Something curious about the spat between the Authors’ Guild and Amazon regarding the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 – which may be based on overestimating text-to-speech — is that Amazon, as the owner of Audible, has a directly vested interest in the sales of audiobooks. A more forward-looking advocacy organization would realize that this is an excellent way of building awareness for the convenience of audiobooks, an unprecedented opportunity to cross-sell audiobooks to buyers of the electronic print edition, and an enabling alternative for titles for which there are no audiobooks, including most short-form and Web content.
All Amazon needs to implement is the equivalent of the 30-second sound sample in iTunes – not loved by consumers but an alternative to having nothing. Let’s say text-to-speech allows the consumer to have up to five pages read of a book. At that point, a dialog pops up asking the consumer if he’d like to buy the audiobook. Future Kindles should have the capability to synchronize audiobooks with their textual counterparts.
This should work pretty well on the connected, vertically integrated Kindle 2 device, but what if Amazon supports other platforms as it says it intends to do? The iPhone is certainly a prime candidate for deploying the Kindle content, and there Amazon, like all other iPhone developers, would need to send the sales to iTunes (even though it is still Audible content so Amazon benefits anyway).
The thorniest scenario is how do we keep the boon of text-to-speech for sight-impaired users in the event that there is no audiobook version available. For this, I would recommend a licensing scheme be worked out that would allow the purchase of a “spoken text” version of a book in the absence of an official audiobook (and one that could be purchased in lieu of electronic print). Regardless, it would be in the interest of the publishing industry to offer a discount on the audiobook when a consumer has already purchased the electronic print.