Is this part of a consumer-hostile niching initiative by Amazon to high-pressure my fellow Kindle addicts into buying more than one gizmo?
Yes, I suspect—if we consider similar disappointments, such as the omission of sound in the Paperwhite E Ink reader line.
Separately, it appears that at least for now, Amazon won’t offer a text-to-speech upgrade for owners of the original Fire (above photo). Let’s speak up and change that! Big thanks to Andrea for nailing this one down, and I hope other LibraryCity community participants will also raise usability issues with Amazon in a civil way and share with us the company’s replies. I may forward relevant responses to the National Federation of the Blind.
Back to line spacing. I had trouble grasping the idea of a Kindle HD without adjustable spacing in the e-reading app. Surely Amazon had cleverly tucked away the means to do this; wouldn’t the proper tap on the screen bring such a standard feature back into sight? Wrong, apparently. I invited Len Edgerly of the stellar Kindle Chronicles blog and podcast—like me, a super-devoted Kindle fan despite abominations like the lack of ePub—to join the search for this capability. He, too, couldn’t find a line spacing adjustment. Please, Jeff Bezos. If line spacing is indeed missing, Amazon should pledge immediately that it will show up pronto in the next HD upgrade.
Just why is a smart Princeton guy like Bezos allowing his company to do this to us? Because his marketers decided, “Let’s make the HD a good reading machine—but not too good, so people will buy our Paperwhites, while also relying on their HDs for text to speech and Audible books”? Just how much would adjustable line spacing cost to add? Might politicians nefariously tax the related bytes?
Whatever the reason, such an omission seems to be part of a charming little trend of a dumbing down or at least niching of Amazon products for book-lovers (on top of Amazon’s war against openness, as documented here). I doubt that librarians will be ecstatic, given that Kindles are probably the most common way to read library e-books, at least in the U.S.
The Paperwhites actually come with less memory (2GB) than the older Kindle Keyboards (4GB), despite decreases in storage prices. Granted, some consumers might not think they’ll need 4GB. But what if they eventually want to pick up a boatload of public domain titles for “just in case” reading? Or store zillions of documents for reference at work? How much would the missing 2GB have cost? $1.00? $2.00?
Even more importantly, the Paperwhites don’t even have speakers or headphone jacks, much less text to speech. Was it a Planet of the Apes movie or another film that contained a line in the vein of, “You’ve cut out his vocal cords!”? That’s about how I feel about The Great Muting of the Paperwhites. No, they never had sound in the first place, but the omission of the speakers and TTS is still a depressing surprise to plenty of people besides me. And remember, the fun comes from an outfit billing itself as “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company”! With Customer Centricity like this, who needs enemies?
Meanwhile, following LibraryCity’s advice to contact Amazon about the missing text to speech in the Paperwhite as well as other lapses, Andrea has learned from Kindle customer support that the company won’t upgrade her old Fire to include TTS. I wonder why. Lack of hardware capabilities? Almost surely not. Or niching zealotry?
I’ll reproduce Andrea’s well-done message to Amazon, then the reply from Kindle customer support. Andrea:
I’m a Kindle Fire owner who was very disappointed that Text to speech for Kindle books was not included. I was sure that you’d upgrade it to include this option, but months passed without an upgrade of software. I know it is capable of this as QuickOfficePro can read documents to me on the Kindle Fire.
Now I hear many of the new devices are without text to speech – I’d strongly prefer that all Paperwhites and other Kindle products include text to speech in the future. But failing that, can you at least offer it as an option at a reasonable charge? I don’t wish to buy the newer, more expensive Fire that will allow text to speech. Will you be upgrading the software on the Fire I already own to allow this? I suggest that Amazon should consult closely with the National Federation of the Blind to come up with the best voiceover systems for blind and visually impaired people.
Here is Amazon’s laudably prompt, courteous, complete but mostly disheartening reply to Andrea:
I understand your concern for the Text to speech feature on Kindle Fire, all Paperwhites and other Kindle products. Please understand that as of now, there is no software update which can upgrade Kindle fire and other kindle products to have the Text to speech feature. Hence, we are not able to upgrade a Kindle for a different version. I have passed along your comments to our developers as customer feedback like yours is essential in helping us determine what features our customers want most.
As soon as we have any information about the availability of this software we’ll let you know through an email. I appreciate your thoughts and we’re glad you took time to write to us.
However, your Kindle may be eligible for the Amazon Trade-In Program. The Amazon Trade-In Program allows you to receive an Amazon.com Gift Card in exchange for your eligible items. For more information on how to trade in a used Kindle or other eligible items, please visit this Help page: http://www.amazon.com/tradein/howto
I’m very sorry about all of this. I hope you’ll consider this an isolated incident and give us another chance in the future. If you still need any assistance, I request you to reach us by chat or phone by visiting our Kindle Support pages so that we’ll help you right away: http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport
For Chat: When you visit our website and select Contact Us, click “Start Chatting” option under the “Chat” label in “How would you like to contact us?” section.
For Phone: When you visit our website and select Contact Us, click on the “Phone” tab, enter your number, and we’ll call you right back. Contacting us through the website allows you to verify security before a call is placed and ensures we have your account information ready when we call you.
If your country isn’t listed or you’re unable to take advantage of the Contact Us feature, you can call us directly at 1-866-321-8851 or 1-206-266-2992 if you’re calling from outside the U.S.
Thanks for your understanding and cooperation. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Thank you for your inquiry…
Yo, Bezos! Listen to Andrea, your customer. Notice how she bought her Fire while reasonably anticipating that an upgrade would bring text to speech to the e-reading app? I don’t know if she’s blind. But I can think of how much a used Fire with TTS could mean to a blind person on a budget (more than a little redundancy in those last few words!) Millions of Americans are blind or otherwise disabled, and through groups like the NFB, they pack clout on Capitol Hill. You’re playing with fire—no pun intended—when reckless niching comes ahead of accessibility. If you want the feds to regulate every facet of the e-book industry someday, niching zealotry is a perfect way to help bring this about.
So how about being “Customer Centric” in a different way and worrying less about nickel and diming us and more about, say, fixing the invisible on-off switch and volume control on the HD? Jeff, I really love your products on the whole; they’re a big part of my life. But so often, despite Amazon’s many positives, actual practices belie the buzzwords.
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Note: I’m going to share this post with an Amazon public relations employee, with a request that he pass it on to Jeff Bezos personally. Chances are that the Amazon people won’t reply. But I’d like to give them an opportunity. Ideally Amazon will remember one of the rules of public relations: Get bad news out of the way fast! In Bezos’ place, I’d value reputation, goodwill and long-term profitability over pride—and promise text to speech in future Paperwhites, as well as other much-needed actions such as a TTS software upgrade for old Fires. (And, please: Supply tentative ETAs!) If he wants to say, “Oh, we had the TTS upgrade and the rest in mind all along,” that’s fine by me. I just want a prompt, firm and exceedingly public commitment to the idea of this upgrade and the other improvements.