Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers

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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?

51 thoughts on “Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers”

  1. I think you’re on the wrong side here, PV. I have my books on ACX and they do NOT have the right to anything but the audio. If someone wants to “read along” then they can purchase the ebook. ACX should only be able to grant the addition of the written words with my permission and with additional royalties. I am also an Audible member and I think this would discourage me from picking up the ebooks. This is gouging into what already is not a terribly good royalty rate from ACX.

    • Do you also disable screen readers for your ebooks, so that the blind MUST purchase the (usually more expensive) audiobook?

      Do you also make sure they are in a fixed size font, so that the less visually impaired MUST purchase a large print version?

      If not, isn’t Amazon “ripping you off” by making your ebooks accessible to a wider audience without your getting any more money (or investing any more money)?

      This is a product that is for a very small niche that is not well served at present – primarily those who are learning to understand a language in both spoken and written form.

      I’m hoping they extend the notion to Spanish, Japanese, Russian, etc. I don’t buy audiobooks now – but those, I would.

      • Serving a disabled population is very different than serving people who want to learn another language.

        I don’t think authors should subsidize someone’s desire to learn another language. There are other products for that, both free and paid. And if ACX wants to serve that market (which I don’t think this is, it’s about eating into the whispersync market btw) they can pay me for my intellectual property to do that.

        ACX takes 60% of every sale of every audiobook. This isn’t eating into their profit. It’s eating into mine. If they want to offer the text of my book, then give me 60% and take 40%. Why should I subsidize this exactly?

          • Because they’re obviously buying audiobooks instead of the much less expensive ebooks.

            I know I’d totally buy an audiobook I couldn’t hear so I could hold the phone in my hand and watch the text scroll past at half of my reading speed.

        • “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”
          This does not sound as though sneaky readers are finagling a free print/ebook out of their Audible purchase.

          One of the reasons I don’t use audiobooks is because I am hard of hearing. The proposed captions sound perfect for me to be able to enjoy an audiobook with the captions supplementing things I miss or can’t understand. It sounds as though they scroll by as the book progresses, just as with TV captions. I would be using them in the same way that I use captioning on TV, which certainly doesn’t constitute an unauthorized book adaptation of the program.

          At any rate, I would buy Audible books that include the feature. I would not buy Audible books that do not include it.

          • Celine, your comment reminds me that my wife & I always use captions when watching TV – and often don’t watch if captions aren’t available. Part of this is because of our aging ears, part is because speech patterns, particularly among the young, have changed in pitch & speed since we were young, part of it is because a lot of what we watch originates in England so we have to deal with their “English”.

            I’m always on the move when I listen to audiobooks, so captions are of no use to me, but I certainly can see why they would be to someone like you.

    • Personally I can’t imagine that I would use the feature. I also suspect that there would be few if any lost book sales. But I see no suggestion that ACX is going to impose this feature without your consent if it does not already have the rights to do so, which you clearly state it does not. If you have granted it such rights, that is of course a different story As PG points out, ACX may choose to impose pressure on Authors to grant such rights, with or without compensation. Whether you agree or not will of course be a business decision for you.

      • A lot of people use captions to suplement audio in other media. It is certainly useful on UK/Ausssie video and in low volume scenes.
        Plus the hard of hearing. (And really hard of sight, for that matter.)

        Over at The Digital Reader it was pointed out that it helps with SF, Fantasy, and made up/foreign words.

        Realistically it is doubtful usage will reach double digits since so much audiobook usage is in cars or as background to other activities but it adds fringe value to a premium product. Because audiobooks are so expensive to make and cost so much more than ebooks is *precisely* why they need to scarf up as many readers as possible.

        It is silly to think anybody would be stupid enough to pay audiobook prices if all they wanted was text. The purpose here is to add value to tbe audiobook.

        Yes, there is the option to buy both versions and sync them; but how many publishers actually allow this bundling at a discount? Very few.

        This is just like tbe TTS whining: Amazon is simply rendering a secondary data stream from a file they already have the rights to distribute. TTS isn’t replacing audiobooks and captions won’t replace ebooks. And since these renderings aren’t one-for-one replacements, it is all fair use. If Amazon bothered to go to court they would almost certainly win easily on Fair Use terms.

        They already have the right to do captioning.
        Mkght be hidden in the contract but they are on firm legal ground.

        They almost certainly won’t just as they didn’t on TTS. They’ll just flag the caption hostile files as such and sell the customer friendly ones in their stead. They’ll let the market judge. It’s cheaper.

        In case some folks haven’t noticed, music captioning is a thing. Some of the more popular music players come with captioning and so do Pandora, Spotify, podcasts, and even radio stations. Radios with captions have been sold. It’s a standard feature of HD Radio.

        It says a lot when publishing is the only business that complains when disgributors *add* value to their product for *free*.

        It’s the 21st century out there: you’d think they’d have learned some basic business by now.

        Caption won’t replace ebooks or non-existent bundles but they *will* sell more audiobooks. And this is bad?


    • At best, Amazon has improved the product, which should result in more sales.

      At worst, it’s an innovation that won’t take hold.

      We are once again considering the difference between getting a bigger piece of a small pie, or the same proportion of a larger pie. It seems to me that it’s usually more profitable to go for the larger pie. Apple pie to the contrary notwithstanding…

  2. My gut reaction was initially the same as Raythe’s, but then I thought about it more logically. If most readers are like me, they only buy one version of a book. (Ignoring collector’s editions and other one-off situations.)

    Personally, I’m an ebook reader. I’ve never bought an audio book, despite the continuing offer of a free one from Audible. I don’t remember every borrowing one from the library, either. I also buy print books, but there are very few books I own in both versions. Case in point, I recently borrowed a book in KU. When I was half-way through it on my Kindle, I realized this was a book I wanted in print, so I ordered a print copy. As soon as that arrived, I returned the ebook.

    I don’t think having this feature will cut into sales of ebooks. I do think it will enhance the reader’s experience, if my regular pressing on words I don’t know in Kindle books is any indication.

    Lastly, isn’t this just the flip side of having Alexa read a Kindle book to you? I don’t remember any corresponding protests about that.

    • Correct on all counts.

      This is just the standard publishing rejection/suppression of anything new. Which is why tradpub has been stagnant for over two decades and counting. Without this kneejerk reaction we’d have had a viable interoperable ebook market since the 70’s instead of the Amazon dominated walled gardens of today.

      They do it to themselves, protecting the stale cookie they have while ignoring the fresh cake just within reach.

  3. I agree with Raythe.

    Separate rights are separate for a reason. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get paid for the rights you own–for the work you’ve done. When companies devise these sneaky ways that they claim don’t violate your right is nothing but an attempt at theft.

    In case some folks haven’t noticed, music captioning is a thing. Some of the more popular music players come with captioning and so do Pandora, Spotify, podcasts, and even radio stations. Radios with captions have been sold. It’s a standard feature of HD Radio.

    You’re comparing apples to oranges. Books and music are two totally separate products. No one buys a book of song lyrics or album lyrics. There is no such product. Meanwhile, the audio, digital, and print versions of a book are distinct products each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

    • “No one buys a book of song lyrics or album lyrics. There is no such product.”

      A search for “Complete Lyrics” in Books on Amazon will disabuse you.

      “Meanwhile, the audio, digital, and print versions of a book are distinct products each with their own strengths and weaknesses.”

      I view these as different flavors of the same thing. Sometimes you can mix flavors. Ebooks already do it via Whispersync. Print books are read aloud to groups, primarily of children. Now it looks like audio is headed that way.

    • “Meanwhile, the audio, digital, and print versions of a book are distinct products each with their own strengths and weaknesses.”

      Different use cases, different markets and no meaningful overlap.

      Putting transitory scrolling captions on audibooks doesn’t turn them into ebooks any more than putting flat-narrative TTS on ebooks makes them audio books. They don’t compete for the same customers.

      There is still a big difference between the two; like I said, nobody is going to pay extra for an audiobook instead of an ebook if all they want is the text. And nobody who enjoys the performances of a good audiobook is going to settle for TTS no matter how much less it costs.

      They’re selling different things to different people but enhancing both brings in more customers of each type. TTS is very useful to dyslexics and captions are useful for hard of hearing. Both enhance the product, increase sales marginally, and cost the publisher nothing.

      Amazon/Audible aren’t doing it to spite publishers (they do that just fine themselves–C.F. Agency Part Deux) but to sell more product and make more money for themselves and publishers.

      what’s so evil about that?

      Now, if they use AI and semantic tech to make TTS that is as good as human narration there may be a reason to fret. But that is still a long ways off.

      (And yes, audioboooks and music–especially albums–are both used in very similar ways and are both closer to each other than ebooks or video. I could list the ways but it’s enough to point out both are primarily hands-off and eyes-off activities suitable for multitasking while ebooks and video are both immersive and single-tasking.)

      • I was about to loose another lengthy diatribe – thank you, Felix, for saving me the time! What he says…

        I would note one thing:

        Now, if they use AI and semantic tech to make TTS that is as good as human narration there may be a reason to fret. But that is still a long ways off.

        When that day comes, it will soon be available to writers – writers that cannot right now justify ponying up the significant cash to produce an audiobook. (It will also undoubtedly lead to some horrible productions, but also ones where the writer tweaks the default output to get it closer to how they want it to sound.)

        If it were as easy and cheap to produce a decent audiobook as it is to run my batch file for Kindlegen, those would be on sale right now. Amazon will NOT have that bundled with the ebook, either, except maybe as an option for the publisher to enhance the value – THEY want to make more money, too. Which people seem to conveniently forget…

  4. “No one buys a book of song lyrics or album lyrics.”

    And yet the lyrics are copyrighted (I can’t have those lyrics in my book/story without obtaining the rights to do so.)

    And of course trad-pub ‘can’ do what Amazon is trying because their contracts rights grab everything to do with the story you’re selling them.

    Raythe and the others might have a case if they’ve ‘only’ allowed audio rights with Amazon, but it falls apart if they’re also selling the same story as an ebook through Amazon and/or Amazon’s KU (then they’d be the ‘publishers’ attempting to extort more money.)

  5. Aren’t there ANY proactive paper book publishers?

    I remember when digital files started to replace CDs. Eventually some musicians got the picture, & started giving the customer a free file with the purchase of a CD.

    It’s instructive that Amazon, in effect, bundles ebooks with an audible file with an ebook purchase at a price which is less than it costs to buy both separately.

    I asked myself (and still ask) why publishers don’t give a free (or discounted) ebook version with the purchase of the print book? Or for that matter, why not offer a print/audio bundle?

    Now we have enhanced audio files – why did it take Amazon to come up with that?

    • That’s my question! Do these people live in the 21st century? Are they all Luddites? The only publishers I ever see bundle the ebook with the print book are indies; I don’t think I’ve encountered a single trad publisher that is smart enough to do that.

      I’ve wished that YouTube vloggers had closed captioning that actually matched what they said. This is especially necessary if the vlogger is talking about history, or video games, or novels, where terms might be used that are esoteric for everyday speech, but are perfectly mundane in the context the vlogger is using them. Shoot, the captions often mangle the names of regular people, not just, say, “Aragorn.”

      I don’t see the problem with the ACX subtitle feature. That honestly sounds brilliant. And would it cost the publisher anything? I’m imagining that anyone submitting a file to ACX could provide the story’s official PDF, or whatever format is readable to the software. This way the caption software won’t have to make its best guess as to what the narrator is saying. The listener can get that much more enjoyment out of the story.

      • Not necessarily luddites but since publishing is stagnant *and* low margin and few make money proportional to the effort input (plus there is a century-old history of author ripoffs) folks get…skittish? Overly sensitive without a sense of perspective?

        Too many jump to all the wrong conclusions too quickly.
        (Like the KENPC handwringing by Stross and co.)

        Too many assumptions, too quickly made.

    • “I asked myself (and still ask) why publishers don’t give a free (or discounted) ebook version with the purchase of the print book?”

      I used to pay extra for the Baen hardback books with the CD in them. Not only did you get that book in all the formats of the time, but if the book was part of a series then all the earlier books were there as well as well as another twenty books to read.

      Best part, on the CD it said: “You may copy and share this CD You can not sell it.”

      • I own every Heather Alexander CD – and paid full price for them. All thanks to one song that she allowed Baen to put on their CD. Never would have heard of her otherwise.

        • They helped me ‘discover’ several writers I never would have tried just from looking at their covers. 😉

          Like KU, let the writers vote with their IP and walk away if they are that afraid of this latest gimmick.

  6. Genuinely curious … would subtitling be at all covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, i.e. could a publisher be sued for discriminating for blocking subtitles for the hearing impaired?

    I know, it’s one of those “realms of the ridiculous” questions, but stranger lawsuits have prevailed.

    • It’s not ridiculous.
      It has been litigated–and settled:

      “In an agreement that the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) calls “a model for the streaming video industry,” Netflix has agreed to caption all of its shows by the year 2014.
      The online-streaming giant is already captioning 82 percent of its videos, according to the consent decree [PDF] filed in court yesterday. Now, it’s bound to finish its entire library, reaching the 90 percent mark in 2013 and 100 percent by 2014. ”

      More at the source.

      Amazon was sued over lack of audio on Kindle (one of the many reasons KINDLE DX was killed).

      And, equally relevant, the DMCA has exceptions to copyright for the disabled baked in.

      Now that captioning audiobooks can be done at effectively zero cost it might even be illegal discrimination to prevent it. 😀

      Good point.

      • There is a big difference between captioning a video and generating an electronic text from an audio file. A video that needs captioning is generally pictures AND audio. With a book, the TEXT IS THE WHOLE WORK. What’s more, virtually all the time, that text the audiobook is based on is READILY AVAILABLE for purchase. It sure looks to me like Amazon is doing all this “machine-generated text” dance because they don’t want to pay for the ebook rights.

  7. These comments went to weird places. This is about whether Audible has the right to display a text version of the book when all they purchased were audio rights. I’m going to side with the publishers and say no.

    Especially since they won’t be able to just share an unedited transcription of the audiobook. There would be far too many errors (Nate posted about SF/F names, but there’s no way a transcription program simply “listening” to the audio would get those right). These WILL be edited by a human, or Audible is going to end up putting out an embarrassing product. At which point, they’re going through a ridiculous and labor-intensive workaround to avoid paying for the ebook rights.

  8. All of these comments that are for this really perplex me as does PG’s stance.

    ACX and Amazon are given separate licenses to sell an author’s work in a certain format. ACX cannot sell my ebook on Audible even if it is on Amazon without getting my permission to do so (and paying me for it). It’s that simple. Whether you believe that the markets overlap or not (Amazon and ACX think they do btw b/c Whispersync allows people who have purchased an audiobook or the ebook to get both at lesser prices when they purchase one or the other), ACX and Amazon have only so much permission from the author and no more to sell their works. Why would you want a fellow author’s work to be taken without compensation? Why would you want a unilateral change of contract on a fellow author?

    As a thought experiment, replace ACX/Amazon with big publisher in this and see how comfortable you are with a company taking more of an author’s intellectual property without payment. I’m betting that if you’re honest here PG wouldn’t be advocating for this and nor would you. That’s what ACX/Amazon are doing.

    Can ACX/Amazon take more than they are allowed under the contract? Well, let’s see, they haven’t come to me to ask permission to add this feature to my audiobooks. I only found out about this on FB and here not from ACX or Amazon. I’m curious if/when it goes into effect whether I will be contacted, asked for permission and give additional royalties. My only recourse would be to sue. How well would that go? Me, a single author against Amazon? It would be a fool’s errand.

    I can tell you that Amazon/ACX have already taken more than the contract allowed when they made certain audiobooks FREE to KU subscribers without asking the authors, without paying the authors anything until they were called out on it. They claimed it was a “glitch” except that’s impossible. Because they were advertising it. They knew exactly what they were doing and only gave money when someone noticed and there was uproar.

    This uproar from the publisher is GOOD for all authors. They actually have the money to protect our rights better than we individual authors do against Amazon in this situation. They aren’t being greedy here. They’re protecting what they own and Amazon does not. PG, as an attorney, should be all for this. And I don’t understand his position on this because of it.

    As to the hard of hearing, I think it would be great to offer this for them! But ACX/Amazon doesn’t have the unilateral right to offer this. They need to negotiate with me to get these rights and adjust the royalties on the back end if I agree to compensate me for the written words. For example, they take 50% instead of 60% they currently do. Or they show me that this will increase my sales by X and we leave it at the same lopsided percentages. But they have to get my permission because they have absolutely no right to a written word format of my work.

    Anyways, those are my thoughts on it. To each their own, but I really want you guys to consider why you’re protecting what amounts to a rights grab here. Why you don’t think Amazon should pay authors more for this.

    • I see two issues being discussed here.

      One issue is whether it’s a good idea. Seems to me that it is. Reason being that it makes the pie bigger.

      The second issue is whether it can be done without the author’s agreement. So the first question under that issue is whether it’s covered in the contract. It might be, even if to a non-lawyer it would appear not to be. There are situations in which language in a contract has meaning beyond that apparent to the layman.

      But assuming it’s not covered by the language of the contract (as interpreted by the courts), a second question is whether existing law concerning accessibility for the handicap is, essentially, part of the contract whether negotiated or not. That’s where things like the ADA come in. As has been pointed out, doing this sort of thing might actually be required regardless of the contract.

      And a third question is, if it’s not somehow covered in the contract, does it have any value separate from that of the audio file standing alone? Raythe assumes it does. That assumption is warranted since Amazon wouldn’t be doing it if there wasn’t.

      So Raythe wants a cut. Fair enough.

    • Quick thought, and it’s just a question: are you absolutely sure they *don’t* have the right to do it?

      Contracts are ticky things and publishing contracts more so.

      Besides, you’re missing a step: Audible doesn’t license the audio book and then sell it. They license sound files. That they then convert to anaudio book. (Similar to how a studio licenses a master and then creates the CD or downloadable file or Kindle receives a document file in word or epub and then creates the retail file in whatever format the ereader best displays.)

      Besides, they may only be doing it to PD files.
      (Reminds me of all the author/publisher handwringing when KU went to the KENPC payout model whenit had absolutely nothing to do with them.)

      Or maybe their contracts have explicit clauses that let them create and add any kind of metadata to the audible files.

      As things stand:

      We don’t know what the contracts really say, only knee jerk reactions from the likes of the “Authors” Guild.

      We don’t know what books they will actually captioning.

      We don’t know how the captions are produced.

      We don’t know whether not-captioning when you can is illegal discrimination.

      We do know:

      – Audible is going to caption at least one PD title. They said they would caption more books for school season. That suggests more PD books.
      – Captioning is good for a fair amount of people, most of whom aren’t buying audio books. Or ebooks for that matter.
      – Audio books are pricier than ebooks so putting captions in an audiobook isn’t going to make rational people stop buying the cheaper ebook in favor of the audiobook.
      – We know people aren’t buying both because there are few discounted combos and if a significant number of people were buying both there would be no need for captions.
      – We also know the usage patterns of both formats are different enough that in the real world they don’t substitute for each other. They occasionally complement each other but not often enough to matter. See above.

      The whole thing maybe just a tempest in a teapot but one thing is clear: the game has changed withtbis tech and with it the legal climate.

      The more I think on it the more certain I am that lawsuits are coming. Especially if the captions don’t come. Too much money in audiobooks for Advocates and lawyers to ignore.

      • “Quick thought, and it’s just a question: are you absolutely sure they *don’t* have the right to do it?

        Contracts are ticky things and publishing contracts more so.”

        The clause in my contract licensing the audiobook rights to my audiobook publisher is not terribly complicated. It says I retain “rights in the digitized text form of the Work(s).” It doesn’t say it’s OK to take those rights if they can’t “read at their own pace or flip through pages.”
        I’m no lawyer, but it looks pretty simple to me:
        1. Amazon plans to make money off this feature.
        2. Amazon hasn’t licensed the right to do this.
        3. Amazon already knows what they owe me for selling an ebook copy of my book.
        4. And hey, WHY the heck is Amazon spending all this effort on putting out a “machine-generated text” when all they have to do is license the authentic, authoritative, accurate text from me?
        What happens when their unauthorized “machine-generated text” has errors, especially errors so egregious that they damage my reputation as an author?

    • I don’t see the captioning as any different than having the dictionary / Wikipedia feature in the Kindle. If you use a term in your book that the reader doesn’t know, they can use that feature to look it up. If your audiobook narrator uses a strange term that the listener hasn’t heard before, and the listener didn’t make out what she heard, what is the listener’s recourse? What, specifically, would be kind to the listener who paid [more] money for your audiobook [than she would for an ebook], if you’re against captions?

      I think you’re discounting the fact that for many people, it’s difficult to properly “hear” a peculiar word that you’ve never seen. Or perhaps you’ve seen it written, but never heard it pronounced.**

      Case in point, when I watched “Criminal Minds,” I had never heard the term “unsub” before. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing the characters properly when they said it. That’s where TV captions come in handy. Do you want your audiobook customers to know what the narrator is saying? The captions are listener-friendly, just as the dictionary feature in the Kindle is reader-friendly.

      **The first thing I said when I was introduced to a columnist / comic book writer was, “Oh, that’s how you say your name!” Trust me, if before the introduction I’d heard people use his name with the correct pronunciation, I never would have guessed they were talking about him, as I’d been mentally mispronouncing it.

  9. It’s worth going to the source for the whole picture.

    Because there is more to the story than just captions.

    First, the captions are hypertext and can be clicked for definitions and background detail.

    Second, because Audible is tying it to education and the school year they might only be doing it with PD titles. For now.

    Third, Audible is supposed to be reaching out to publishers to explain how it works and (presumably) why they can do it. Considering Audible is way more hardcore than KDP they might point out that audible format is proprietry and they can do anything they want to the licensed audio to get it ito their format. It might even be explicitly stated in the contracts.

    It’ll be interesting if they say they’re only doing it with PD titles for now and then play tbe ADA card to “nudge” the publishers.

    Like I said Audible is more hardcore t han KDP. 🙂

  10. I’m amazed that Amazon didn’t prepare marketing material for the publishers and authors highlighting that this feature would increase sales of audiobooks via the translation feature. They’re planning on implementing real-time word-for-word translation of the audio into text of a second language. Granted, grammatically it will wind up being a weird Chinglish or Spanglish or One Step Down From Google Translate reading experience, but it does open up the book market to more readers.

    • But what does that do to multiple versions in different languages? I’m thinking of how DVDs are parceled off by region.

    • It’s too early for translation.
      Today’s auto-translation tech is just startingto be useful.
      But you’re right: automated translation is also coming. Sooner than many hope, too.

      The traditional publishers know it, that’s why they’re asking for all global rights.

      But that’s further behind than auto-captions or inflected/narrative TTS.

      One thing about technological change: the longer you ignore it or try to fight it, the harder it hits when it breaks through.

      Best example is the music business that stuck too long with album CDs and ignored tech changes and the market for singles and instead of a gradual transition got hit with the Napster tsunami.

      Or maybe video is better: the studios moved from VHS to DVD to BluRay fairly gracefully (format wars aside) and are now moving to streaming subsriptions without losing money or control. And in parallel they’ve adapted as the theatre business has evolved into an event model.

      Publishing evolution isn’t stopping.
      Crippling ebooks and audio now will only make the reckoning worse round the next corner.

      It’s just a matter of time.
      Darwinian all the way.

  11. Audio books have never interested me, too easy to have a thought and then have to rewind to hear what I missed.

    This sounds like it would actually be something to look into, except some writers/publishers seem to fear selling this type of audio book might cheat them out of an ebook sale.

    Jokes on them, I won’t buy the current audio book so they just threw away the bigger of the two possible sales. 😉

  12. So, PV, you are a lawyer and your wife is a published author and you are fine with Amazon/Audible grabbing a book right without a contract or payment? It’s the author, traditional or self-pubbed, who gets screwed in these situations. Always. Since this is what they tried to do with Kindle rights grab, here are some good resources to study then give us your non-copyright lawyer opinion.

    “Legal ruckus over the Kindle.” A fairly reasonable statement of the general facts of the case.

    “Amazon Releases the New Kindle 2.” Includes some legal issues.

    “Book publishers object to Kindle’s text-to-voice feature.” Covers some of the legal issues involved.

    “E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon’s Kindle 2 Adds ‘Text to Speech’ Function.” Authors Guild statement.

    Copyright lawyer, Ben Sheffner, blogs on the controversy.

    “Kindle Text-to-speech is a lot of talk.” One of the better overviews of the legal questions involved. It also includes two versions, one by a TTS program and one by a human, of some text to compare the two methods.

    “Know Your Rights: Does the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech infringe authors’ copyrights?” Ex-copyright attorney talks about the issues involved. The best overview I’ve seen.

    “DRM White Paper AAP/ALA White Paper: What Consumers Want in Digital Rights Management,” Discusses the problems of TTS for publishers and audiobook companies because it isn’t adequately defined in a legal sense. No longer available online.

  13. If I had an audible book, I’d probably pay to have the text feature added. If Amazon is going to do it, I’d be delighted, and would hope lots of other authors objected.

    This would give my book a competitive advantage over those without captions. I’d hope Amazon would make that clear in the listing, so consumers could choose.

    And my rights to a few lines of print? I’d take the competitive advantage and the money, hoping lots of other authors stand on principle and refuse.

    • That is what they do with ebook Agency pricing, TTS, and DRM. It’s not as if TTS or DRM are particularly big swingers but they let consumers know who cares about their convenience and who wants to squeeze every last penny out of them.

      Consumers who care know where to find the data and choose accordingly.

      • Sure. But DRM offers no marginal utility to the consumer. A book with DRM offers nothing. A book without DRM offers nothing. Consumers who care can find out about DRM, but nobody cares.

        But these captions do offer incremental utility to the consumer. It’s much like the utility offered to Netflix watchers who choose to turn on subtitles. “Captions Included” indicates to the consumer that the item has an option for consuming the content that other items don’t have.

        • Correction:

          An ebook without DRM gives me a product that is superior (in many ways) to the printed version.

          A ebook with DRM gives me a product that is inferior (in very important ways) to the printed version.

          • Do you count an ebook from which the DRM has been stripped as superior to the printed version (even though you can no longer delegate the back up file storage/management to Amazon)? I presume you do as it doesn’t really matter whether or not it once had DRM.

            I tend to think of a Kindle book for which I’ve not yet got round to stripping the DRM as still superior simply because it takes no physical shelf space (in our case free space is sorely lacking) and I can remove the DRM whenever I want.

            Of course books in your “what to do after the collapse of civilisation as we know it” collection are best kept on paper (or possibly backed clay tablets).

            • I don’t count products that require a criminal act to increase their value to what I paid for them.

              (My vital books are kept on paper, of course. The wife and I had a bit of a disagreement in fact, when she wanted to pitch my CRC that I haven’t cracked open in years.)

          • I acknowledge some small sliver of consumers do see a DRM book as inferior, and year after year they continue to tell us about the perils of DRM. But, for general economic analysis, nobody cares. That ship long ago sailed over the horizon

        • The key question is *who* cares. How many.

          Activists and techies care about DRM but the mainstream buyer has shown no measurable concern.

          Captions, it is too early to know: they do offer a clear benefit to a segment of real and potential market. It would be silly to deny it. But the unclear question is in the number of beneficiaries. Audiobooks are consumed differently from video and ebooks. Again, two thirds are consumed while multitasking. Adding captions won’t help them. But it might *grow* the singletasking sector, which is what Audible seems to be trying to do.

          Just how successful they’ll be in adding value and *customers* is the *key* open question.

          Not every useful capability actually gets used.

          • I thought captions odd when Netflix started them. Then I started watching Australian mini-series. They’re good. Complex plots. Interesting. But, I kept backtracking when I missed the words. Subtitles to the rescue.

  14. I absolutely support accessibility. Which is why I would happily give Audible the right to use my ebook text for captioning purposes. Using machine generated text is going to be a hot mess, especially for my fantasy titles. (My friends who rely on CC say the same is true there – manually generated CC are high quality, the machine generated ones are garbage.) I object to Audible adding a crappy accessibility feature to my audiobooks when a far better one is available.

    I am also surprised by PV’s take here. I’m a very forward thinking self-publisher, and I don’t like this move by Audible. It doesn’t smell like a new thing to me – it smells like a very old thing. A rights grab, one that was not communicated to publishers, including those of us using ACX, and that is being positioned as “primarily educational” while being rolled out across a wide catalogue of books that aren’t remotely educational (mine, lol).

    I also think we need to stay really clear on the issue of rights, even if the rights grab might be provide an excellent service to readers we would be happy to see served. Audible could have done this in consultation and communication and partnership with authors/publishers. They didn’t. That’s a problem.

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