Neil Gaiman waxes sensible on Kindle Audiobooks and the redonkulous Author's Guild

For those of you who are outraged (as I am) to discover that the Authors' Guild believes that a piece of software that can read an ebook aloud infringes copyright by "performing" the work as an audiobook, here's Neil Gaiman being unbelievably sensible on the subject.
When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.
What he said, but with no-severance layoffs for anyone who is blowing potential marketing dollars for audiobooks on pursuing this fool's errand. The Authors' Guild is hell-bent on convincing the world that ripping off authors is OK, because we're a bunch of greedy jerks like the record industry.

Quick argument summary


  1. In a few years the Kindle 6 will be able to read books in a variety of voices and tones and speeds, all of which will sound remarkably close to a generic but competently performed audiobook. That’s what they’re afraid of.

    They’re still wrong, however!

  2. but, but…!! what’s to keep them from having little projected holographic characters act out the story!!??

  3. Mr. Gaiman has been on the leading edge of promoting more copyright sanity and common sense for quite awhile. He even convinced his publishers to give away a few of his books online…for free (although for a limited time). The result: more book sales. In a world where publishing houses face rough times his books continue to sell, and sell well. Partially this is due to the man knowing how to write a good story, but I think he is also good at common sense marketing and getting his publishers to go along with it.

  4. When you have a Kindle, you’re not BUYING a book anyway you’re merely renting it. There is no physical object, merely data. Can I put it on a shelf and take it down 10 years later so I can appreciate it again? No. Can I give it to a friend? No. Will it appreciate in value as time goes on? No. Can I resell it on eBay or take it to a used bookstore when I’m done reading it? No.

    Pretty expensive piece a bloatware to read rented books on, isn’t it? And it doesn’t even work outside the US… what’s the point?

    I can get books free from the library, why would I want to rent them from Amazon at $10 a pop?

  5. I listen to a lot of audio books, and appreciate a good narrator, often seeking out books based on a narrator such as George Guidall.

    I recently listened to Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys” narrated by Lenny Henry, and it was by far the most nuanced and entertaining performance I’ve encountered in an audiobook. I can’t imagine a computer-generated ever coming close in the foreseeable future.

  6. I have Neil Gaiman’s audiobooks because I want to hear Neil Gaiman (or his designated narrators, in the case of Anansi Boys and Mirrormask) read them.
    I have the boxed set of David Sedaris’s audiobooks because I want to hear David Sedaris reading his work. The same goes for Phillip Pullman, for Douglas Adams’ radio plays, etc.

    Audiobooks, done well, and by talented readers (not all authors are good at this!) can add a great deal to the story. But they aren’t just the book in audio format. They are performances of the work. The Kindle robo-reader is completely unrelated.

  7. Quote: The Authors’ Guild is hell-bent on convincing the world that ripping off authors is OK, because we’re a bunch of greedy jerks like the record industry.

    Not really. I’m virtually certain the authors I admire and respect couldn’t care less about “performance fees” for a Kindle, since THEY are hell-bent on exposing their work to as wide an audience as possible. And since they’re people I’d rather die in my tracks before I ripped them off, it’s a non-issue for me, as well.

    The REAL issue for the Kindle is the DRM and monopoly wannabe ambitions of Amazon anyway. What would the Authors’ Guild do if Amazon succeeds and they have to go hat-in-hand to Amazon to get their books out to the public?

  8. i’ve bought american gods on ebook, and i’ve bought the audio version superbly narrated by George Guidell.

    and now i have to buy a paper copy to lend.

  9. #12: Sorry, you’re not allowed to lend books anymore. Didn’t you read the EULA on the copyright page?

  10. When you have a Kindle, you’re not BUYING a book anyway you’re merely renting it. There is no physical object, merely data

    Er, you *do* know that many, many people buy music in data form, right? Most people don’t worry that they aren’t buying a physical album — in fact, they are glad — less crap that they need to store someplace.

    Now, there are real arguments against the Kindle — the DRM, etc — I’d like to see open DRM-free/device-neutral ebooks of current works, readable on computers, cell-phones, Kindles, Sony Readers, etc. much like is happening with DRM-free digital music, but this neo-Luddite fixation on physical objects is absurd.

  11. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly…

    Get rid of the DRM and let’s tweak Vorbis (or something) to support printed quotation marks as tags, and voices as metadata of those tags. Or some markup + metadata schema.

    I’d like to purchase an audio reader with a few hardware voices, male and female; and have them assume roles in a book through an intelligent, open format. Emphasis on open.

    Actually, what I’d really like is Neil Gaiman reading and performing, with puppetry, Sandman stories in my home. I can live without another LCD.

  12. Joel @#1:
    If the Kindle ever gets as good as a real Audio Book, it will mean authors can sell audio books without the overhead of producing them. So they are even wrong to be afraid of that.

  13. On a related note: I would like to know why audiobooks are often more than the printed version. Considering the time and materials making them, I would think they would cost as much as a album or less.

  14. Why are people falling over themselves in love with the Kindle. It is horrible since it locks you into Amazon to get anything on it. The Sony reader will at least let you upload your own content without having to pay a company to do it for you. The Kindle is neat but it’s horrible drm of having to be locked into Amazon is just unforgivable.

  15. “When you buy a book, you’re also buying the right to (..) read it to your children (…) This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one’s going to confuse it with an audiobook.”

    I like to think that when I read to my children I do the voices much better than any audiobook, because I know exactly what my kids like, and I can adapt to their mood.

    Same goes for my girlfriend when I read Anais Nin to her in bed. Audiobooks are a very, very poor substitute for actually reading to each other.

  16. “What would the Authors’ Guild do if Amazon succeeds and they have to go hat-in-hand to Amazon to get their books out to the public?”

    Is this supposed to be a rhetorical question?

  17. Of course, let’s complete ignore the rights of the blind and visually impaired to “read.” At present, they are forced to either go without or buy expensive equipment to convert their books into Braille or read aloud on their computers.

    Maybe the authors guild need to stick their Remingtons up their collective arses. What a bunch of Feebs!

  18. #17 Xeoron

    On a related note: I would like to know why audiobooks are often more than the printed version. Considering the time and materials making them, I would think they would cost as much as a album or less.

    Re: Audiobook vs Printed book:
    Stamping the product out is not the only cost of production. There are also the studio fees and the voice-artists’ fees, engineers, PR, foley artists, music coordinator.. Also, lots of audioboks are upwards of three hours long (sometimes significantly longer) and can have an ensemble cast besides the narrator. Plus the actual cost of printing of a 3-6 CD pack, boxwork, etc.

    And on top of all that, the audiobook is not just a side revenue, it is a derivative version of the real book, so you have to factor in purchasing a license to the book itself (minus the physical costs) as well.

    So it isn’t just a cd you are buying, it’s a value-added book in audio form, hence the sometimes higher cost.

    It is possible that the variability of the pricing structure is to do with whether the audiobook was released in the initial revenue cycle of the deadtree version, and hence budgeted to counter the gross production costs. Or, released as a self-serving boon later, when book sales had covered the initial overheads (writers fees, production costs).

  19. There is no possible world in which all of the musicians are ‘greedy jerks’ whereas all of the literary authors are wonderful and reader-friendly. Clearly, the copyfight will be fought across all media, and is not nearly finished yet, and every industry will have its own examples of wrong moves. Anyone who thought their particular medium was made predominantly of the wiser practitioners has almost certainly been fooling themselves, and what has really been going on is that some media have not been thrust first onto the front lines.

    I predict that we will stupid self-defeating moves from other industries with less experience than the RIAA, that far dwarf the RIAA’s tactics in wrongheadedness and just plain FAIL — although due to the sizes of the minor industries, they will all be minor, less cash-fueled failures, like this one.

    I just finished witnessing a bunch of physical crafts artist — mostly thirty- or fortysomething women, strike up a lynch mob to have the remix art of a whole community of mostly twentysomething women destroyed and removed from existence forever, simply because a picture of a real-life doll was used in some corner of the collage.

    If copyright didn’t exist as a legal concept, it is quite clear that these women would feel nothing but pride and support toward their younger non-competitive counterparts in another medium. Since the law tells them that they own something intangible, one woman with a nonsensical chip on her shoulder was able to raise a whole posse of people into an ethical mouth-frothing desire to destroy the original, highly creative art of a younger generation of women.

    Copyright brainwashing is so big, that it’s bigger than female gender solidarity — and that’s big.

  20. The way to squeeze more money out of the buyer is to subdivide the different uses, and charge for each. The smaller you can partition them, the more money you will get.

    Next year, you will get a “license” to read the book in the car on your commute to work. If you want to read it in your living room while waiting for the car pool, it’s another license. Reading it during lunch time? Another charge …

  21. I *did* rip off an author recently – I read from piratebay. *Damn* fine book. So I bought it in paper form. But I felt guilty, still. I was spending money on something I’ll never use, causing a little carbon-footprint-splodge, just so I could send a tiny *fraction* of that money to the author.

    Is there a charity site where people can give money to artists? It’s got to exist, because people must have thought of it already, but I can’t find it.

    Every, say, six months (or however often publishing houses send out money), any author who can be found, and to whom has been donated more than however much it costs for the company to send out a check, gets the check.

    The authors who couldn’t be found would be displayed to the public, with requests for help finding them.

    When donating the money, people could optionally mark a timeout within which the author would have to be found, and any number of secondary recipients (including charities) to whom the money could be given if the author was not found within that time.

    Authors would be contacted wherever possible to establish if they’d prefer not to get the money, or to be paid by paypal or somesuch.

    Could be extended to cover other artists afterwards. Like that comedian on youtube? Tip him! Like that actress? Buy her a drink! Like that director’s work? Help fund his next one!

    Of course, the closest you’d get to sending the money to most artists would be sending it to their agent. Are agents typically trustworthy with that kinda thing? If the sum were huge enough to worry about trustworthiness, I suspect ways could be found to send it to the artist directly, though.

    Would this even be FAIR? I mean, take it to the extreme: if it became the ONLY way people paid for books, then the people who convert books from crap to gold (editors and such, who manage 0.1 errors/thousand lines, a figure that’s incredible to a programmer like me) would get nothing. Or rather, the whole system would be turned on its head, and the author would have to be the one paying any editors and agents.

    Still, fairness question aside: if it doesn’t exist, I think this could be fun to set up… but like all my “great ideas”, I’m sure people are gonna say “it’s already been done”. I’d be interested in the URL, in that case.

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