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Kindle DX rejected by universities

Kindle DX rejected by universities

The large-format Kindle DX electronic textbook is based on the Kindle 2 - and the crippled text-to-speech feature is raising hackles.

Amazon's attempt at an electronic textbook replacement, the large-format Kindle DX, is getting short shrift from universities across the US.

As reported over on BetaNews, Amazon's education-focused device - which is based on the Kindle 2 e-book reader - has been undergoing trials in secondary schools and universities across the US, but the responses so far aren't exactly overwhelmingly positive.

With both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University having come forward in their rejection of the Kindle, the main sticking point appears to be the lack of universal accessibility for blind students - in particular the lack of complete support for text-to-speech, something which was originally promised in both the Kindle DX and its smaller brother the Kindle 2.

Sadly, the text-to-speech abilities of the Kindle were crippled shortly after launch following complaints from the Authors' Guild of America that the text-to-speech functionality in the Kindle 2 - which promised to bring the benefits of electronic books to blind and partially sighted people - were infringing authors' rights to be paid a separate royalty for all verbal performances of their works.

This disagreement - which saw Amazon head off a lawsuit by making the text-to-speech capability controllable by e-book publishers via a flag which disables the functionality - is directly responsible for the DX's main failings, at least according to the director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ken Frazier: "the big disappointment [in the trials] was learning that the Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind. Advancements in text-to-speech technology have created a market opportunity for an e-book reading device that is fully accessible for everyone, [but] this version of the Kindle e-book reader missed the mark."

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, is even more scathing in his disdain for the device: in a statement regarding the use of the Kindle DX in education as a replacement for traditional textbooks, Dr. Maurer states that "it is our position that no university should consider this device [the Kindle DX] to be a viable e-book solution for its students."

So far Amazon has not commented on the findings of the university, nor on the comments from the National Federation of the Blind - but it's hard to see how the company can possibly address concerns without re-implementing the original, universal text-to-speech capability and raising the ire of the Authors' Guild once more.

Do you believe that Amazon needs to tell the Authors' Guild where to go and bring the original accessibility features back, or are universities expecting too much from an electronic textbook device? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

24 Comments

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feedayeen 12th November 2009, 10:34 Quote
How about a separate version designed for the blind? It would have the same functionality except it includes a refreshable braille display and a smaller display.

If they absolutely need text to speech then announce a Kindle that is sold as a medical device. If the Authors' Guild of America says no to that, insult them and cry that they are trying to discriminate against the disabled. Sure it's a cheap shot but the AGA deserves it if they want to claim a robotic voice and a computer algorithm violates their rights.
SlowMotionSuicide 12th November 2009, 10:48 Quote
This:
Quote:
If they absolutely need text to speech then announce a Kindle that is sold as a medical device. If the Authors' Guild of America says no to that, insult them and cry that they are trying to discriminate against the disabled. Sure it's a cheap shot but the AGA deserves it if they want to claim a robotic voice and a computer algorithm violates their rights.

+1
jsheff 12th November 2009, 10:52 Quote
What? You mean you wouldn't pay to go to a recital of Hamlet starring Steven Hawking?
ChaosDefinesOrder 12th November 2009, 11:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SlowMotionSuicide
This:
Quote:
If they absolutely need text to speech then announce a Kindle that is sold as a medical device. If the Authors' Guild of America says no to that, insult them and cry that they are trying to discriminate against the disabled. Sure it's a cheap shot but the AGA deserves it if they want to claim a robotic voice and a computer algorithm violates their rights.

+1

+2
Krikkit 12th November 2009, 11:12 Quote
+3.

I would've loved an e-book reader at uni, I can't even imagine how useful it would've been if all the textbooks were available for it.
Dr. Strangelove 12th November 2009, 11:50 Quote
Hmm sure I agree with feedayeen, however should the kids not learn to READ!!!??

I mean if there is a text to speech function how much do you want to bet that 90% of the kids that have normal sight would just have the book read out to them instead of actually reading it?

Sure for blind kids this would be optimal, could they make the text to speech function something the teachers/parents would have to enable so that only kids who needs it get it?
[USRF]Obiwan 12th November 2009, 11:57 Quote
So basically, because of the people at the "Authors' Guild of America" all the blind people still can't hear any books.
licenced 12th November 2009, 12:09 Quote
Quote:
the text-to-speech capability controllable by e-book publishers via a flag
So the publishers decide whether to enable text-to-speech in their books but it's Amazon's fault they don't?
Have I missed something?
feedayeen 12th November 2009, 12:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove
Hmm sure I agree with feedayeen, however should the kids not learn to READ!!!??

I mean if there is a text to speech function how much do you want to bet that 90% of the kids that have normal sight would just have the book read out to them instead of actually reading it?

Sure for blind kids this would be optimal, could they make the text to speech function something the teachers/parents would have to enable so that only kids who needs it get it?

Students without visual impairments wont use it for the same reason that you don't use the text to speech functionality in Firefox and Adobe pdfs. Text to speech sucks and it will for the foreseeable future.

While they suck, it still beats braille because you can't do anything with your hands while you are reading and I would imagine that there are significant limitations as to how much and fast you can read with braille displays.


This is still moot because if it is sold as a medical device, those without disabilities wont use it.
Skiddywinks 12th November 2009, 13:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by licenced
Quote:
the text-to-speech capability controllable by e-book publishers via a flag
So the publishers decide whether to enable text-to-speech in their books but it's Amazon's fault they don't?
Have I missed something?

That was exactly the vibe I got.
Phil Rhodes 12th November 2009, 13:25 Quote
Quote:
refreshable braille display

Only a fairly small proportion of blind people actually read braille - it's notoriously difficult to learn, especially if you lose your sight later in life and don't do it when you're five. It also isn't terribly fast. Not to say that a braille version wouldn't be fantastic for people who can do it. Braille is very bulky compared to print, so braille editions of books are often cruelly abridged and this wouldn't need to suffer from that, but it's far from a universal solution.
Spigsy 12th November 2009, 13:49 Quote
I have no doubt that the 'complaints' from the authors guild of America equates to a heavy handed threat of legal action which has blanket support from all publishers- who happen also to be Amazon's suppliers.

Spoken word is a niche market which supports a small part of the literary canon- where available I think it will always be chosen over text to speech by the visually impaired. Its a crying shame that this chance to offer a far wider range of texts to these people will be tied down by laywers; I expect to see this service offered as soon as they work out an appropriate economic distribution model where they can milk more cash from those who need this the most.

Disgusting, but absolutely predictable.
sear 12th November 2009, 13:56 Quote
You realise the only reason for this is so that the faculties can still charge ludicrous amounts of money for their own textbooks, right?
BOFH 12th November 2009, 16:38 Quote
I don't see how this is legal?

{QUOTE}
From the dyslexia point of view there are two problems with UK copyright law:

1. Since the passage of the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, UK copyright law has contained an anomaly. The Act gave visually impaired people rights to have copyright texts converted so that they can read them as comfortably as possible, without needing to get permission from the publisher. Dyslexic people, however, although equally covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, were not included in the 2002 Act and so do not enjoy the same rights.This means that many dyslexic people waste a lot of time scanning text so that they can read it (using OCR and Text to Speech). And the organisations that create Talking Books and do other conversions for visually impaired people cannot serve those with other reading impairments and so have to discriminate against them.
2. For visually impaired people, too, it is unnecessarily difficult and expensive to make these conversions. In most cases they must scan the text from the printed form. This is ridiculous because, in practically all cases today, the text was already in electronic form before it was printed. With proper tools and a little more care in the publication work flow process, this electronic text could be converted into a form suitable for reading-impaired people, at the press of a button. Publishers should be compelled to make an electronic version available to approved organisations, via a central electronic deposit.
MrBurritoMan 12th November 2009, 18:39 Quote
Score another point for those "all so noble" unions that are crippling countries and industries alike.
wuyanxu 12th November 2009, 20:02 Quote
well, without ability to write on the device, it really can't replace paper books.

my old man always says, if you don't have any marks on your book, you haven't read it. (technical book)
B3CK 13th November 2009, 02:14 Quote
This whole thing makes me think there is way more going on, politically. As stated before, they already had a flag to use to mark the book as Speech enabled or not, and on top of that, they could have the same book sold at a higher price for the speech enabled version.
As to reading most books, having speech to text version vs. an actual person reading the book is very different. So much of the book is lost when hearing a computer read a sentance vs. an actual person reading aloud. Not so much of an issue in text books, but not every person that owns a kindle is using it for text books only.
And I can see how some authors get more money for audible books, as there is more cost involved with getting it there, but like stated before, they can use the flag method, or sell a second audible copy at a different price.
perplekks45 13th November 2009, 07:47 Quote
I will never ever use a handheld device to read if I can buy the same book in a book shop, made of real paper. There is nothing better than relaxing with a good book at home and for me, a REAL book is quite an essential part of that.

More on topic:

Amazon tried to do something good there but simple-minded people couldn't see the benefit, only the money they'd potentially lose.
You could replace "Amazon" with any company as there's always some group or another getting scared of not making the most possible amount of money with a certain product so they just sue. What a nice world we're living in...
Furymouse 14th November 2009, 03:07 Quote
How does a Kindles lack of text to speech differ from a regular paper textbook? I know for a fact my college books never read to me.

Conspiracy theory:
I think this is mostly due to textbook publishers realizing that they could be losing vast amounts of money if such a device were available. Paying nearly $300 for a " new " edition of the same old textbook would look like highway robbery. They want to keep things the way they are, so they throw their weight around to get their way. [/rant]
cyrilthefish 14th November 2009, 04:58 Quote
The Authors' Guild of America has been acting of late as the rough equivalent of the RIAA.

...eg: corporate interests only.

Very depressing really, the past year has seen the Kindle brand crushed to it's current level of roughly being equal to the worst pro-DRM arguments ever made.

I think ebooks will be the way forward, but Amazon's kindle represents everything that could possibly go wrong with such a service in one easy package.

It's just amazing, Sony is the sole voice of reason in this one area, and usually i'd consider Sony as being the 'evil corporation' by default, this is the one and only exception to the rule for some strange reason...

Sony: i find it harder and harder to resist your ebook readers due to your unusual/unexpected 3rd-party support. keep it up and resist corporate interests and i will gladly buy and recommend your products for years to come...
Surnia 18th November 2009, 14:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Furymouse
How does a Kindles lack of text to speech differ from a regular paper textbook? I know for a fact my college books never read to me.

I agree with this, why are school systems rejecting a method of essentially reducing cost and bulk of material because it lacks a text-to-speech function? its like saying every textbook purchase made in their bookstores should come with an audio component... If anything it seems more like an additional benefit of the device rather than an essential feature.
perplekks45 18th November 2009, 16:36 Quote
Your average book doesn't cost 200$ either, does it?
RichardNester 25th November 2009, 10:34 Quote
For free is always most preferable:) I noticed that Americanlisted have a competition where you could win a Kindle 2.
http://www.americanlisted.com/competition/
MSHunter 26th January 2010, 22:13 Quote
This high $300 book most probably refers to UNI booksie text books for your courses. I have paid over $150 for 1 Business text book before. It is extremely expensive to buy your UNI books, but it can be necessary.
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