Ouch! Text to speech is also AWOL from THIS year’s Paperwhite from Amazon

kindle paperwhite 2013Drat! The newest Kindle Paperwhite E Ink reader from Amazon is still missing text to speech—among the very features Jeff Bezos touted when he unveiled the second Kindle in 2009. Doubt me? Just look at the Paperwhite users guide and see what’s AWOL.

Click here for a better view, with a list of not-overlooked improvements in the newer Paperwhite model. It’s to start shipping Sept. 30. Like the first Paperwhite, the basic version will sell for $119 and up, and supposedly the newer PWs will offer “higher contrast” between text and background.

I found last year’s Paperwhite to be still somewhat lacking in contrast despite a noticeable improvement over earlier models. On the positive, the just-added page flip feature looks intriguing, the touchscreen is supposedly more responsive, and page turning is said to go much faster.

I myself still miss the old mechanical page-turners (maybe the new Paperwhite will change my mind in that respect). But it’s the lack of TTS that most peeves me even though, yes, I’ve ordered one to keep up with Amazon’s E Ink technology, despite my general preference for tablets.

Why didn’t Bezos and friends listen when more than a few TTS stalwarts spoke up against the lack of a read-to-me feature in last year’s Paperwhite? What about people with reading disabilities? Or joggers, treadmill regulars and other exercisers for whom TTS is a safer way to go? (I myself am into treading big time.)

Also, what about commuters who’d like to hear a good book on the way home from work? I realize that most customers aren’t as disappointed as I am. But maybe they’d change their minds if they actually tried TTS technology; the voices are far more humanlike than before—one more reason for Bezos not to mute the Paperwhite.

The supposed solution for neglected TTS fans last year was the Kindle Keyboard, but then Bezos has dropped that model; at least I don’t see Amazon selling new ones. I suspect that the wishes of his marketers prevailed over those of his customers, regardless of all the publicity we’ve read about his customer-centric ways.

Very possibly he and his crew are keen on sending people in the direction of the more expensive Kindle Fires and also encouraging them to buy audio books from Amazon’s Audible division, as well as purchase “enhanced” versions of Fire e-books with add-on audio from human narrators. TTS chips would have cost maybe two dollars. Even just a headphone jack, without a speaker, would have been better than nothing—if need be, even an extra-slim one that required an adapter to use with a regular headphone.

If nothing else, Amazon could boost its revenue by offering a TTS-capable Paperwhite at a higher price, with optional voices available, such as the British-accented “Amy,” one of the glories of the Ivona TTS company, which Amazon now owns. Is that idea so difficult to grasp, Bezos? I’d be willing to pay as much as $30 or $35 more, so you wouldn’t weep quite so loudly over my failure to buy audiobooks, and I’m guessing that many TTS stalwarts would feel the same way. Simply put, not just in human terms but also in business terms, it’s illogical to diss loyal customers who can’t imagine life without TTS.

Given the heavy use of Kindles by public library users, I hope librarians will speak up. Needless to say, the muting of the Paperwhite is one of many reasons librarians should work toward their own ecosystem rather than trusting vendors like Amazon. I love Amazon’s better side and I’m a huge fan of the company in general, despite my concerns in the TTS area and some others such as treatment of workers.

Ideally Bezos and his people will see the disconnect between his famous customer-centricism and the muting of the Paperwhite and wise up in 2014 when it’s Paperwhite time again.

This post originally appeared on LibraryCity.org, the Creative Commons-licensed blog of TeleRead founder David Rothman.

6 Comments on Ouch! Text to speech is also AWOL from THIS year’s Paperwhite from Amazon

  1. Why not just get another reader, if you desire TTS so badly? PocketBook’s Touch Lux comes to mind.

  2. Could this be an intellectual property thing? I seem to recall that here in the Netherlands quite a few authors got their panties in a tangle when they found out about TTS, as this would produce audio versions of their writings without them getting residuals.

  3. @Nume: Alas, many and perhaps most of Amazon’s books use proprietary DRM, available only for Amazon machines, and U.S. law is generally hostile toward the idea of consumers decrypting “protected” books even for fair use. Lots of e-book-hip Americans do it anyway, as TDR fans know, but that doesn’t remove the basic legal problem.

    @Johnny: The thinking of content-providers varies on TTS and related matters. To Amazon’s credit, the company lets writers and publishers not use DRM. My publisher and I truly hate it for retail use. I don’t want technical, commercial or legal restrictions on fair use enjoyment of my novel as text or sound. Many other small-press writers and publishers would probably feel the same way. If my readers buy Paperwhites, they deserve to be able to hear the book. Yes, they could use other machines, but the Paperwhite is now the flagship e-reader at Amazon. As for income, I exclusively own the audio rights and would happily sell them to a company with a good human narrator who could add value. He or she could also interview me. Simply put, TTS and thoughtfully done audio books can coexist.

  4. Very few users use the text-to-speech users and it’s a way of cutting costs. Bad news if you are a minority. Monopolies & corporations = less choice.

  5. @Iaminvincible: I agree with you about overgrown corporations! But as I noted, Amazon could offer a TTS-capable PW at a higher price to those who valued the feature. If Jeff won’t, this is powerful evidence of the need for corrective regulations or laws. Also, perhaps the TTS market could be bigger than you think. Maybe if Amazon didn’t own Audible, it would try harder to develop it.

  6. I miss TTS as well, in fact I bought a 2nd KK last year when the first PW came out with no audio capabilities. And as for Amazon owning Audible, I am a big Audible customer and being able to listen to an Audible audiobook on my Kindle is also important to me.

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