No text to speech in Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles: Why? To push us toward Fire tablets and boost Amazon-owned Audible?

Update: The National Federation of the Blind says the Amazon’s new lines are an accessibility disaster. Also see newer LibraryCity posts here and here.

Jeff_Bezos_2005Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ballyhooed text to speech in the Kindle 2 in 2009.

But guess what’s now missing from the new Paperwhite Kindles even though it’s still present in the Kindle Keyboard 3G and Kindle DX models? TTS, aka “Read to Me.”

Tipped off by a Gizmodo review noting the absence of an audio jack, I called the Kindle support people Thursday and learned that the Paperwhite models would be mute. Bummer. For years, I’ve complained of E Ink’s contrast problems, and the new models are said to offer 25 percent more contrast, not just glow with less eyestrain than LCDs.

The news from Support jibes with a table comparing various models on the Amazon site (scroll down toward the bottom of this Amazon page). Notice? The table lists the Paperwhite models as lacking the speakers that high-end models offer.

amazonPaperWhiteSo, Jeff, what’s the strategy here, given the diminishment of the usefulness of the Paperwhite models for the people with dyslexia or other learning or vision challenges? Especially, how about students? Don’t you hope to crack the education market? Dumb move, this muting. Speech chips cost a pittance, so that excuse just will not fly. If you don’t want a speaker or there isn’t room for one, at least include a headphone jack. Just how could you be so out of touch with customers in this instance? I actually was hoping Amazon would go in the other direction and do TTS right with “Amy” and other refined voices from the whizzes at Ivona (or would pick up the equivalents from a similar company). That is the way to make TTS pay off big.

In silencing the Paperwhites, was Amazon trying to extend the market life of the TTS-enabled Kindle Keyboard 3G and the DX? And nudge consumers toward the Fire models that can play digital audio books from Audible, part of the Bezos empire? Or cozy up to publishers or literary agents? A smarter move would be for Amazon to take a strong stand in favor of TTS while at the same time encouraging the Audible subsidiary to offer extras, such as author interviews, so that audiobooks still paid off. By contrast, anti-TTS strategies will actually reduce opportunities for writers. I want the print-impaired and joggers to be able to enjoy my books, and TTS make this more likely to happen.

No matter what the explanation for The Great Muting, Jeff, I’d be grateful for your personal pledge that text to speech will be a feature of all future Kindles, including the basic models (apparently audio of any kind was also missing from the  bottom-of-the-line Kindle introduced last year, and is still AWOL from the $69 successor).

At the very least, TTS needs to be in mainstream E Ink machines like the Paperwhite models.

I hope that librarians and advocates for people with disabilities will besiege Amazon with demands for TTS for all models. Same for joggers and walkers and others who would rather listen to their books when they need to pay special attention to their surroundings. (Yes, I do plead guilty to e-reading at times while walking—when conditions are safe enough.)

Of course, this is one more reason for librarians and others to support the Digital Public LIbrary of America, the ePub format, the battle against DRM and other efforts that would reduce our reliance on the proprietary technology.

Look, Jeff, it isn’t as if I’m anti-Amazon—I applaud your people’s innovative ways and stellar customer service, and I’ve sent thousands of dollars in Seattle’s direction over the years despite my less than full satisfaction with Amazon’s labor practices. I am not calling for a boycott and, in fact, have ordered a Paperwhite 3G. But I do believe that librarians and others should use whatever clout they can summon up to remind you of your social obligations, especially when Amazon may earn millions in tax money from some major Kindle-related federal contracts. Even if the Kindles in those cases have TTS, it would be extremely bad karma to reduce options in that area for ordinary users.

In so proudly demonstrating the Kindle 2's TTS back in 2009, Jeff Bezos said: "Any book, blog, magazine, or personal document can be read aloud to you. If you're in the kitchen cooking and want to be read to for a little while, or you're on your commute to work and you want to be read to for a little while, Kindle can do that for you. Let's listen…"

Yes, let's listen. And, Jeff, you do the same. Unmute the Paperwhites! Ideally you could even give people with existing orders the choice of either accepting the silent Paperwhites or getting a slight discount on future models with the speech chips.

And speaking of good ergonomics—for everyone, not just people with print impairments: I notice that Kobo’s Glo model lets people vary the boldness of the characters. When will Amazon finally heed me and build this feature in? When I owned TeleRead, I begged vendors to oblige. Nice to see Kobo acting, whether or not I was the inspiration.

Note: I am sharing this post with Amazon PR, in case people at the company care to comment on the above. In addition, I’m alerting the president of the American Library Association, which ideally will care, given the reliance of many library e-book users on Amazon’s devices by way of Jeff’s alliance with OverDrive, the major provider of e-books to public libraries. I’ll also contact a library lawyer interested in disability issues. I’m not looking for a lawsuit here; rather, Jeff’s pledge that Amazon will care more about the print-impaired and others who have grown reliant on TTS.

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35 Comments

on “No text to speech in Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles: Why? To push us toward Fire tablets and boost Amazon-owned Audible?
35 Comments on “No text to speech in Amazon’s new Paperwhite Kindles: Why? To push us toward Fire tablets and boost Amazon-owned Audible?
    • Thanks for speaking out, Annie. Yes, my initial reaction was the same – complete disbelief. I asked the customer support rep not once but two or three times to make certain there was no misunderstanding. Alas, the lack of both a headphone jack and a speaker would appear to offer some very-much-unwanted confirmation.

      Jeff Bezos prides himself on staying in touch with customers. Here, he plainly dropped the ball.

      David

  1. Bezos went arrogant on us like Apple. I love text to speech. This may be a deal breaker for me. I may have to go with pure Android Jelly Bean type tablet. If we prefer audio books and text we will purchase that. If not I want TEXT to FN speach option!!!!! Let the consumer make the choice. (guess that may be the case – what are other TTS options other than Amazon devices ?)

    • Hi, LoveTexttoSpeech.
      To answer your question I can tell you that Amazon’s Kindle for PC app (the one with built-in accessibility) uses the same voices from Nuance that are used on the Kindle devices which have TTS. The app is a bit clunky but it works. Apple’s IOS devices are wonderfully accessible. They’re a bit pricy but, if rumors are true, we may be seeing a less expensive Ipad announced this week. I’ve also read that one of the Bebook Ereaders has TTS. If this is true I’d love to get my hands on one of them to evaluate its accessibility. Having TTS for reading books is fine but visually impaired consumers need TTS so that menus can be navigated. The Kindle II lacked this feature but, to Amazon’s credit, it was added in the K3/Keyboard and called Voice Guide. Other than the ones I’ve mentioned I am not aware of other ereaders which contain built-in TTS, at least for sighted consumers. There are many portable reading solutions for the visually impaired which contain built-in TTS and which can read a variety of formats as well as playing MP3 files. Examples include the Plextalk Pocket, Victor Stream and the Bookport Plus which is my personal favorite in this category. Unfortunately, these devices will likely not appeal to many sighted consumers due to their higher cost. Also, these specialized devices are primarily readers: they have no built-in access to an online store for browsing and selecting books.

      • Personally I find the Amazon “accessible” app for PC useless. The books I want to read require me to get spelling and reread passages. Also, since I am forced to use their voice for access to the book, I cannot use a screen reader’s Braille support for granularity.

        I find it an intentional slap In the face, not a real solution.

  2. Pingback: Veja o novo Kindle Paperwhite | Revolucaoebook.com.br - notícias e opiniões sobre ebooks, livrarias e o mercado do ebook

  3. Pingback: Resumo das novidades da Amazon | Revolucaoebook.com.br - notícias e opiniões sobre ebooks, livrarias e o mercado do ebook

  4. David,
    Thank you so much for publicly speaking up about this issue. I have a few comments.
    First, I am a blind user of the Kindle Keyboard which I recently received as a gift from my employer The TTS as well as the voice guide make it possible for me to enjoy Amazon’s amazing library. I was both angry and disappointed to learn that last year’s Kindle Fire had no accessibility and I’m once again disappointed, though not surprised, that they seem to be abandoning blind users yet again. I do have some hope that things may improve. After all, Amazon just lost a whopping 16.5 million dollar order from the State Department which likely was due to the NFB complaining that they were going to buy a ton of Kindle Touch units. While the Touch did have TTS for books it did not have voice guide, essentially making it impossible for a blind person to access the menus and the home screen which you need to be able to use in order to hear the book read to you in the first place. I think that Tim Cook should write a personal letter to Jeff Bezos and thank him for the extra business which is bound to come Apple’s way from all of the visually impaired users who won’t be able to use the Kindle Paperweight due to its lack of audio support. Apple is very well-loved by blind consumers because they not only have fabulous accessibility features but they continue to improve it with each new version of IOS and MacOS. As for the new Fire HD: I haven’t heard about accessibility or the lack thereof in these newer tablets. Android does have some built-in accessibility to allow blind users to independently use the touchscreen; Amazon could have worked with Talkback and added software to make it work with the Kindle-specific offerings. Also, check out this article from Engadget at
    http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/06/amazon-the-kindle-keyboard-is-sticking-around/
    The article mentions that an Amazon spokesperson said that the Keyboard was being kept and one of the reasons was because of its accessibility features. One wonders why Amazon couldn’t just continue to implement accessibility features in its devices so they wouldn’t have to continue selling an older model just to keep blind consumers happy.
    I also think that the NFB and ACB should organize a movement to encourage all of their members to order a Kindle Fire and then return them due to their lack of accessibility. Maybe that might possibly get their attention.
    While we’re on the subject of accessibility for blind readers would you mind signing the Reading Rights coalition’s petition to convince publishers to stop blocking TTS from the Kindle Keyboard due to their paranoia that it might interfere with audiobook sales? This is a real issue with me; Simon and Schuster is particularly bad about doing this and it’s absolutely insane to me. http://www.readingrights.org

      • Bob, you’re absolutely right. I could write an entire blog post about this issue. Heck, I could start an entire blog about this issue. The Reading Rights Coalition, which consisted of various disability advocacy groups, met with the AG to try and work out a solution to this problem. As I understand it the AG came up with two possible solutions, both of which the RRC rejected. One solution was that print-disabled readers could pay an additional fee to be able to read books which have the TTS feature blocked by the publisher. The RRC said no and I agree that charging more money for the privilege of reading a book you already paid for just because you can’t see it is unreasonable. However, the AG offered another solution, one which the RRC also rejected and here is where I part company with the RRC. The AG said, “OK, your people can have access to books with blocked TTS but we’d like them to go through an additional registration process for that service.” (My paraphrasing, not a direct quote, of course.) The RRC said no. This is tragic because this is something which disabled people are required to do for special services anyway. As an example my landline phone company offers free directory assistance to visually impaired customers. However, before the telephone company allows me to use that service I have to complete a registration form. People who require special parking spaces due to a disability have to first register in order to use the service. None of these groups raises complaints about this and I don’t think any print-disabled reader would have a problem filling out a form to verify their disability in order for them to read books where the TTS feature from the publisher has been blocked.

    • David, I agree with every syllable of your wonderfully detailed comment, and, yes, I signed the petition and encourage other readers of the LibraryCity blog to do the same. Many thanks for writing in. And if you ever want to contribute the main part of the blog on a relevant topic – e-reader usability is one of them, including usability for people with disabilities! – please email me at davidrothman@pobox.com.

      David R

  5. Well strike the Paperwhite off my list of Kindles to own… I have 3 Kindles: the Kindle 2, Kindle Keyboard and a $69 kindle.

    One thing that makes me like the Kindle so much is the fact I can listen to books on the way to work. I dont even listen to the radio anymore.

    I was so excited when I found out about the paperwhite because I had hoped Amazon would do one ever since i saw the Nook but if it doesnt have TTS I might have to reconsider

  6. Another thing to consider: I’m not convinced across-the-board TTS would greatly impact the market for audiobooks. I am blind, and I do a fair amount of audio reading. On more than one occasion, I’ve decided to spring for the audio version of a book that I could access electronically–either because of the narrator, or because I thought the story would benefit from a uman reader in general. Someone who wants to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony isn’t going to get a comparable experience from a midi file. It’s the same for audiobooks and books read with TTS.

    • Hi, Angie. I really like your midi analogy. If I ever have the opportunity to dialog with a representative from the Authors’ Guild I might just use it.
      So far I haven’t met a single person who has stated that they actually would prefer to listen to TTS Tom reading a book on the Kindle over listening to a commercial audio book. However, even if some people don’t want to spend money on an audio book because they’d just prefer not to spend the money I’m not sure I see the problem. I’m sure there are many sighted readers who would rather spend eight dollars for a paperback rather than spending over twenty dollars on a commercial audio title. If sighted readers are allowed to make that choice then I think I deserve the right to make that choice as well.

  7. Pingback: Audio adé: Amazon verzichtet bei Kindle Paperwhite auf Text-to-Speech | eBook-Fieber

  8. I too was disappointed about the lack of audio…but most of the people here complaining already own a kindle of some sort. If you’ve already got one that supports audio, why bother upgrading to one that is mainly a visual step up? (especially to those with impaired vision who it’s not really going to make a difference to at all?) I appreciate the irony that I’m typing this…I’m just saying that for people who are blind, you don’t need to get a kindle paper white, stick with the available kindles that support audio.

    • @Aekero: Thanks for sharing your opinion. Keep in mind that the latest Kindles have advantages beyond the improved displays. What’s more, the omission of TTS from the newest models makes one wonder about Amazon’s long-term commitment to the technology, which is useful to the dyslexic and somewhat vision impaired and the physically handicapped (in some cases), not just blind people themselves.

      If nothing else, Amazon should allow customers to pay a little extra to have TTS – just as the company will let people pay more to avoid ads. The optional versions with TTS could offer voices better than the present ones. What’s more, add-on voices could be a new source of revenue.

      My overwhelming preferences is for TTS to be included in all Kindles, but at least I’m coming up with a compromise. If Jeff doesn’t want to take me up on this, then this will be yet more evidence that Amazon is trying to downplay TTS in favor of Audible. David

  9. @Aekero, while I think I understand your point I think that you may be missing mine. Some of the new Kindles offer more than just better visuals. None of the Kindle Fire models contain a voice guide feature. This essentially locks out all blind people from enjoying the KF’s features which go beyond browsing and reading books. How would you feel if Amazon released a newly upgraded tablet which only contained Braille output. Would you agree if I felt that you should just be happy with the older models which offer a visual display?

  10. Pingback: Mute Paperwhite Kindles | PB403 Electronic Publishing

  11. I am really disappointed that TTS is missing in the new Paperwhite. Otherwise it would have been the perfect ereader (good screen, e-ink, built in light, 3G, and easy amazon-shop access) – but no TTS is a deal-breaker for me. I spend long hours in the car, and love to read, so the ability to be able to continue reading my book while driving for hours is essential. I’d have thought there are plenty of people spending hours in the car, to justify it.

    so, no buy – I was soo excited about the spec, until I saw that TTS is missing

  12. Joggers(?), seriously. Walkers, I can picture them holding the kindle while walking. It’s hard to find pocket that can fit in the 6″ device. I don’t know about others but if I’m jogging and I want to listen to audio books, I’ll put them in a mp3 player. It’s much more practical. My pockets are full with my keys, cash and water bottle. I agree with David’s point of view though, if you want the audio option, stick with kindle touch. The paperwhite version only improves on better lighting for those who read at night or places with low lighting, better screen display (again for better reading pleasure). Therefore, the ‘new’ product positioning is to make it a great reading (visual) device, which amazon emphasizes by reducing the device’s storage capacity (to bring down the price perhaps?).

    • Hmm.. I totally misinterpreted the TSS feature in my previous comment. What I was trying to say was that using TSS function via kindle while on a jog is not very practical, even you’re on a treadmill. Unless, one is accustomed to jogging with a bag or big fanny pack.

    • @Eccent: Thanks for your comments. Just so you know, the Kindle Keyboard model (and presumably the Touch) fits easily inside the pocket of my jeans, at least. And I suspect that the Paperwhites would too. I remain as gungho as ever on on Amazon including TTS as a standard or at least as an option for the Paperwhites.

      Yes, the sizes of jeans pockets will vary, and other questions arise such as the availability of pockets. But I normally reserve my right pocket for the Kindle, my iPod Touch or another gizmo with a scratch-prone screen (not all at once!). Although I’m more of a walker than a jogger, I could use the Kindle Keyboard’s TTS for the latter activity.

      Who knows, maybe we e-book fans can influence fashion trends. I’d be startled, in fact, if some jeans or other clothing didn’t already exist to accommodate owners of mobile devices.

      As for reducing storage capacity to reduce prices, I wonder about that one – since storage is so cheap. Is this a gentle nudge to encourage Paperwhite owners to rely on The Cloud?

      I’d love to hear from Amazon on various specifics discussed above – especially the possibility of future paperwhites with TTS. Jeff, I’m not expecting Amazon to be a philanthropy. In fact, as I’ve written here or elsewhere, I actually can see some good business opportunities, such as through sales of special voices. In that vein, I continue to root for Amazon’s inclusion of Ivona’s “Amy” voice as a built-in offering or an add-on.

      David

      Addendum: In response to your latest – I’ve used TTS while I was treading. I’ve simply plugged in my speaker system, although I suspect the Kindle would still be loud enough to hear even without it (at least for those with quieter treadmills). My big point: When treading: you don’t need to *carry* the Kindle.

  13. Please provide name and mailing address we should use for the most effective way for us to voice our concerns directly, urging TTS inclusion on Kindle products. Thanks

  14. I also was very upset when learning the new Kindle Paperwhite did not have audio or TTS. They finally made a page that was not gray but took away the second most needed feature being TTS. I have poor eyesight and I really do enjoy the TTS. I do not think it is fair to force us older folks into having to buy a tablet with all of the fancy do-das on it that much younger people want. When you are in your 50s and 60s sometimes the simple things work better for us.

    I tried to start a dicussion on the Amazon Forums and was totally bashed by a very large group of other customers who do not need or want the
    tts features. They were very hateful and rude to me and the rest of us who want and need the TTS on the new Kindle Paperwhite.

    Those of us who stil have some vision left the Paperwhite would help us as well as the TTS.

    Why should we have to pay more for a tablet we don’t want? And then if we want audible and the written book we have to pay twice.

    Just give us a simple Paperwhite with audio and TTS with a head phone jack and we will be happy! It coud not cost that much more to make the necessary changes.

  15. I too am disappointed at the lack of TTS. Several time a month, I drive long distances by myself. Listening to ebooks on my Kindle Keyboard helps the time go by faster. I just plug it into my car audio and I can continue the book I’d begun reading before getting in the car.

    I was excited about moving up to the paperwhite, but now I’ll just hold on to my keyboard model and hope they include TTS on the next Kindle upgrade. It’s the one feature that’s a deal breaker for me. I don’t want to spend the extra money buying audio books and I want to be able to continue reading the book once I get out of the car.

    It just doesn’t make since to me why such an important feature was left out. Disappointing.
    And Amazon has lost a sale.

  16. I have an iPad for play, so I have no desire for the Fire. I love my Kindle for reading. My favorite was the one (just before the K2) with the keypad. I replaced it with the Kindle Touch. Today, when I saw an for the Paperwhite with its improved display, optional “real” 3G – unlike what I have on the Kindle Touch – and built in light, I was really excited and set out to do some research before I made what I thoght woould be a definite purchase. I was quite dumbfounded and very disappointed to learn it has no speakers. That put the kibosh on my plans to buy it. Why would I buy something that’s missing a key feature I enjoy? As far as this reader is concerned, that was not a good move, Mr. Bezos.

  17. I was very excited about the new Paperwhite screen and light until I learned that there are no page turn buttons, only a touch screen. And then the reduced storage and lack of audio also made me think twice. I bought a second Kindle Keyboard since my old one is requiring a lot of reboots. My ideal device would be the KK with the new screen and light!

  18. The new Paperwhite model is great – light is essential for night-reading, and if you have the new white light – you have to use touch for typing (because you can’t see the old keyboard buttons in the dark, anyway). So light+touch make perfect sense. But no audio? man, that’s a real let-down. The Amazon website said “no speakers” but it didn’t say “no headphone jack, no mp3 playing, no text to speech”.
    I wanted to get rid of my Kindle Keyboard, now I’ll use it a lot.
    You can’t really blame Bezos for dropping the TTS feature – something happened and he was probably blocked from using it again. However, we might need a 7″ tablet if we want decent TTS features in the future. In the meantime, hold on to your precious keyboard Kindles.

    • The TTS feature was put in the Kindle Fire HD and taken out of the Kindle paperwhite for a cheaper e-reader only device.  I don't agree with that. Funny thing is Kindle fire gen 1 doesn't have TTS.  But if you sideload Cool Reader app it can.  The TTS voice is aweful, but it's capable.

  19. I really like having my Kindle e-reader and like you I can understand why Amazon has gone this direction.  They should make their device more accessible.  Didn't they get the hint with the lawsuit they were slapped with?  I guess not.  But here's what I find most interesting and sad.  When Kindle 2 came out they were threatened by the writers guild about the TTS feature Amazon decided then to allow Publishers to dictate whether ebooks were TTS enabled.  Amazon opened a can of worm with TTS, they marketed as a feature anyone can use, in reallity it's an accessibility issue.  For many years, I struggled to read due to my disability.  When I use devices that have TTS I'm able to experience something I don't normally do because of the struggle of the disability I have with reading.  Kindle is a great size and weight for travel, it's sad that Amazon has taken the stance on TTS and Kindle device.

    What is most interesting.  Amazon has released a Kindle for PC with accessibility plug in.  Once can download this version for their PC.  Please note though you need to buy or download a screen reader in order to have the TTS feature enabled again.  The DRM restricted books are overridden and the TTS feature is restored…

    Here's the kicker and maybe the joke Amazon is pulling on use.  No matter what TTS voice engines you've got installed on the PC, it only reads in the two voices on the Kindle devices 2 through touch!  This kind of nerfs me, because if the voices on the kindle devices arn't an accessibility feature, why does their Kindle for PC with Accessiblity plug in force you to use there so called experimental feature as the accessibility feature.

    I like the Amazon book catalog, but hate the control they give to the publishers.  There is no reason why amazon should not make there products accessible.  They should add TTS to their Android app, so it's like the Kindle Apple app version.  They should add TTS and more accessible feature in the Kindle Ink readers and finally take back control of the TTS in books they sell.

    All I got to say is if CEO Jeff Bezos had a reading disability there would be TTS in all product they produce, but I guess out of sight out of mind.  The problem is we are here and we won't go away; we want accessibility.

    Sales of ereaders would sky rocket if you include all persons and to me that make perfect business sense.

  20. In case you did not know, it is possible to get Text to Speech for Kindle for PC. I use text to speech on the computer. I am dissapointed about the Kindle 5/Paperwhite not including the feature but I guess I can live without it on the portable device since I use TTS on the PC. TTS is not just for the disabled, it's also for lazy people that hate reading but still want to learn. The Kindle 4 was released the same day as the Kindle Touch and it did not have TTS either, only the Touch did. I wouldn't use the Kindle Keyboard now, that's outdated. It pretty much comes down to Kindle Touch Vs Kindle 5, depending on whether you must have TSS on it or not.

  21. I am a Pole and I am using everyday function TTS for learning English in my Kindle 3G keyboard. I'm really disappointed that I cannot use TTS function on NEWSPAPERS in other my Kindle Fire. I hope that in the newest Kindle people will be able not only use TTS – english voice Emmy but other eg. german Marlene from company Ivona.

     

  22. I have a kindle touch w/TTS and audio. Love it. As much as I like the new Paperwhite features, I won't be buying another Kindle until they bring back the TTS and audio.  Amazon needs to do a better job at listening to their customers (oh, I forgot they can't because they don't have audio). 

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