The New Kindle and the Audio Book Threat

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.

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Comments (7)
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  • i still think that these voice generating system has to get MUCH better to become a threat to audiobooks.
    I’ve seen a review, some ads and concluded that it’s not as good as an audiobook.
    Too eletronic and with some gaps and tone variations.
    However, this device makes e-reading so nice that audiobooks become secondary. you can take 1500 books wherever you go and read comfortably, why listen to it on your ipod when you could read it in your own rithm, with your own inside voice in amazon kindle 2?

  • Gideon says:

    It is really terrible.

    But you can also listen to audiobooks ON the Kindle. For a device without a whole lot of options they really made an effort to put it on there.

  • Dan Colman says:


    Thanks for the clarification on that. I am still new to the Kindle.


  • Liz says:

    I just talked with someone today who ALSO got her “late” Christmas present, the Kindle 2. She loves it — I’ll have to ask her about the audio book feature. I’m used to doing audio books on my now displaced Walkman (books on tape) and my iPod. I’m not sure, given MY use of these during exercise, taht the Kindle would do it for me — and DEFINITELY, the lame robotic voices would not. I appreciate a well-done audio book. The narrator makes a huge difference. Huge. That’s why I was blown away by the “audio movie” version of Resonance. (It’s a medical/end of the world kind of thriller, a la Michael Crichton.) The audio movie is a big step up from audio books — makes the latter seem pretty flat. The movies are much more like a radio drama. Very enjoyable.

    (You might be able to get Resonance on your Kindle. Certainly you can get a free audio movie track on the author’s web site.)

  • Steve says:

    While I appreciate Roy Blount Jr.’s perspective and that even tought he quality of the computer voices is bad he has to draw the line in the sand now because the voices will only get better I think he is totally wrong. This is analogous to the argument decades ago that would not allow owners of record albums to create a cassette tape of the album. I am paying for the content once (by buying the ebook, the author is paid), don’t make me pay for it a second time to change formats. Complain only if the author isn’t getting paid at all.

  • TN says:

    I hope that the next generation of eReaders “kindle” will have the feature to also sync with audible books on tape. Not an auto generated voice of the text a professional recording of the book. The first eReader to have this is the one I will buy. My free time like every ones is so limited that I rarely get a long stretch of time to read. I wish to read for as long as possible then switch to audible book on tape format that I can take with me in the car , sit on a desk or in the kitchen while I do another task but can continue listening to my book. When time allows I wish to get back to reading exactly where I left off listening. Next generation of eReaders is what I am dreaming of.
    When will this be? Since amazon owns will they be the first.

  • YouCreateIT says:

    Since Jeff Bezos and Amazon bought and launched Kindle will there be a future Kindle that marries the two applications? That is the eReader + audible book for our short multitasking on the go life we all lead. I hope it is a reality soon. It should sync back and forth from reading to listening exactly where you stopped and bookmarked your progress. I will volunteer as a. Tester. LOL Thanks for your help to spread the word for customer demand. Any idea when the next generation. Audible + eReader combination will be reality? By wedding the two products and having them sync you would keep a strong lead in the eReader market. Just a hint to let eReader, notebook manufacturers and software developers know your customers are out there. Thanks for listening, I mean reading.
    Nook, Sony eReader, Kindle , Notebook manufactures we are waiting on you.

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