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Kindle 2 Text-To-Speech

OK, so the Kindle 2 has this feature where a robo-voice will read your book to you.

The Author’s Guild is up in arms because, generally, authors sell the audio-book rights for a fee that goes some way to making up for the pitiful amount most authors are payed in advances and royalties (they are not all JK Rowling). It’s easy to mock the Author’s Guild for this, because the robo voice is, currently, so inadequate especially compared with a talented voice actor.

I feel some sympathy for the Guild, until I remember how stupid they’re being by fighting this.

Jamais Cascio has a really great article on the topic, which sums up the situation in a way that had me nodding vigorously :

The reason that [The Authors’ Guild’s] Blount’s wrong is that he’s just trying to hold back the tide, fighting a battle that was lost long ago. The reason that the 21st century digital writers [who mock the robovoice] are wrong is that they’ve forgotten the Space Invaders rule: Aim at where your target will be, not at where it is.

(thanks to WWDN:In Exile for this link)

He goes on to make some very realistic proposals about where the technology might go that would realise the Authors’ Guild’s fears. And then he points out that it doesn’t matter. You can fight it all you like (the record industry did), it’s going to happen and you should, instead, be expending your energy on figuring out a way to work with the approaching technology.

I think we are a very, very long way from the technology ever truly replacing a great reading. But quite apart from that, the fact remains that most people don’t listen to audio books. And why? Because they are phenomenally expensive.

Let’s look at the New York Times bestsellers list: James Patterson’s latest novel is up there. In hardback its list price is $27.99. The audio book is $39.99! For a novel. For a novel that will, in a few months come out in paperback and be sold at Walmart for under $10.

Add to that, a lot of audio books are read by mediocre readers.

But all is not lost.

The Author’s Guild should consider that as the text-to-speech technology advances, it might just be that it gets people MORE used to listening to their books, and increases demand for high quality audio books. ( I, for one, will never be able to resist hearing my favourite authors read their own works — well, those that are good at it. Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams spring to mind).

Think of wine-drinkers. How many people would risk a day’s pay on an expensive bottle of wine the first time they drink it? Precious few. But offer them a tasty $6 bottle and you let them edge their way into the market. They’ll keep drinking $6 bottles of wine or they’ll work their way up to Dom Perignon, or stay somewhere in the middle. But they’re drinking wine and taking it to other people’s houses and now they are in your wine-making world where you, as a wine-maker, can reach them.

I love my Kindle, and I understand that it might eventually put some mediocre actors out of business. And it might decrease sales for some audio books (mostly in non-fiction, according to my personal crystal ball). And I love the fact that desktop publishing and digital printing has made it faster, easier and cheaper to publish books, even though I understand that all the make-up men at the publishers have been out of their jobs for 20 years.

But yesterday I spend $18 on a pack of six greetings cards that were hand-fed in to a vintage letterpress machine by a boutique printing firm. And I’m really, really excited about seeing them (and touching them) when they arrive.

There will always be a market for a high quality product, as long as that product is relevant. And when it’s not? Well, telegraph operators are pretty much out of luck these days, and I’m not sure that any amount of lawsuits is going to do them any good.


These are two very good posts from the trenches: Neil Gaiman has a conversation with his agent, and the agent discovers she might have some more thinking to do.)

Wil Wheaton does a side-by-side comparison: reading from his latest book “Sunken Treasure” and allowing the Text-To-Speech technology to do it too. For a true comparnison, here is my Kindle 2 reading the same passage (recorded with a microphone, so you can hear the speaker quality too!)

(On a related note, Wil recently released this book in print and then offered a PDF download on the ‘please don’t be a jerk and forward it to all your friends’ license. Sales skyrocketed, but every time the digital download threatened to outpace the print book, he saw a jump in print sales too. His conclusion was that people were reading the PDF, then deciding they wanted a nice hard copy. This matches Neil Gaiman’s experience giving away ‘American Gods’.)

Update: Neil Gaiman has just posted a reminder about Lenny Henry’s audiobook version of Anansi Boys, which I love. It adds so much that I can’t imagine ever reading the printed book. It adds so much that it should kill this argument stone dead. Seriously. Have a listen…

Calibre eBook Management Software

Oo, I’ve been using Mobipocket to convert my ebooks, but I’ve just discovered Calibre and I think I love it.

It is a little program that helps you manage your ebook library, much the way programs like MusicMatch Jukebox (used to) and iTunes (allegedly) help you organize your music.

It converts files to the right format for your reader (with you in control at all times), it has a nice Graphical User Interface (GUI), and it is stripped down, non-bloaty (I’m looking at you, iTunes) and seems to work really well.

Adding Books From My Library | Plugging In Your Reader | Other Thoughts

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Create Your Own Kindle eBooks

If you’re lucky enough to have a Kindle (or one of the new Kindle 2s that come out tomorrow), there is no need to go spending good money to put your own content on there.

If you have PDFs, HTML docs, word processor documents that you’d like to carry around on your Kindle, you can either pay 10c a doc to have Amazon convert and email them to your Kindle OR you can use this handy, free method.

[UPDATE 1/3/12 – Amazon has announced the latest Kindle format will move away from the Mobi format. Find out more at the Amazon Digital Publishing site]

Download the free Mobipocket eBook Creator software. Install it and fire it up. (Update 1: Txvoodoo, in the comments, suggests downloading the Publisher version rather than the Home Version. That’s the one I used. It gives you more options, and of course a little more complexity, but it’s still simple to use. Update 2: Just discovered  calibre for ebook conversion and library management. I like it. Read my thoughts on Calibre).


Select the file type of your original document (Word, PDF etc.) from the top right group [“Import File Type”].

Browse to the file on your computer, then click on ‘Import’,


Mobipocket imports the file but you’re not quite done yet.


After importing, you should arrive at a screen like this:


Your publication’s title appears in the main pane. In the left sidebar are links to things you can change about the ebook: you can add a cover image, table of contents, and metadata (that is, information that is not printed in the book, but will show up in libraries and on readers, such as publisher, author, publication date, etc). You should modify as much or as little as this as you need. If yours is a document for your own use, and this is your first time through,  just make sure it has the right title and author in the ‘metadata’ settings and move on.


On the same screen as Step 3, click on “Build” in the top tool bar. The program will  give you this screen:


You can choose more or less compression and you can choose to encrypt or password protect your book if you want. First timers/Personal users: just use the default settings and click “build”.


All going well, you should end up at a screen like this.


Make sure “Open folder containing eBook” is selected and click “OK”.

In that folder you’ll find various versions of the file. The one you need for the Kindle is the one with the PRC extension.

Make note of where this folder is (so you can find it again), plug in your Kindle and drag the PRC file from this folder over to the ‘documents’ folder on your Kindle.


I’ve found some odd formatting issues occasionally– page breaks not observed, justifications changed — but it’s nothing that bothers me as a casual user. If I was publishing for profit I’d have to figure out the optimal settings, and maybe I will some day. For now, though, I’m just happily converting, dragging and reading.

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