more educational than a substitute for a true audio book. Also, it would deter people from attempting to make the TTS feature a substitute for audio books because you can’t just turn it on and set it down.

    If a publisher or author did not want to allow this, then they could eliminate that feature as someone stated Harlequin has done with some of their e-books.

    I just thought I would get my 2 cents in there.

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