One intriguing feature of Amazon's new Kindle 2, which was unveiled recently, is text-to-speech. The digital reading device is capable of reading, in a variety of synthetic voices, any text shown on the display. This has sparked a controversy in the publishing community because audiobooks have become an important revenue source, and many perceive the Kindle's new feature as undermining that business. Amazon did not plan to pay the publishers any extra money for written content consumed through text-to-speech.

Amazon, while continuing to claim that the text-to-speech feature does not violate any publisher rights, has now announced that it will allow rights' holders to block text-to-speech capability on their content sold through Amazon for the Kindle. I expect that most publishers of popular books will do so, hoping to sell the audio format as a separate product.

Reviewers of the Kindle are split on the real ability of the synthesized speech to read text in a way that listeners would accept. Audiobooks are usually read by trained actors who bring to the text a certain richness of interpretation that computer speech has not yet mastered.

Nonetheless, Kindle 2 purchasers are likely to be disappointed to find one of the newest features no longer works, much like a new car buyer would feel if the GPS system was suddenly disabled. I wonder if Amazon will offer compensation for the loss of value.


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