It appears Amazon is taking a page from the realpolitik school of business to insure the future for its Kindle e-reader product by agreeing to turn-off a text-to-speech converter featured in the new Kindle 2 e-reader. (We blogged about the issue here when it first surfaced.)
The decision to give individual publishers control over the text-to-speech feature is sure to be viewed by some as capitulation, others as a clear-eyed business decision that will maintain a working relationship with publishers and authors.
I personally believe Amazon’s decision is akin to keeping the training wheels on the kid’s bicycle a tad too long – with publishers and authors the training wheels are either technical protection measures like encrypted DRM or the ability to dictate features-functionality on given devices. The dispute comes down to copyright specifics such as whether the text-to-speech feature creates a “derivative work” and a copy. (Amazon, as noted in the linked story that they believe the feature did not create a copy or a derivative work.)
Yet if I’m working at Amazon on this project (a scenario I’m sure would make Jeff Bezos shudder), I’d be thinking “Is the text-to-speech feature the kind of transformative function that is likely to be a make or break decision for a consumer?” Probably not.
In the end, it’s what the market decides. Some publishers will continue to let their works be “read” by the Kindle’s text-to-speech technology, so Amazon is likely to have some interesting market data to share with publishers in the coming months.
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