From The Verge:
Earlier this week, Audible revealed that it was working on a new feature for its audiobook app: Audible Captions, which will use machine learning to transcribe an audio recording for listeners, allowing them to read along with the narrator. While the Amazon-owned company claims it is designed as an educational feature, a number of publishers are demanding that their books be excluded, saying these captions are “unauthorized and brazen infringements of the rights of authors and publishers.”
On its face, the idea seems useful, much in the same way that I turn on subtitles for things that I’m watching on TV, but publishers have some reason to be concerned: it’s possible that fewer people will buy distinct e-book or physical books if they can simply pick up an Audible audiobook and get the text for free, too.
And Audible may not have the right to provide that text, anyhow.
In the publishing world, authors and their agents sign very specific contracts with publishers for their works: these contracts cover everything from when the manuscript needs to be delivered, how an author is paid, and what rights to the text a publisher might have, such as print or audio. As an audiobook publisher and retailer, Audible gets the rights to produce an audiobook based on a book, or to sell an audiobook that a publisher creates in its store. Publishers say that a feature that displays the text of what’s being read — itself a reproduction from the original text — isn’t one of those specific rights that publishers and authors have granted, and they don’t want their books included in Audible’s feature when it rolls out.
. . . .
Audible tells The Verge that the captions are “small amounts of machine-generated text are displayed progressively a few lines at a time while audio is playing, and listeners cannot read at their own pace or flip through pages as in a print book or eBook.” Audible wouldn’t say which books would get the feature, only that “titles that can be transcribed at a sufficiently high confidence rate” will be included. It’s planning to release the feature in early September “to roll out with the 2019 school year.”
Penguin Random House, one of the world’s five biggest publishers, told The Verge that “we have reached out to Audible to express our strong copyright concerns with their recently announced Captions program, which is not authorized by our business terms,” and that it expects the company to exclude its titles from the captions feature.
Other publishers have followed suit. Simon & Schuster (disclosure: I’m writing a book for one of its imprints, Saga Press), echos their sentiments, calling the feature “an unauthorized and brazen infringements of the rights of authors and publishers, and a clear violation of our terms of sale,” and has also told Audible to “not include in Captions any titles for which Simon & Schuster holds audio or text rights.” A Macmillan spokesperson said that “the initiative was not authorized by Macmillan, and we are currently looking into it.”
The Authors Guild also released a statement, saying that “existing ACX and Audible agreements do not grant Audible the right to create text versions of audio books,” and that the feature “appears to be outright, willful copyright infringement, and it will inevitably lead to fewer ebook sales and lower royalties for authors for both their traditionally published and self-published books.”
When asked about the feature squares up against the existing audio rights that are granted to it, an Audible spokesperson told The Verge that it does “not agree with this interpretation,” but declined to comment further on whether or not the company actually has the right to go through with it.
Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.
This looks like one more instantiation of Big Publishing’s ancient credo, “New is bad, old is good.” Heaven forfend that books of any sort be improved without more money going to legacy publishers.
Absent a problem with the definition of “ebook” in the contracts between Amazon and the publishers, PG thinks what shows up in Amazon’s video at the end of this post is clearly distinguishable from an ebook.
PG suggests complaining publishers are attempting to extort more money from Amazon.
He predicts it won’t work.
If Amazon wants to play serious hardball, it can begin to delist audiobooks from major publishers which don’t agree to permit the new feature.
If Amazon wants to play a step-below-serious hardball, it can penalize audiobooks that don’t offer the new captioning feature in Amazon search results or tag those audiobooks with a warning to potential purchasers that the audiobooks are only available in an outmoded format or some such thing.
Back to even more serious hardball, how about declining to sell new print and ebooks released by publishers unless the accompanying audiobooks include the captioning feature?
If the publishers want to continue their snit fit, who are they going to turn to for sales, Barnes & Noble?