The Kindle 2 reads books aloud ...
... and the Authors Guild is objecting to this. It's a very interesting point. Traditionally, print rights and audiobook rights are separate. Audible.com and others have done audiobooks of my novels, and those deals are with me, not the print publisher (in fact, today I just got a nice check from my agent for part-two of Audible.com's fee for their audio book of my Wake, coming in April).
(The Kindle 2 is Amazon.com's second-generation dedicated ebook-reading device; it was announced this Monday, February 9, 2009, and is expected to ship shortly.)
For the last five-plus years, print publishers have been insisting on grabbing ebook rights along with print rights (Tor threw around terms like "non-negotiable" and "deal-breaker," as apparently mandated by their parent company). But ebook rights are very specifically defined as the right to display text electronically. Amazon recognizes that it can't allow people to print Kindle-edition books, but it has simply gone ahead and allowed them to be read aloud by the device -- turning every ebook into a de facto audio book.
Now, yes, today, the quality is crap, and a professionally performed audiobook is obviously a much better experience -- but that's not always going to be the case; computers will be able to do quite credible readings of even dramatic material in a few years' time. And another significant source of writers' incomes (for me, audio-books were a five-figure part of my business last year) may evaporate ... without consultation, without discussion, without negotiation.
I'm not saying that, ultimately, the right to have text read aloud electronically should be limited; I am saying that the way in which the publishing industry and traditional rights issues are being trampled without consultation -- whether it's Amazon potentially cannibalizing audio-book rights (and the irony that they now own Audible.com is not lost on me) or Google just goin' ahead and digitizing my books, and everyone else's, without so much as a "May I?," is pernicious. The Authors Guild is right to be objecting, and Amazon was wrong to do this without permission; all stakeholders need to be involved in the discussions -- including authors.