Archive for May, 2009

The Kindle, the Authors Gild and the Visually impaired!

May 15, 2009

If you are either a tech freak or a book worm, it might have come across your attention about the kindle or the kindle app for the iphone. The Kindle is a small hand held device to which you can read books purchased electronically, also known as E books. The app for the iphone works in a similar way. The kindle is not quite accessible for the visually impaired community but with the inbuilt TTS [text to speech], it seemed possible that Amazon might one day make the Kindle’s menus utilise the inbuilt TTS and provide the visually impaired community with a broader range of reading materials through the smart device. The device enables users to read books purchased online and read the contents instead of buying a paper back book. This device already has the ability to read the books aloud, allowing users to drive or perform other tasks without actually looking at the device so making it a safe device to use while driving but in that, would also make the Kindle a handy tool for the visually impaired community.

Currently, in the UK, only around 10 percent of books are converted into braille and although audio books are becoming more readily available, it is still lacking in time and quantity. The last Harry Potter book was the only book in the series to be published at the same time as the print one but previously, all books take time to produce and so readers can wait longer for that much anticipated title. The RNIB have been working hard to get more books published faster but this obviously will take some time to implement successfully.

The introduction of the Kindle and Amazon’s promise
Amazon’s Kindle’s blog
would have made the Kindle the greatest accessory to a visually impaired person’s electronic book library. It would have given us the ability to read books at the same time as our sighted peers and pay the same amount for the books as everyone else does, not being penalised for the fact we are unable to read print along with everyone else.

Enter the Author’s Gild!

This organisation claims to benefit authors and protect their rights but they have decided to claim against the kindle being allowed to use TTS.
The Author’s Gild homepage

They claim that it goes against author’s and publishers copyrights to have the inbuilt TTS in the Kindle read their books. This claim, in my opinion is preposterous. They insist it is about protecting their author’s rights and suggest to Amazon or someone else to make a third party device that could be fully blind accessible while suggesting that an activation on an account would enable a visually impaired user to download all of the e-books that will have the TTS lock lifted on them to enable the V.I community to use all books on Amazon or any Kindle compatible sites. Read the Article here

But doesn’t this increasingly send up the problems of expensive technology which as a V.I community we are already subjected too? For some Visually impaired people, third party software or techology is simply unaffordable and don’t we take a risk by passing this suggested “new device” over to a third party or even to Amazon, to increase the price of the product? Sure the books may remain the same price in the long run but Amazon are quite happy to work with the kindle and attempt to get it fully accessible soon and yet the author’s gild are not happy about this still. As a writer myself, I would have no objections to sighted or none sighted to listen to my work, as long as they paid for it and to suggest that TTS was anything like a narrator reading the book is pathetic! I use TtS all of the time and even the most human like voice on the Mac [Alex] does not compete with human readers.

If anyone has bought an audio book recently, you will know the extent of damage it can cause to your pocket. On the audio website I purchase books from, most can range from £10 to £20 or even £25 and even then, not all books are available. I looked into buying the Harry Potter series on audio a few months ago and quickly decided against it when I discovered it would cost me over £200 to get the entire collection. That is seven books that I could have bought as a box set from a high street retailer for £35 in hardback. And the Author’s gild still see fit for the Kindle to be anti TTS?

Most writers just want their work to be read and if that many more visually impaired people could purchase their books online and have full access to the same books sighted people could, wouldn’t it lift sales? I mean, for them to argue the TTS is like audio and people would not buy the audio anymore is a weak and counter productive argument. I would personally buy more books if they were the prices my sighted peers could pay for them brand new and not the triple or quadruple prices of audio books. By them stating it would damage the audio market, are they not just stating that they want the visually impaired community to keep supplementing that market and again segregate visually impaired people from the mainstream markets. By introducing a separate device for the kindle would do just that and I’m no expert but I do believe it would cause the price of the Kindle to soar making more visually impaired people unable to access the books and forcing them to buy into a market that is already extortionate? Maybe I’m assuming the worst but no good has ever come from third party software in my visually impaired opinion. If a company is willing to make the changes for all of their customers, it makes sense and it seems fair. Why should Visually impaired people, or anyone who cannot buy into the mainstream market be penalised for it? The author’s gild is trying to protect publishers in my humble opinion, not writers for writers would probably make more money out of an electronic market leaving all the middle men out of it! Maybe, and I am clearly speculating, but just maybe their own asses is all they are protecting. How many writers can say they don’t want their work to be read, and it would by millions more if the kindle was able to read all of their books once the accessible menus are put in by amazon.

Let’s make the Kindle and all the books in the world, accessible to all! Please!