The Hachette Book Group, parent of Little, Brown and Co., Grand Central Publishing and other imprints, has embraced Amazon’s Text-To-Speech technology, introduced in the Kindle 2, which lets the device “read” the book aloud in a synthesized voice, according to Publishers Weekly. The publisher said in a statement that it will allow any book to be read, unless the author asks them to disable the Text-To-Speech feature (PW backgrounder here) or “books that fall within our audio publishing program or specialized circumstances like memoirs, where the author or character’s voice is an artistic element of the work. Under such circumstances HBG reserves the right to request that the functionality be disabled.”
That suggests that books available in audio format from Hachette imprints will not include Text-To-Speech capabilities on the Kindle. While it is good that Hachette is open to buyers using Text-To-Speech, this qualified position about when it is comfortable allowing it makes this a statement of a non-position. Books with Text-To-Speech disabled need to be labeled. It would be better, I believe, to offer an audio version of a book read by a narrator or the author when turning on the Text-To-Speech version. Publishers should go so far as to offer the first chapter in spoken word format for free, then, if the buyer wants to hear the book in a synthesized voice, let them.
Rather than raising barriers to use of a text by customers, turn the Text-To-Speech option into a selling opportunity that will be perceived as greater service by readers.