Amazon’s Kindle causes unusual Disruption

kindle2Amazon’s ebook machine, Kindle has been out for a while. As a device for books in electronic format, it has not disrupted the traditional model of book distribution very much. Book publishers and book store owners are not getting upset about it – at least not yet. However, a feature in the new Kindle is causing some disruption. The US based Author’s Guild, an organization of authors, claims that Kindle’s text-to-speech feature is violating copyright.

This feature takes text and converts it into speech. It may seem like an obvious feature to have in a digital book device and can be viewed as an alternative way to consume the text, the normal way being using your eyes to read text. The guild disagrees and says that authors have the right to read the text and the device is violating that right. Comparing a professional reading by a human to a software that creates audio, it sounds like the authors are overreacting. Even so Amazon decided to back down and avoid the fight.

Indeed, the performance of the software is lower than the human. This is often the case with disruptive technologies. The benefits of the software is of course that it is much cheaper and readily available as soon as there is text. And don’t fall into the trap of dismissing technology due to its current performance. It’s the trend that is more important. Text-to-speech technology has improved dramatically in few years and will continue to due so, until they become good-enough and even more flexible than human reading allowing users to control type of voice, the speed, accent and other features.

Following text-to-speech we will see text-to-video. What will TV hosts, news anchors, and even teachers say when a device will conjure up life size hologram? The Author’s Guild might have won this round, but in the context of technology changes it will we an uphill battle for them.

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