Authors Guild, Roy Blount Jr. still fighting against robo-speech

Infingement. That’s what Blount called Amazon’s text-to-speech feature.

Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild, wrote an op-ed in the NYT today about the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature. Heavens to Betsy – we’re still talking about this?

I’m a writer. I’m writing a book. I want lots of sales and money. But I understand that technology is moving far faster than Blount and his buddies care to accept. The text-to-speech function on the Kindle 2 is just one of the features that will be included in an ebook reader from now until the end of time – it will never make sense not to embed one in the future. It doesn’t infringe on audiobook sales unless you’re crazy and dedicated enough to record the Kindle reading an entire book and then copy that MP3 file onto an iPod. At that point you can theoretically say you’re creating a homebrew audio book.

This is a slippery slope that doesn’t need traversing. What really needs to change are contracts in regards to electronic editions as well as a plan to slow the decline in reading in general. Rather than finding high-profile windmills to tilt, the Guild needs to assist in the publishing process by perhaps offering more than their stated services:

Members of the Authors Guild receive free book contract reviews from experienced legal staff, discounted health insurance rates in some states, low-cost website services including website-building, e-mail, and domain name registration, access to our free Back in Print service, our quarterly print Bulletin, and invitations to panels and programs throughout the year.

Website services? Insurance? If you’re a published author with any sense, your have those things already. If not, you have a position at a university or a day job. Otherwise you’re not a published author. *ducks*

Most interestingly, however, they offer a Back-in-Print service that essentially mirrors, in dead-tree form, what they just sued Google for doing, albeit with “the little guy” in mind. Their main point is trying to get authors with out of print books and whose rights haven’t lapsed a little cash i.e $2.99 or so for online access to books. But Google’s book search is about the long tail, not about books sold in the past few years. No one will get revenue on older books except Google.

This organization fights for authors rights without understanding technology. Google will give them all sorts of concessions because Google knows that offering $2.99 for Ida Franklin’s 1977 tome My Husband Cheated on Me So I Wrote Poetry from The Midwood Community College Press of Midwood, Illinois, print run 1,000, isn’t going to sell copy one and is a wash. Again, I wants to get paid, but I know that I’ll get paid through the sale of physical books for a few months and then through the sale of ebooks for eternity or until I die. Maybe I’ll record an audiobook and maybe someone will listen to my book on the Kindle but what matters here is convincing the world to read the book, not figuring out barriers to fair use.