Amazon’s new Kindle 2 has a synthetic voice that can read e-books aloud. While described as an “experimental” feature, it has surprisingly good command of nuance and inflection and some people are voicing concerns. The Author’s Guild has had the most to say about Amazon’s new text-to-speech technology. You see, writers and publishers sell audio rights (think audio books) and those rights are not included with e-book rights.
Amazon has maintained that Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. However they have responded to concerns and modified their systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title.
Given that Amazon owns Audible, a web service dedicated to selling professionally narrated audiobooks, it would appear they are hedging their bets by promoting and selling the Kindle, playing it safe by having one foot in the attractive and proven audiobook market worth $2 Billion, and one foot in the synthetic voice market for text-to-speech.
It’s just a matter of time until AFTRA labout union catch wind of the fact they may be cut out of some of the most desired work by professional narrators. While many believe that synthesized voice poses little threat to long form narration such as audiobooks, as text-to-speech technology improves that may change.
With the demand for audiobooks skyrocketing, going from about 4,000 produced per year over the past several years, to 24,000 by 2012, Amazon stands to cash in handsomely by covering both ends of the spectrum.
That being said, companies like Toronto’s Voices.com may have an opportunity to partner-up with Amazon and book publishers. There is clear evidence of ripe market opportunity – just check out their very niche site called Audio Book Voice Talent.