It is serendipitous that I became aware of the National Federation of the Blind’s complaints against Kindle just days after deciding to make my novels more accessible to visually impaired readers. NFB is filing a lawsuit claiming that Kindle’s lack of a voice menu makes the device impossible for blind people to use. Several universities are supporting NFB by boycotting the product as a replacement for text books until Kindle makes the e-reader more accessible to the visually impaired. Read more →
Two reader-forum discussions highlight how author protectionism can go too far.
The first being the Kindle 2 and its text-to-speech feature that allows users to have the book read to them in that robotic way only a machine can do. The Writers Guild and other author groups complained loudly about this feature, claiming Amazon was essentially producing audio books, which it had no right to do. So Amazon has backed down and only those books with publishers’ permission will be available in this format.
Writers gain nothing from this. The idea that they’re losing a royalty from a hypothetical audio book sale is ludicrous. No one in his/her right mind would buy and listen to a text-to-speech version of a book if a professionally read audio book was available for purchase. Calling these things equal products is like saying a hard-boiled egg is the same as a slice of quiche.
Who loses are the blind people, and perhaps other handicapped individuals, who might have listened to a book on Kindle because an audio version was not available. And if they enjoyed that author’s work, they might have purchased one of his/her audio books in the future when they became available. Or bought another of the author’s Kindle books. Or recommended the author to their book club or their large book-loving family. Limiting access to a novel from a paying customer makes no sense. As I said, a shot to one’s own foot.
The second writer-protectionism discussion is equally short-sighted. Some authors complain about readers purchasing used books and thus not supporting authors with royalties. How can you hope to stop this? By producing books that self-destruct when the final page is read? And why make readers feel guilty about buying your book?
Having a book in circulation, moving from reader to reader, is better than not having a book in circulation. Every time someone reads an author’s work and likes it, they become future buyers and great word-of-mouth marketers for the author. Many readers try out new authors by getting their books from the library or buying an inexpensive used version. Once they become a fan, they often support the author by purchasing his/her new books.
I know many authors will disagree with this position, but my feeling is that a little flexibility and generosity can go a long way.