image The Los Angeles Public Library won’t buy e-books in a format for Adobe Digital Editions until ADE software supports text to speech, according to Library Journal.

OverDrive, supplying ADE-format books for the library, hopes that a solution can be worked out, but if not, it will be “working on other avenues” beyond Adobe.

image The controversy has all kind of ramifications for disabled and nondisabled users alike. I applaud the Los Angeles library and OverDrive for their concern and hope that it sends a strong message to publishers, especially those who’ve used the Kindle’s DRM to switch off synthesized speech for many best-sellers. Should Amazon go after the library e-book market, libraries should not only insist on the use of the ePub standard but also on TTS capabilities for all Amazon-supplied books.

Meanwhile also keep in mind that library users aren’t the only ones affected by proprietary DRM. So are book “owners” who buy ePub books tainted with Adobe-only DRM, which makes the books unreadable with other companies’ ePub-capable software. Owners, too, can’t enjoy TTS in ADE books. Libraries for now may not be able to dump DRM, because, alas, it’s so much a part of their business model, dependent on expirations of checked-out books, but DRM in retail situations is different. Why should future access to books—in cases such as when a hard drive goes south—depend so heavily on the whims or survival of a particular company?

Meanwhile, Bill McCoy, Adobe’s general manager for e-books, admits that the lack of TTS support for the disabled is a “black eye for me personally” and expects to “be able to make some specific announcements around this shortly.” From the McCoy Blog:

The basic concern of the Reading Rights Coalition is legitimate. Adobe Digital Editions is a PC application that replaced the eBook support that was present in older versions of Adobe Reader. While there are many new capabilities in Adobe Digital Editions, most importantly support for epub in addition to PDF, and overall its more consumer-focused user interface, Adobe Reader did support screen readers and a "read out loud" feature, neither of which is presently in Adobe Digital Editions. This is a regrettable situation. It stems from the fact that, for a number of reasons, we made the decision to build Adobe Digital Editions in a technology called Adobe Flex, targeting the Adobe Flash desktop runtime that became Adobe AIR. While the browser-based version of Flash Player has for quite some time included accessibility support, the desktop configuration has not, and neither the AIR team nor our Digital Editions team was able to incorporate accessibility support in our respective version 1 implementations.”

The good news is that at least it is a technical issue, as opposed to the library having to deal with a bunch of lawyers. I suspect that Adobe does want TTS.

Perhaps the real solution would be a complete redesign ADE, whose interface really gets on my nerves and detracts and distracts mightily from the reading experience.

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  1. Wait a minute. Sony is publicizing its library compatibility, yet the Sony Reader does NOT have Text to Speech. So why aren’t they also pressuring the libraries to discontinue the Sony access until it comes up with TTS (which it won’t any time soon)?

  2. Thanks, Richard. If Sony goes after the library market in LA and offers Adobe-DRMed ePub, which is what OverDrive does, then it should be treated just like OD. As for the reader, it’s just one device that can use ADE. Desktops, for example, can also run DRMed Adobe—which, let’s hope, will soon gain TTS capabilities.


  3. The real heart of this mess is that publishers have no legal right to allow TTS with their books because they haven’t contracted those rights with their authors.

    In publishing, rights refer to the different types of format sales for a written work. Some of the rights that can be contracted from an author are the right to publish a paperback version, a hardcover version, an ebook version, and an audio version of a work.

    TTS really hasn’t been clarified as a right. Some think it is part of the ebook rights, some audio book rights, and some a right by itself. This can only be decided by a major court case, and the TTS right has so little value that no one will bother to take it to court.

    The best, but, unfortunately, the most expensive solution, is for publishers to offer a new contract or codicil to the contract of each author for each book for TTS.

    Again, TTS has so little value as a right that I doubt this will happen.

    In the case of many of the small publishers, the authors have agreed to allow TTS without it being specified as a right in their contract so the ebook is DRM free.

  4. Marilynn, that is a good summary of the TTS issue: some parties are holding back rights they think they control because of a belief that those rights are worth something, while everyone is stalled because they aren’t.

    In this case, though, that’s a tangential issue. The L.A. Public Library concern is one of the accessibility of the Adobe Digital Editions software (read the link repeated in the comments by Jim). Adobe’s current software no longer supports features that were present in the old version, but Adobe is working to correct this.

  5. The Hanlin V3 and V5 (also sold under many other names, depending on where you live) now have TTS for ePub and PDF via mobile Adobe Digital Editions. This works even for ebooks with DRM. I don’t know if it works for PDFs with TTS rights set to disallowed or not. So far as I know there is no TTS rights flag for Adobe ePub.

  6. TTS really hasn’t been clarified as a right. Some think it is part of the ebook rights, some audio book rights, and some a right by itself. This can only be decided by a major court case, and the TTS right has so little value that no one will bother to take it to court.

    I can’t understand how this hasn’t been settled (in the U.S.) long ago. The Americans with Disabilities Act (aka the Rehabilitation Act) clearly mandates providing essential services for people with disabilities, which includes visual disability. TTS clearly falls under this aegis, and in fact is mandatory in almost all government, many public and commercial situations.

    The sheer number of people who may or may not need it isn’t really the issue. If enough people who need TTS contact the Federal government and make the need clear, TTS will be made a mandatory part of any e-texts to be sold in this country.

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