Her face fell. Her eyesight isn’t what it used to be and she won’t be able to “read” my work except by listening, and she won’t be able to do that unless something happens that is entirely out of my hands. Perhaps one or both will end up as audiobooks, but I don’t know when.
My friend’s mother looks fabulous. I can’t believe she is 95. But there’s no point in pretending that the passage of time is immaterial. If she is to participate in my success the way we both would like, it needs to happen soon.
Just a few days after the party, my mood brightened considerably. The Kindle 2 (Amazon’s e-reader) had just come out with an experimental read-to-me feature. I listened to a couple of pages of THE FOUR SEASONS presented by a robot voice and was, by turns, pleased with how acceptable some of it sounded and cringing at how utterly awful it was in others. The voice wasn’t an interpretation by an actor or another skilled reader, but it was saying the words on the page nonetheless.
I got in touch with my friend right away. Did she know that any book that could be downloaded to the Kindle 2 could be read aloud? Not just THE FOUR SEASONS, but pretty much any book her mother might want to read? It felt as if the heavens were opening!
But where I had pictured blue sky, the heavens that opened did so only to pour down rain. The Authors Guild (of which I am a member) launched a strong campaign objecting to what they believed was copyright infringement. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me the Kindle application is more like asking someone to read something to you because the print is too small and you’ve misplaced your glasses. There’s no permanent copy, and the work is not being transformed into a distinct and tangible work in another medium. It’s just an alternative way of accessing a legitimately purchased e-text without using the eyes.
My guess is that the Author’s Guild is more concerned that a read-to-me feature could be improved upon to the point where it might actually rival the experience of an audiobook. This is a legitimate concern, and I’m glad they have it. But it’s my observation that generally people don’t own the same title in more than one medium, and if this is true, people would make the choice at the outset. A vision-impaired person would buy the audiobook. Others might buy either, depending on their preference, but they’re unlikely to buy both. The author gets one sale either way. For authors whose books aren’t available as audiobooks (most aren’t), the question I have is whether they would prefer non-reading consumers not to have access to their work at all. I suspect most will realize the read-to-me feature is likely to increase their sales because people who have difficulty reading will be a new source of customers.
Just a few days ago, Amazon announced that that authors with books on Kindle would be given the opportunity to opt in or out. Sounds as if they’re listening to authors, and that’s always good. I can’t wait to say yes to the robot voice. A beautiful and beloved friend is waiting.