Well, guess which Seattle-based  megaconglomerate has just bought Ivona Software (Web site here, Wikipedia entry here)—perhaps the world’s best provider of text to speech to use with e-books and other texts?

That’s right, Amazon. It’s already using an Ivona voice in the Kindle Fire, and Ivona tech is also powering “Voice Guide” and “Explore by Touch.” Too bad those features aren’t available on the Paperwhite so far. Deliberate intra-brand market segmentation? Stinks either way.

At any rate, even now, you can see Jeff Bezos’ corporate branding on the Ivona site.

It’s too early to know how this will shake out for library users with disabilities and for other fans of text to speech, including many a commuter (as well yours truly, who uses TTS when he walks or treads).

Two positive possibilities:

1. Maybe my Fire will at last offer the voice of Amy, the British-accented voice I prefer, especially for Dickens. Will Jeff let us buy different voices as options? Or, better, supply at least several voices, just as Kindle hardware lets you choose fonts?Amazon thumbed its corporate nose at e-book-lovers when it released the Paperwhite E Ink machine without text to speech (TTS). Coincidentally or not, Amazon owns Audible, the Kong of audiobooks, described by some as a “near monopoly.”

More than a few publishing people and others in the world of audiobooks view TTS as the devil’s work, the reason why so many Kindle books disgracefully block TTS and why the planet needs laws against this insult to the print-impaired and other readers. A headphone jack and speech chip on the Paperwhite would have cost a pittance, or Amazon could have offered a speech-capable model as an option.

2. Perhaps Amazon’s ownership of Ivona technology will make Amazon more inclined to offer TTS in the Paperwhite in the future, either as a standard feature or an extra.

The negative possibilities:

1. Just as Amazon killed the incredible Stanza word-processor, a potential rival in the future to the less capable Kindle e-reading software, will it at least throttle back Ivona’s R&D to make the world safer for Audible? Hard to say. It isn’t as if Ivona is the only TTS player.

2. Does this mean that Amazon will remove the Ivona TTS engine and related voices from the Android world and make sure Ivona products don’t thrive in the iOS world, either? For now, I am enjoying Ivona on my full-powered Android machines (not the Kindle-hobbled Android) by way of a free beta. Is this about to end very soon? Will I no longer be able to enjoy Moon+ Pro—my favorite e-reader of the moment—with Ivona?

3. If Ivona is available only for use with the proprietary Amazon formats, might this not be glad tidings for the ePub format standard?

Might any competition-related laws apply in the States, the EU or elsewhere? I don’t know. It’s worth checking out, though. Perhaps Amazon should be allowed to own Ivona, but with the understanding that the technology will still be available—full strength!—for Android and iOS machines rather than just Kindles.

Detail: Within the library world, the current Paperwhite comes with a special little complication: its less than ideal accessibility, given the absence of speech. This is something for librarians to think about before allowing their libraries to buy Paperwhites as loaners—both for legal and moral reasons.

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Note: This article originally appeared on LibraryCity.org, the website of TeleRead founder David Rothman. It is Creative Commons-licensed content.


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