It took until February 26, but I finally got my backordered x-mas present – the Kindle 2 (check it out here). There’s a lot to like about it. It’s thin & light. The screen is very readable. It holds a ton of books (1500). It downloaded War & Peace in a matter of seconds. The battery life is long. And as for the other good stuff, you can read Walter Mossberg’s review in The Wall Street Journal.
But nothing is perfect, and I’m underwhelmed by the Kindle’s new text-to-audio functionality, which theoretically turns any book into an instant audio book. The computerized voice is rather painful to listen to. The rhythms and intonations are off. The subtleties of the human voice just aren’t there. I doubt that this functionality will get much use. But it is not stopping the Authors Guild from complaining.
Earlier this week, Roy Blount Jr., the Guild’s president, wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes (“The Kindle Swindle”) questioning the legality of the new feature, and complaining that it deprives authors of revenue from audio book rights. Perhaps some day, when this technology dramatically improves, Blount may have a point. But, for now, the Kindle doesn’t plausibly pose much threat to commercially-sold audio books. Indeed, you only need to remember that Amazon bought Audible, the largest provider of commercial audio books in the US, and has already integrated Audible into the Kindle. (Thanks Gideon for pointing that out.) Is Amazon going to let text-to-voice undermine its Audible investment? Not a chance. In the meantime, I should note that you can test out Audible’s service and download two free audio books along the way. Not a bad deal.