Daily question: Pay to read aloud books?

If cleaning up existing urban dirt by removing it artistically can be considered a crime, why not reading aloud…books?

This from the Wall Street Journal coverage of the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle 2 yesterday:

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won’t confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.

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Five years ago, Aiken had also objected to Amazon’s book search:

The online retailer Amazon.com has introduced a feature that lets users search for specific words or phrases in a database of the texts of 120,000 books, drawing skepticism from an authors’ group.

The feature, called Search Inside the Book, lets anyone see a few pages of each book in which the phrase appears. Registered users can see up to 20 pages of a book at a time.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, a writers’ trade group, regarded the practice as dubious. He said that publishers did not have the right to make the contents of books available without the authors’ permission. ”We find it a matter of serious concern,” Mr. Aiken said.

In 2002, Aiken had asked Author Guild members to “de-link” from Amazon:

Angered at Amazon.com for offering used editions of current books, the Authors Guild is urging members to remove links on their Web sites to the online retailer.

“Amazon’s practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers,” the Guild said in a statement Tuesday.

“We believe it is in our members’ best interests to de-link their Web sites from Amazon. There’s no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Examples abound. But Paul Aiken is a lawyer. He no doubt thinks he’s doing the job he’s paid to do.

Does the Guild need a lawyer or a businessman?

UPDATE: Amazon, itself owner of Audible and Brilliance audiobooks, caved in to allow publishers to decide if the read-aloud feature will be available on Kindle for each book.

7 thoughts on “Daily question: Pay to read aloud books?

  1. Richard Stacpoole: “it is too much risk for established companies to try”

    Certainly. Too much “risk” within the confines of their current business model. It’s a mixture of inability that begets unwillingness in a feedback loop. What’s often ignored, however, is the opportunity cost of not taking those risks. Witness the music, video, publishing and newspaper industries in the digital realm. No pain, no future.

    “the pirate flag”

    If you recall, even at the early stages of Apple, the Macintosh group had to (literally) fly the pirate flag to sustain the development effort. It’s thus an amazing case study to see (again) Apple at the height of its most lucrative product cycle to kill off the iPod mini to replace with the iPod nano.

    Or even to eschew what then must have looked like the natural thing to do to extend the iPod into the cellphone market and go with the harder task of retooling Mac OS X as mobile device driver for the new thing called the iPhone.

    Or start the Apple Store chain when virtually everyone said it was a dumb thing to do for Apple.

    But Apple is pretty unique and, as you say, the odds of these kinds of contrarian initiatives happening inside large organizations is extremely low.

  2. Kontra: “By the comparison of ‘lawyer vs. businessman’ I meant to underline the difference between quibbling over an ever-shrinking pie (legal threats) vs. enlarging it (new business models).”

    Fair enough, and a reasonable distinction to draw. When I read businessman I immediately thought MBA, which I think means Minimising Business Acumen. I still think my point stands that it needs to be someone who thoroughly understands the business. I can also see your point that it must be someone who is not rigid in their thoughts and can see new potentials.

    It is a pity that the legal barriers to entry in publishing are so high. In the IT world a startup would form, attract venture capital and try a new model. It would either sink or swim. With the current rigid restrictions of rights and a couple of centuries of doing it this way it is too much risk for established companies to try. A major publishing house needs to make a separate office and fly the pirate flag.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Richard Stacpoole: “I would say they need neither a lawyer, a marketer or a businessman but instead a person who understands the industry and can relate to what other industries have learnt.”

    By the comparison of ‘lawyer vs. businessman’ I meant to underline the difference between quibbling over an ever-shrinking pie (legal threats) vs. enlarging it (new business models). Instead of declaring, “They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” accepting common behavior patterns and asking themselves, “OK, that’s what people want, so how can we make it easier for them to consume it in larger quantities so that we at least have the possibility of making it a business?”

    It’s often more likely for businessmen to think in the latter vein than lawyers (whose immediate tendency is to either sue or negotiate over static models).

  4. The ability to search inside books, check out the table of contents and get a feel for whether or not a particular book is something that I want to buy has likely resulted in my purchasing more books.

    As far as selling used books on Amazon goes…why should Amazon remove themselves from the used book market and let eBay make all the money? I would say that the only time I buy a used book on Amazon is when it isn’t available from Amazon. Should used book stores all be shut down as well?

    This Aiken fellow sounds like he just moved over from the RIAA. The music industry still hasn’t grasped that the paradigm has shifted…the Authors Guild needs somebody with more vision for the future and how the market for writing is changing.

  5. The Authors Guild seem stuck in the past and probably needs a visionary leader more than it needs a businessman or a lawyer. As a writer myself, I would think reaching out to *aspiring* authors and authors with smaller pay-checks might be a good first move.

    Rather than defending the rights of wealthy “writers” of the “10 steps to a … ” variety to a gigantic payday, they could you know, … defend writers and writing in general?

  6. If mistakes are repeated first as tragedy and second as comedy what do you call the eighth repeat?

    I would say they need neither a lawyer, a marketer or a businessman but instead a person who understands the industry and can relate to what other industries have learnt. The book (the format) is dead, get over it.

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