Robotic Nanny (Bedtime Stories Not Included)

Monday, February 16th, 2009
Amazon Kindle 2

In case you missed it, Amazon announced a new version of their Oprah approved Kindle e-book reader. One of the new features announced was the ability to have the device read aloud using text-to-speech. Pretty neat, huh?

You Don’t Have the Right

The Author’s Guild released a statement claiming that Amazon was not within their rights to do any such thing, and calling for Amazon to add a feature where authors/publishers could disable such a feature. Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer posted his feelings on the subject on his blog. One of the follow-up comments prompted a follow-up post about what people can and can’t legally do with things they “own”. For example;

You can buy a car, but there are countless regulations governing what you may do with it even though it’s your property. You can’t, for instance, drive it without a license, drive it recklessly, permanently export it to another country, drive it without insurance, allow children to drive it, park your car in my driveway, and so on.

The list got me thinking.1

The majority of items on the list can easily be used to do the illegal things mentioned and there is nothing else in place to prevent it. Those illegal acts have consequences to go along with them, and for the most part it seems this is enough.

The exception is pretty much any new technology. When new technology is involved then all consumers are criminals who can’t be trusted and there needs to be functionality crippling technological restrictions added. From where I sit the text-to-speech feature is merely a tool Amazon provides to the end-user. That end-user has to decide to use the tool, and perhaps they’ll use it to do things they don’t have a license to.

If you exclude DRM based restrictions, there’s nothing the Kindle 2 does that I can’t do with an electronic text and a desktop computer.

Death of the Audiobook Industry?

There is obviously fear that this will harm audiobook sales, and the value of audiobook rights. I just don’t see it. I can’t imagine there’s any real worry this would cannibalize the audiobook market.

I’ve played around with text-to-speech, and some of it is surprisingly good, and sure to keep getting better and better. Still I doubt the majority of folks who would happily sit through a text-to-speech reading of a book, would be likely to shell out the money for a commercially produced audiobook.

It’ll be a very long time before a computer simulation can come close to a Scott Brick or a Jonathan Davies. Not as long as it’s a passive act. Until computers can feel emotions, and be moved by what they are reading it won’t come close. And at that point what makes the act so different from an adult reading aloud to a child?

Unsolicited Advice to Amazon

The Author’s Guild responded to criticisms that they weren’t taking visually impaired users into account:

Others suggest that challenging Amazon’s use of this software challenges accessibility to the visually impaired. It doesn’t: Kindle 2 isn’t designed for such use.

I see that comment, and I see a solution. Perhaps rather than cripple the device, Amazon should work towards making the remaining functionality accessible to the visually impaired. The text-to-speech engine is already there.

Roxy RobotAnd just to be clear, I have no real interest in this feature. In fact, until the Kindle does ePub I’m not interested in it at all. I just get antsy when I see content producers so afraid of content consumers that the innovators in the content delivery space are pressured to stop innovating, and start restricting access. If this “burn the witch” mentality against innovation doesn’t stop then one day the robotic nannies may start the uprising that destroys the human race all because we wouldn’t let them read aloud.

  1. Which is the only reason I’m mentioning him specifically. I don’t agree with his take, but I’m not trying to attack Mr. Sawyer in any way. You should buy his audiobooks. []

“Brave Men Run” Web-a-Thon Tomorrow

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sovereign Summer Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tomorrow, Sunday July 13th, Matthew Wayne Selznick‘s Novel Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era is being released in a all new paperback from Swarm Press, and he’s asking everyone who can to buy the book this Sunday from Amazon.com. To promote the occasion Matthew will be streaming live video throughout the day tracking the books progress on the Amazon.com charts.

A Teen Movie / Comic Book Mash-up

Brave Men Run is the story of Nate Charters. Born different, unsure of his origins, he’s an outcast at Abbeque Valley High School, a self-proclaimed “boy freak” with few friends and low self-esteem. When the Sovereign Era dramatically dawns, Nate finds himself in a quest to discover the truth: is he more than he seems, a misfit in a miraculous and powerful new minority… or something else entirely?

All New, All Free Sovereign Era Content

Every hour on the hour from 10am Eastern until 5pm Eastern Matthew will be reading brand new short stories set in the universe of Brave Men Run by J.C. Hutchins, Mur Lafferty, Nathan Lowell, Matt Wallace, J.R. Blackwell, P.G. Holyfield, and Jared Axelrod.

You can find more information about the the web-a-thon and what Matthew hopes to achieve here. I will be there! Will you?

Amazon vs. Print-on-Demand

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Apparently Amazon is making moves to drop any POD books not printed by their own BookSurge service. I’m not sure how long this was brewing, but stories are popping up all over.

I can see how this makes sense, from a certain point of view. Asking Amazon, who is now in the POD business, to sell POD books from LuLu (for example) could be seen as similar to asking Wendy’s to sell you a Whopper.

Unintended Consequences

To me this sends a message to all other book sellers that it’s ok to not consider POD books as real products, and refuse to carry them. I can envision all the major chains having their own in-house POD setups at some point, and they’ll follow suit by refusing to carry anything “not printed here”. This will include those books printed by Amazon’s BookSurge service.

Maybe I’m missing something more obvious, but it really seems that Amazon has set back the legitimacy of a certain class of books based solely on how they were printed and bound. I’m fully aware that there’s a lot of junk out there, because with POD anyone can “publish” their own book, but at the same time there are some wonderful works that perhaps would not be available in print any other way.

As a consumer, books in this situation might as well be mythical creatures. If I like to shop at a big chain, and they tell me “We don’t have a listing for that. We can’t order it,” then that’s it. Anything more requires jumping through hoops, meanwhile there are thousands of other books I can walk home with right now. Online it’s even worse. If a book isn’t up for order at your preferred online book seller it might as well not exist at all. And to many consumers, it won’t.

A Business Opportunity?

I foresee a lot of gloom and doom while this shakes out. There’s a change it will come to nothing in the end. It’s also possible Amazon is hoping to use this to get more favorable agreements out of POD houses before letting them back in. As such I’m just speculating here.

What if things play out like I suggested earlier, with each book seller having their own POD house, and not taking books from other POD houses. Assuming that the different POD services don’t have exclusivity agreements, the best option would be to offer you book through all of them. It’s obvious. Then wherever folks are they can get your book.

Simple, right?

No, not really. Having put together one book for LuLu I know it can take a great deal of time to prep the book to look good when they print and bind it. I’m sure other services have their own pitfalls. The idea of learning them all fills me with dread. Who has time for that?

But what if a someone started up some sort of aggregated POD service, where you get them your manuscript and they go through the process of getting it up on all the POD services for you? Could such a thing work? If you’re a POD author, would you use such a thing?

I’d be interested to hear other folks thoughts, so please comment.

Links of Interest (January 31st 2008 Through February 19th 2008)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
Crime podcast novel gets HUGE boost in advertising
Video of a digital billboard advertising for Seth Harwood’s “Jack Wakes Up”
The parseInt gotcha
I’m pretty sure once you’ve been hit by this parseInt() behavior in javascript you never forget it, but if you haven’t you should learn about it now before you do.
CSS Tools: Reset CSS
Eric Meyer’s Reset style-sheet (now in its permanent home, with versions numbers). Including this should reduce browser inconsistencies, and help you not to rely on undefined default behaviors.
CSS Tools: Diagnostic CSS
Eric Meyer’s diagnostic.css (now in its permanent home). Including this stylesheet will highlight elements that are incomplete and may be degrading the user experience.
Jason Bateman Confirms “Arrested Development” Movie Talks
I cannot begin to express how much I hope this comes to pass.
Amazon acquires Audible for $300 million
This caught be by surprise. Hopefully it will remain mostly unchanged, although adding stereo support to all the stereo BBC programs they carry would be nice.

Links of Interest (July 2nd 2007 Through July 11th 2007)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
LOLTrek
Star Trek + LOLcats. You has want laugh? This be super funny.
How To Write The Great American Novel
Informative instructional film (no, not really, but it’s funny).
uncluttr
Derek Gaw’s wonderful search front end to Amazon.com (currently in alpha).
New Books, late June 2007
Locus Online’s listing of new SF/F/H books for late June 2007
Wikipedia:Lamest edit wars
This may be the best page on all of Wikipedia.
Open standards for social networking
Interesting commentary Marc Canter. from I know I wish all these things out there talked to each other better and/or supported OpenID.
jQuery 1.1.3: 800%+ Faster, still 20KB
The newest version of jQuery is available with 80+ bugfixes, increased performance, expanded selectors, and more.

Links of Interest (April 30th 2007 Through May 1st 2007)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
First of May – Joe Murphy Mix
A “Band-Aid” style version of Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May” recorded by a number of podcasters in support of The Joe Murphy Memorial Fund. Warning: Explicit Lyrics
Prototype JavaScript framework: Prototype 1.5.1 released
Release announcement for Prototype 1.5.1
Loupe.js
“[A]llows you to add a loupe (magnifier) to images on your webpages. It uses unobtrusive javascript to keep your code clean.” Interesting. I like the Xray example.
How A Small Press Author Stormed Amazon?s Charts (and beat Black Lab)
Video interview with Scott Sigler about Ancestor’s performance on Amazon, and the reaction.
Mr Potato Head: Spider-Spud
When a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker Potato, he became SPIDER SPUD!
Mr Potato Head: Optimash Prime
Potatoes in Disguise!