Amazon cave: Publishers can disable Kindle 2 text-to-speech

After incurring the wrath of the seemingly ever-furious Authors' Guild, Amazon have backtracked on the Kindle 2's text-to-speech functionality by giving publishers, not users, the right to decide whether an ebook is read out loud or not.  While still maintaining that the feature is legal, Amazon suggest that rightsholders will "be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat."

Amazon are calling the decision one of "commercial interest" for publishers, and expect most to allow TTS.  It's presumably up to the publishers and authors to negotiate individual rights for each text available.

For the end-user, that means their ability to select text-to-speech (which Amazon are now referring to as an "experimental" feature) will depend on whether the publisher has permitted that aspect of the Kindle 2's ability.  It seems unlikely that Amazon or publishers will be able to charge higher prices for the versions with TTS allowed, as that could be construed as selling an audiobook copy. 

Press Release:

Statement from Regarding Kindle 2's Experimental Text-to-Speech Feature

SEATTLE, Feb 27, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Customers tell us that with Kindle, they read more, and buy more books. We are passionate about bringing the benefits of modern technology to long-form reading.