Since I'm seeing opposing points of view from people I respect, I figure I'll just rant a little in both directions. I meant to do a rant on how novelists with a book coming out should view bookstores, but that one has ballooned into an article. I swear I could go on about a stale cookie for seventy pages.
I'm not wedded to ink on paper. Somebody wants me to write words for a screenplay or a video game script of a comic (oh please, please, you have no idea how much I heart the idea of doing comics) or whatever, I type and hit send. That's my part, the typing and the hitting sending. Their part is that the check clears. Most of the rest is less relevant in practice, at least to a hack like me.
Rights get squabbled over when like less than a hundred dollars are involved all the time. Hint: if your business plan for writing can't handle getting swindled out of a hundred dollars every once and a while, you should be typing more or job-hunting. Things are rough out there and the publishing industry is not going to turn around any time soon.
Why is the Kindle 2 being able to do an annoying robot voice okay?
Because it's not fun enough to make audio books worthless. I love books and it took me a long time, but I've learned to love audio books. That doesn't mean I want them read to me in a freaky voice that should separate its teeth farther and try breathing once and a while. I buy (via audible mostly) over a dozen audiobooks a year. I buy from Audible even though I hate DRM because they're cheaper, convenient and much more environmentally friendly than dealing with the plethora of packaging. Who doesn't want their blind grandmother to be able to have Jane Austen read to her in a robot voice? (Not the zombie parts. I presume those are copyrighted.)
The internet, I presume, can already do the robot voice on most any text, so we're just talking a more portable version of something that already exists. As far as I can tell, there was no hassle before Amazon decided to incorporate the feature into a stand alone product. Technically, I feel like the robot voice version would cheapen plenty of books the same way that watching a movie on a handheld player is quite different than seeing it in a theatre. Finally, I wonder if some of the reaction is from the experience of owners of content putting it on the web without getting the chance to renegotiate rights. To me, it looks like some people remember how their work was used in ways that it wasn't originally planned on being used and they didn't like getting hosed that time.
Why is the Kindle 2 a problem?
Both of these sides have merit. Amazon, not unlike the Google Books experience, is a big greedy corporation that would be glad to trample on the rights of creators and publishers if they can claim ignorance and get away with it. Amazon is probably even willing to get sued for doing a bad thing if it helps them sell enough Kindle 2s. That's just good business sense on their part. All issues with capitalism aside, greed, in and of itself, is a very predictable motive. Greed can be relied on to behave a certain way. But the best argument against the Kindle 2 being able to create really bad audiobooks out of anything, especially if those can then be exported and put onto other digital players, for example, is that the voice-generating software is going to get extremely good very quickly because of the loophole.
Trust me, I don't have a puppy in this skirmish. I believe in creators getting paid as much as they can, but I figure you sign the contract for the money and the rest of it is real tough if it's you against Amazon. My frame of reference isn't from the vantage point where you tell Jeff Bezos that he's going to here from your lawyers. Small presses are either going to have to play the game or pull their content. The worst situation will be where a small press has managed to sell the audio rights to a larger conglom for good money and now the conglom is going to tell the small press that they can't sell the book version on Amazon because Amazon isn't playing fair with the audio rights.
To me, that seems to be the likely hosing. I believe that spreading the word about work in almost any way possible helps sell the tactile book, at least for now. Going town-to-town reading the book and posting the readings on Youtube is good advertising, not the generation of a free competing product, in my view. But these things should be the choice of the owner of the content, at least in the situation of a small press getting slamdanced by a conglom who bought their audio rights and Amazon who is just taking a stand and saying that the voice is too crappy to count.
Because that seems to be Amazon's argument and that strikes me as stupid. If I recorded some audio books of Caitlin R. Kiernan or Nick Mamatas or Brian Evenson (which I would love to do and I have a great voice and worked in radio for many years and such) and then I started selling the recordings, that would be a form of pirating unless the stories were in creative commons or something. I know Kelly Link has released stories out into the wild and allowed others to record them. But even the ones in creative commons would start to balk when you packaged them and sold them for a profit.
So what am I babbling about?
The technology will get really good very quickly if this takes off. The voice that comes out of the Kindle 2.1 or 2.2 will blur the line and the Kindle 3 will sound good enough that most people won't care enough about Maggie Gyllenhaal's voice to buy her version of The Bell Jar anymore. To me, that seems obvious, especially since Amazon's argument appears to be that they're off the hook because the voice is so lousy. Am I against voice to speech software? Not at all. Do I think that the whole negotiating for rights concept is in need of an overhaul because the lines of fair use should be blurred and then redrawn? Probably. But, trying to look at it from both sides, I feel like Amazon's argument needs to be fine-tuned before it sounds like they're playing fair. A different argument might not sound like the big drooling greed of future exploitation.