The Kindle And The Blind


The Kindle. Disembodied hand sold separately.


There has been a lot of fretting among bookish types that Amazon’s Kindle will be the downfall of the printed word. Meanwhile, Roy Blount (current president of the Authors Guild) has an op-ed in today’s New York Times drawing attention to a lesser-known concern among Authors Guild types: Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature allows for books to be read aloud, which means it could significantly cut into the billion dollar audio book market without paying anyone for audio rights.

“You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading Harry Potter,” writes Blount.

But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. There’s even a male version and a female version. (A book by, say, Norman Mailer on Kindle 2 might do a brisk business among people wondering how his prose would sound in measured feminine tones.)


The National Federation of the Blind asserts that the Authors Guild is preventing the blind from access to the spoken word (while acknowledging that Kindle 2 “cannot be used independently by a blind reader because the controls to download a book and begin reading it aloud are visual and therefore inaccessible to the blind”). To which Blount responds that “publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. … But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders’ participation, to pass that service on to everyone.”

Point: Blount. This debate aside, the Kindle is very cool. We don’t have one, but our sister/sister-in-law Ellen does. It’s fun to play with. We don’t think owning a Kindle is mutually exclusive to buying books. (You won’t hear us say this often, but for once we agree with Stephen King’s critical assessment.) Kindle users are probably the types who still buy a lot of books anyway, although they’re surely buying less than they usually might. For our money, nothing can replace holding a first edition hardcover in your hands or appreciating the aesthetics of a full bookcase to compliment the decor of one’s living room. But we’d certainly accept a Kindle with no small degree of enthusiasm if you were thinking about buying us one. 

Does this mean we want everyone to go buy Kindles? No. Since one of us makes a livelihood on selling printed books, we’d encourage you to keep doing that. But is the Kindle the end of the printed word? Hardly. 

Once the Kindle is able to replicate Nic Cage’s voice, though, all bets are off. We’ve always wondered what it’d be like to listen to him reading Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic.




5 thoughts on “The Kindle And The Blind

  1. well, Stephen King had me at “Patricia Cornwell” and “no ear for dialogue”. Word.

    As for Kindle, I remember back in the day when people thought libraries would disappear because of the internet. But, just like libraries and the internet, books and kindles serve different purposes and meet different needs.

    And if being able to pay just $9.99 and not lug around a big book encourages people to pick up something they might otherwise not read, so much the better.

  2. The Utah Jazz. The Kindle. The Oscars. The rampant whiteness of this blog is boring me to tears. I can’t wait until the upcoming post on dinner parties or studying abroad. Here are some other topics you should consider in future.

    -Akeem the African Dream
    -The Lonely Policeman
    -Proper attire for chasing a hooker with a chainsaw.
    -Drinking a gallon of milk in an hour.
    -Ways to torture Nic Cage.

  3. I was more skeptical of Kindles a few months ago when publishers were routinely charging hardcover prices for eBooks. $9.99 is much more reasonable, though the cost of the Kindle itself still seems prohibitively expensive for a poor teacher like me (that’s right, I’m a poor teacher–my students learn nothing from me, and that’s why I can’t afford a Kindle). It looks absolutely awesome, but how many years of use will I get for my $360? I think my iPod made it 3, maybe 4 years: can I expect to pay $90/year for as long as I want the privilege of reading $10 books (okay, or having them read to me)?

    No, I’m not quite ready for the Kindle. Unless someone wants to give it to me. And even if someone did, I’d still be buying “real” books so that when the Kindle becomes our Evil Overlord Computer and I’m one of the few human beings still living outside of the society created by our computer masters and on the run from them, I’ll still be able to read my books (granted that I won’t be running very quickly with the 4000 pounds of my library to haul around).

  4. The Kindle as decor is surprisingly pleasing – I’ve replaced all my book shelves with external hard drives and I find the appearance quite arresting: it appeals to my post-post-post-post-post modern decorating aesthetic – IKEA ain’t got shit on my designs. Although – the constant hum of white noise from all these drives has the refrigerator worried that it’s harangues are being tuned out.

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