Amazon recently released the new and improved version of their electronic book reader, the Kindle. Among the new features packed into version 2 is the ability for this slender box to read your books aloud using speech synthesis. I’m having difficulty thinking of scenarios where this would come in handy, and it seems unlikely to have accessibility in mind considering the slim chance anyone with a sight disability would choose to buy a $360 e-book display.
But this text-to-speech capability got Roy Blount Jr., president of the Authors Guild, concerned enough to pen an op-ed to the New York Times. Mr. Blount is convinced that the Kindle 2 is going to negatively impact audio book sales and argues that authors “have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books.”
Let’s let our ears decide if Roy Blount’s fears are warranted. Here’s the money soliloquy from Act III, Scene I of Hamlet as performed by a professional:
And here’s the same text read by a modern speech synthesizer:
How would you appraise “the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books”? Perhaps Mr. Blount should be careful what he wishes for.
Excerpt from Hamlet, Act III, Scene I:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.