Friday, February 27, 2009

Are Podiobooks Kindle’s Killer App?

[I don’t have a Kindle, so somebody tell me if it it already does this.  But what with all the hoohah about text-to-speech, I doubt it.]

I prefer to listen to books whenever I can.  Often that’s a book on CD that I’ve ripped to MP3, but more often it’s a “podiobook” that I can have served up to me in chapter sized chunks.  I can listen while driving, on the treadmill, or even in the dark of the bedroom before going to bed, without waking up my wife. 

So when the Kindle (and Sony eReader) came out, I wasn’t all that impressed.  Spending that kind of money for a device that makes it easier to do something I don’t really do much of anyway?  No thanks.

But the text-to-speech thing caught my attention.  Apparently, people want the option of having their book read to them.  And that’s the first time where I really said, “Well, yeah.  Duh.  I want it read to me so much that I don’t even bother with the paper edition if I don’t have to.”

Of course, everybody recognizes that text-to-speech stinks.  The Author’s Guild, however, is trying to make the case that it is copyright infringement.  Of course they are – they want to sell you another audiobook.

But you know what?  What if we throw away all those differences and consider just one hybrid style “book that can read itself to you.”  When you download it, you’re also downloading the audio version.  Maybe you pay *a little* extra for this feature.  Maybe.  A little.  This idea of paying more for the book on CD than you do for the hardcover is insane.  Why not a hybrid?

Which gets me back to podiobooks.  It’s a fairly common practice for an author to syndicate the audio of his book, and then a value add offer a PDF copy for free, in anticipation of the hopefully soon to be published print version.  This does me no good, I don’t want PDFs in my iTunes feed.

But what if those went straight to the Kindle?  What if instead of a PDF it was some sort of open ebook (like ePub format?), and every day when I turned on my kindle I’d have new chapters waiting to be read to me?  Maybe that’s overkill, maybe you forget about syndicated chapters and you just get the whole text and all the audio at once.

Maybe not.  Why not bring back serialized fiction?  Now you’re starting to get into cool crossovers like old time radio when every time you turn on your Kindle you just plain don’t know what’s going to happen next.  You seriously have to wait for the next chapter in the story.

Where’s the text come in, though?  If the story's already being read to me via iPod, what value is the Kindle?  Lots.  Maybe I want to read the text for myself.  Maybe I’m not in a place where I can listen, and I prefer to sit down and actually relax by reading.  Maybe the text of each chapter comes out a week before the audio.  And what about pictures?  There’s plenty of things you can express in a real book that you cannot do in audio alone, a limitation that all the great podiobook authors are experimenting with as we speak. And that doesn’t even begin to factor in ideas like switching to video to get your point across (I don’t think the Kindle does video, so I won’t go down that path).

Throw in a few social networking features, like the ability to send a free sample to a friend?  And I think you’d have a major win on your hands – a whole revolution in independent ebooks.  Forget about fighting with the Author’s Guild over who has the rights to charge what.  Let podiobooks on the thing and let the best content win.  If you as the author want to give it away, go for it.  If you want to charge, and people want to pay? Why not?


Evo Terra said...

I've stayed out of the Kindle/Rights debate for a couple of reasons. First, I think the copyright infringement is sheer lunacy and there are smarter people than I pointing that out.

Second, the Kindle is a closed ecosystem (from what I understand). It's not easy to get stuff in it that you don't get from

But I like the PROMISE of a device like this, and I look forward to the next device that solves the issues. Both seem inherently solvable. And then we can move on to the next issue that is sure to crop up!

Duane said...

Hi Evo!

Thanks for stopping by, I was kinda hoping you would :). I agree that it's not so much the Kindle itself that's the game changer, but no doubt about it, the day of the ebook readers is coming. I just think that some combination of media delivery, such as the hybrid audiobook, are what could put it over the top. Imagine stories for kids who are learning to read, where the book could read it to them? Sure that exists now, but only as a very special purposed device. In Kindle world, it could be the way that all books are served up. When you don't want to (or can't) read, have it read to you. Not by a computer doing TTS, but a fully produced audiobook version that parallels the regular electronic text.

By the way, Shakespeare would be GREAT for that! :)