Monday, March 02, 2009

The Kindle 2: The Good and the Bad

Does Amazon realize what it makes possible for those who struggle with print access? Apparently not.

Too bad, because the Kindle 2 truly is a "revolutionary wireless reading device."

First, the bad news: Amazon has caved to the Author's Guild and backed away from the Text-to-Speech feature available in the newest Kindle. According to the NY Times, Amazon has released this statement, bowing to pressure, partially excerpted here:
Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rights holders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.
Many of us working in the AT field were thrilled about the possibilities with this device for those we work with or know who struggle with print access. Since it is the publisher's decision to allow TTS, we ask that all publishers recognize the service that the feature offers and remove any restrictions to TTS. People who do not need the feature will find the computerized voice challenging to follow and will not use it. It is in your commercial interest to leave TTS enabled.

Don't believe me? Check out what Tim O'Brien, a blind photographer has to say in his post entitled, "One Small Step for Amazon, One Giant Leap Backwards for Access."

Now the good news: Read this review posted on the Amazon site from a 29 year old man who is quadriplegic. He describes how the Kindle 2 has restored his ability to read books independently. Ben Hobson's concluding comments follow:
If I knew the e-mail address for Jeff Bezos I would happily send him this review that I will also be posting in the forums so he would personally know that he has truly changed one man's life for the better, that this device for some of us will not just be incredibly convenient, but that it will be life altering.

I can offer no higher praise so with that in my review ends. Thank you...... thank you Kindle team.
Now that is a ringing endorsement! Wouldn't it be wonderful if those with vision impairments and reading disabilities were also able to benefit from this tool that potentially removes barriers to access?

Please, publishers, do the right thing and leave the Kindle 2's Text-to-Speech enabled!

Thanks to Sam Sennott's blog post which alerted me to the Kindle TTS decision.


Jessica said...

Wil Wheaton, the author, and some of his friends are fine with Text-to-Speech being enabled.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bring me and my thoughts into your blog. The Kindle, despite Amazon, is becoming an important accessible tech. There is a petition going on to ask Amazon to make the Kindle more universally accessible (see the Petition post on my blog).