Kindle 2 and synthetic speech

I was asked by several disability groups to make a statement on the Kindle 2 dispute (see here, here, here, here, and here) regarding synthetic speech. (See below for more details). This is a link to my comment for the KEI blog.

If you have thoughts about this issue, you might contact board members or the membership of the Authors Guild. Here are some names:

Roy Blount Jr.
President of The Authors Guild
31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 563-5904
Fax: (212) 564-5363
Staff E-mail:

Vice Presidents: Judy Blume
Treasurer: Peter Petre
Secretary: Pat Cummings

Other Board Members
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Susan Cheever
Susan Choi
Mary Higgins Clark
Michael Crichton
James Duffy
Jennifer Egan
Clarissa Pinkola Estès
James Gleick
Oscar Hijuelos
Daniel Hoffman
Nicholas Lemann
David Levering Lewis
John R. Macarthur
Stephen Manes
Michele Mitchell
Victor S. Navasky
Douglas Preston
Roxana Robinson
Jean Strouse
Peg Tyre
Rachel Vail
Sarah Vowell
Nicholas Weinstock
Shay Youngblood

Ex Officio Members Of The Council
Roger Angell • Robert A.Caro • Anne Edwards • Erica Jong • Robert K. Massie • Herbert Mitgang • Sidney Offit • Mary Pope Osborne • Letty Cottin Pogrebin • Nick Taylor • Scott Turow

Manon Ress’s note to A2K listserve on NYC Demo at Authors Guild on Kindle 2 issue:

A coalition of organizations representing people who cannot read print will protest the removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 at the Authors Guild headquarters in NY City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, 12 to 2:00 p.m. Join us there!

Some background: on February 9, 2009, Amazon released a new version of its e-book reade, the Kindle 2, which included text-to-speech technology.

This technology which has been used mostly by people who are blind or have print disabilities provides a “reads aloud” text by way of automated, synthetic speech.

The print-disabled community was extremely encouraged by this development, since they have long advocated that manufacturers of mainstream products make their devices fully accessible to all Americans. Other consumers who might not officially qualify as reading disabled persons were also encouraged and ready to buy books that they could also “listen to” if they needed.

However, because of pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that it will give authors and publishers the ability to
disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2.

There are 245,000 e-books currently available for the Kindle 2 and that number will continue to expand. The fact that they are not all available for print disabled persons willing to buy the books is a shame. The fact that the authors guild is falsely claiming it is a copyright violation to listen to a book is a shame.

All consumers, including the print disabled consumers, should let the authors’ guild know they are opposing the decision to make it difficult to use the Kindle the way consumers want or need.

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