I’ve never done this before so bear with me while I figure out exactly what I want to say. I’m sure I have written bad blog entries before (this is where you say “No! Absolutely not! This was your first! Well, not that it was bad really, just not up to your usual standards. What were we talking about again?“), but I’m not especially happy with parts of the one I wrote on Thursday night. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind on how silly the NY Times article was, but my article focused on the fact that the technology to read the books is simply not there yet (as Wil Wheaton’s test proved beyond any doubt). But upon reflection, I think I missed at least some of the point of Mr. Blount’s article, so I’m going to post a semi-rebuttal to my own article.
The fact that the technology isn’t there yet isn’t really the point. I’m sure Mr. Blount would acknowledge that right now, a computer reading a book is not the same thing as a human reading it, and that right now the Kindle’s TTS (text-to-speech) feature is not a huge threat to the audio book industry. Not to put words in Mr. Blount’s mouth, but I think his issue is that in five or ten years, the technology may have advanced enough that it will be much harder to distinguish between a computer-read book and a human-read book. As hard as that is to believe, it could certainly be yet another in the long list of things that we take for granted today that would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago. If that happens, then computer-read books might pose a real threat to the audio book industry, and so he wants to head that off before it becomes a problem. I can understand that, but history is full of new inventions that were supposed to kill off entire industries and didn’t. Remember how the VCR was going to kill the movie industry? Remember how PVR’s were going to make commercials obsolete? MP3 players have reduced sales of CDs, but they haven’t killed the industry entirely. Even sharing of digital media and places like Pirate Bay haven’t killed music sales or movie revenues. There have been many movies made with completely computer-generated characters, and the animation is getting better all the time, but I don’t hear the actor’s guild advocating that filmmakers abandon the use of computers.
The Amazon people could easily change their TTS feature to only read blogs, newspapers, and magazines, and would not read books, which would solve the problem of the guy listening to the newspaper while in the car. I don’t know the numbers for sure, but I’m sure there are thousands of books available for the Kindle that are not available as an audio book, so people who want to listen to those books are screwed.
It’s possible that the best solution to this “problem” is for the audio book industry to expand their advertising and PR to make sure that people know that audio books exist and how cool they are. They need to make sure that they stress the point that they have talented actors (sometimes the authors themselves) reading the books, not just some nobody off the street. Once people are hooked on audio books, the thought of having a computer read to them will be unthinkable, regardless of how good the technology gets.