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.

by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (7)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.