Author’s Guild Goes After Kindle

    February 25, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

Not everybody’s thrilled with Kindle 2, namely Roy Blount, Jr., author and president of the Author’s Guild. The last time we heard from the Author’s Guild, they were mighty upset about Google scanning and indexing library books. This time the objection is over the text-to-speech function Amazon included, which reads the downloaded book aloud.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times entitled “The Kindle Swindle?” Blount bemoans “all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors.” Critics have often argued that new technology actually provides more opportunities to get paid, if you know how to use it.
Amazon's Kindle 2
But this isn’t about that. It’s about Kindle’s potential to disrupt an enormous market that benefits authors. From the op-ed:

“…whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.”

Blount handily shoots down accusations he is trying to deny parents (or anybody) from reading aloud. The issue is that as computers get better at reading and producing human-like sounds from text—assuming Kindle comes anywhere near replacing books at all—then a very important part of an author’s income could be lost.

Writers aren’t like musicians, who can make tremendous amounts of money selling concert tickets and memorabilia. When’s the last time you saw a t-shirt that read Nabokov: Don’t Stand So Close To Me Tour ’62? Though authors do travel around the country and read parts of their work, they’re usually just happy people showed up to hear it for free—and, one imagines, no undergarments are tossed to the podium.

If the Author’s Guild’s litigious past is any indication, unless Amazon settles the issue, this could end up getting ugly in court. And where Google might have, if they had dared take the issue to court, succeed in defending its right to index, Amazon may not have the same fair use legs to stand on.