Update: See the most recent version of the LibraryCity post with mention of an unofficial Jan. 9 deadline and a link to the FCC’s easy comment form. You need to submit formally.

Please e-mail the FCC ASAP. The agency deals with accessibility matters and will soon make an important accessibility decision affecting Kindles along with other e-readers. Don’t delay!

Amazon CEO Jeff BezosFor years, I’ve been publicly begging Amazon to stop muting its E Ink machines and restore text to speech in the future. I may even have been the first commentator to break the news about the Paperwhite’s lack of TTS.

This isn’t mere rhetoric. I sold my Voyage on eBay last month because—despite some improvements over the Paperwhite—it just hadn’t given me my $200’s worth without text to speech. I like to listen to books while exercising or driving. And what about the print-impaired? Read-aloud was in the Kindle 2 and some other models such as the Keyboard and the DX. Why did Amazon mute it? Don’t say, “Hey, the publishers selling human-narrated editions didn’t want it.” Amazon’s DRM lets them turn off TTS.

In addition, I’ve been pushing something else accessibility-related—an increase in the perceived contrast between background and text for those needing it. I’m among them. So are more than a few other baby boomers with aging eyes.

A friendly note arrived from one of Jeff Bezo’s assistants after I wrote jeff@amazon.com about the need for all-text bold or a slider or radio buttons to vary font weights. Kobo E Ink readers have sliders to tweak the weight and even the sharpness; see image below. Why can’t Amazon’s current Kindles? And if Kobo itself can add TTS, so much the better.

Below is my reply to the Bezos assistant’s reply. I mentioned the missing TTS, too, and in fact, I’ve made the read-aloud issue the main one.

My reply to Amazon’s reply

kobo-aura-hd-fonts“Hi, Carly. Many thanks for your note. My wife shares the same first name, so maybe it’s a good omen that you responded—even if I am still hoping for an assurance that firmware updates in the near future can give Kindles and Fires the desired function of all-text bolding or variable font weights. The latter would be a better solution.

“I can’t see a downside. Yes, I know the Amazon philosophy of ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’ But even the people not interested in all-bold now might discover they wanted the feature, once it existed. This isn’t just an accessibility issue. With a greater perceived font weight, users would not have to crank up the brightness quite as much, and they would enjoy longer battery life with the Kindle’s front light on.

“As long as we’re in touch about accessibility, I’ll also bring up the failure of Amazon to include text to speech in the newer E Ink devices–not even the $200 Voyage. This is an unfortunate mistake in a number of ways.

“Hasn’t Amazon worked with the PTA to get Kindles into the hands of K-12 students and their families? Schools and libraries would prefer more accessibility, especially with Washington watching them. Amazon may see a market here, but it would be a bigger one with TTS, which, by the way, counts in the opinion of the CTO for the public schools here in Alexandria, VA (she and I were not discussing the Kindle in particular, but I’m sure she would say the same idea applied).

“Just as with the lack of all-text bolding, I suspect I know the main reason–in this case, marketers saying, “Oh, let’s segment things and encourage people to buy a Fire, too, not just an E Ink machine, if they want TTS.” But you know what? There are plenty of good reasons, such as the rich collection of videos for the Fire, to purchase both kinds of devices. Furthermore, while we’re on the topic of market segmentation, wouldn’t TTS be one more way to differentiate the Voyage from the much-cheaper Paperwhite.

“Even just a little lip for a headphone jack would be terrific. Imagine a Voyage with a TTS voice on par with Alexa’s in Echo. At least make it as good as Amy’s, one of the best of the Ivona voices.

“For once, I hope that common sense can prevail over marketer-think. I’d suggest that you and Jeff Bezos read a few of the zillions of customer complaints about the AWOL TTS. Among other things, commenters have said in the related forum that no one is paying attention to them except to screen out inappropriate material. Amazon depicts itself as super-customer-friendly; and here’s a chance to provide it. My own TTS thoughts, in the LibraryCity blog, are here and here.

“Needless to say, I hope you’ll share this note with Jeff B. Over the years I’ve bought thousands of dollars in e-books and devices; and, especially among the boomers, I’m confident that more than a few Amazon regulars like me would appreciate the requested features. Please ignore the marketers and anyone else challenging the need for these essentials. Amazon should pay less less attention to B school dogma and focus groups and more to actual customers. The best marketers and techies will look far beyond their personal needs and anticipate others’.

“Meanwhile, Carly, I’m going to say, ‘No,’ in response to the questionnaire asking whether you solved my problem. It is not your fault in the least. The rest is up to Jeff Bezos and the others working for him. Hey, I’ll think good thoughts. Remember how Amazon folks listened and came though with Instant Video for Android?

“Thanks and happiest of holidays,
”David Rothman”

A New Year’s Resolution for Jeff Bezos

How about it, Jeff? May the above be among your New Year’s resolutions! Given the accessibility issues and the related moral questions, you’ll feel better if you follow the suggestions here, and along the way you’ll boost your revenue and please shareholders along with customers.

Note: I’ve wondered in the past if the lack of TTS in the E Ink devices might be a deliberate way to pump up the sales of human-narrated books from Amazon’s Audible division. I’m not so sure now. Audio capabilities in Amazon’s future E Ink machines could open up a whole new market for Audible.

Furthermore, even TTS fans like me will on occasions pay extra for human-narrated books. Nothing can substitute for both the text and the “sound track” of A Fighting Chance, as read so passionately by Elizabeth Warren herself (conservatives are very welcome to feel the same about their own favorites).

What’s more, as a Kindle Chronicles interview suggests, the creative folks at Audible are looking ahead to new approaches to add value to audiobooks.

Update, 1 p.m., Jan. 2, 2015: Both before and after Jeff Bezo’s purchase of the Washington Post, the newspaper has never run an item about the Paperwhite’s lack of text to speech, as best I can determine from Googling the newspaper’s site. Ditto for mention of TTS’s absence in the new Voyage. I’ll not speculate on the reasons. On December 29, I called this LibraryCity post to the attention of technology reporter Hayley Tsukayama and asked if it was possible she could follow up. No reply so far. I’ll retransmit the email to her later this week. Based on the ubiquity of the Paperwhite and the many complaints of the absence of TTS, as well as on its importance to the accessibility community, this topic in my opinion is undeniably newsworthy. Haley, I  know you lead a busy life, writing so much of the tech section; but why not check out the lack of TTS? Even if it isn’t in the Paperwhite, it at least should be in the $200 Voyage.

Update, 1:20, Jan. 2, 2015: Via the FCC’s media relations office, I’ve queried Chair Thomas Wheeler on Kindle-related FCC issues. The agency in the past granted manufacturers a waiver, and on The Digital Reader site, you can find more background. In a posted dated Feb. 7, 2014, TDR blogger Nate Hoffelder says  the TTS waiver is a limited one and will be extended or expire Jan. 28, 2015. He notes there are other rules. Still, comment on this one would help. While it’s too late to make the official deadline, you should still write Rosaline Crawford at the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. Her e-mail address is rosaline.crawford@fcc.gov. Let the FCC know how pathetic it would be for the waiver to apply even to a $200 machine.

“What is the current legal status of this matter?” I asked the FCC before running across Nate’s mention of the January 28th date. “Is there any chance that readers such as the Paperwhite and Voyage will need TTS in the future, under FCC requirements? While the manufacturers have raised price issues, the cost of a chip and headphone jack would be small. Furthermore, Amazon refuses to include TTS in the $200 Voyage E Ink device, hardly an economy machine. Does Chairman Wheeler have any thoughts on this issue? I’d also be curious if Mr. Wheeler would like to see a requirement for optional all-bolding or variable-weight fonts to increase perceived contrast—an issue especially of interest to some aging Americans with bad eyesight. Such features are in other machines like Kobo’s but not in the most common series of readers, the Kindles; and Amazon’s cost of adding them would be minuscule. Furthermore, note the all-bold capabilities of the Apple Web browser’s readability mode. The inclusion of a typeface optimized for people with dyslexia also would be a good for e-reader devices and could happen at minimal cost.”

I’m following up with an e-mail asking about the January 28 expiration; almost surely the decision has not been made yet. I do see that the FCC on Sept. 29, 2014, asked for comment on the waiver extension, with a comment deadline of Oct. 27, 2014, and a deadline of Nov. 14, 2014, for replies to comments. Here is an anti-extension letter that an Ohio woman wrote apparently in time for the related deadline. Given the scarcity of publicity on this matter—are you listening, Ms. Tsukayama?—it’s hardly surprising that the legalities of the TTS issue have escaped the public’s notice.

The above post is CC-licensed and appeared originally on the LibraryCity site.


  1. I agreed 100%. I’ve stayed with my Kindle 3 (Keyboard) because it has text-to-speech. That matters more to me than any feature they’ve added since.

    Keep in mind that the feature isn’t just for those with permanent disabilities. We can all become too sick to even do the simply mechanics of reading either a paper or ebook.. A few years back I certainly was. Even standing up was extremely painful. All I could do was lie flat in bed in the dark. I was very miserable and very bored.

    I could do nothing about the pain. This was one of those ‘there’s no treatment, just wait it out’ illnesses. But listening to ebook I already had on my Kindle beat the boredom. Without TTS, I’m not sure what I’ve had done.

    I’m passing that remark on the the FCC.

  2. Thanks to you, David, for raising this issue and giving us the FCC contact person.

    One other suggestion. Now might be a good time for the FCC to pressure Amazon about another much-needed feature for epaper Kindles. Its hardware cost would be virtually zero and the development costs easily written off over millions of sales and perhaps even increased sales because this would be a feature everyone would like.

    WiFi chips often have other features. When I checked a couple of years ago, chip being used in epaper Kindles could also handle Bluetooth devices. That’d mean that those who like to take notes for the books they use wouldn’t have to use a clumsy touchscreen keyboard, they could type happily away on a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard.

    Personally, I can’t understand why Amazon didn’t add that years ago. Heck, if I were Amazon, I’d not only add the feature. I’d sell an Amazon Bluetooth keyboard specifically designed for holding and controlling Kindles, one that’d use the function buttons for special purposes much like the Apple keyboard does with iPads.

    Even more important for some, that same Bluetooth interface could use the two buttons on a Bluetooth mouse to page forward and backward. It’d be particularly handy for those with mobility issues. For reading, a simple stand could hold up the Kindle and a $10 Bluetooth mouse could do the turning.

    Research, and you’ll find that mechanical devices that do this typically cost hundreds of dollars. One for my Kindle 3 costs $329, almost three times what I paid for the Kindle 3 itself. Nor do I blame the makers for that high expense. Specialty-built mechanical devices cost a lot to make. Give Kindles a Bluetooth page-turning interface, and all the various devices to enable access by taping, blowing, blinking or whatever would be much less expensive to create. And that device wouldn’t be obsoleted by new Kindle models.

    Everyone would benefit from that too. When I had that sciatica that I described in my previous posting, any movement was so painful, even holding the Kindle screen up and pushing the page-turn button was more than I wanted to endure. That’s why I knew I had to listen rather than read.

    If the FCC is going to be pressuring Amazon about text-to-speech, it might as well add Bluetooth support to the list. The two ideas go well together. That same Bluetooth mouse that pages could also be uses to stop and start the reading aloud.

    There’s even a parallel. Back in the 1980s, those with hearing problems paid large sums for specialized modems so they could communicate via phone. At the same time, every few years the far less expensive mass-market computer modems that others were using had their standards upgraded for faster speeds. At one point, that texting for the deaf standard was rolled into the definition of a new standard for those mass market modems. Now the deaf could buy a $89 modem that was a good and better than one that cost hundreds of dollars.

    This is a bit like that. These features benefit everyone and are a necessity for some. It makes good business sense for Amazon to add them.

  3. I too miss the text to speech capability on my Kindle Paperwhite.

    Text to speech will never replace an audiobook. It does fill other needs. I have had an illness the last two weeks and haven’t used the Paperwhite to read as it is too hard to concentrate and my vision is not up to the job. The text to speech would have let me continue in the book rather than postpone until after I get well.

    I have a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ and it is a wonderful media device. For reading I prefer the e-ink Kindles. Please, Jeff, make them a better reading device by adding the text to speech back and while you are at it, let them also play audiobooks, (syncing between e-book and audiobook). Make the e-ink a spectacular reader!

  4. Yet another angle to consider is the fact that if the eBooks sold by Amazon weren’t encumbered with DRM and an ever so slightly different format (KF8), customers could choose and use more amenable eReading apps/platforms.
    I wonder how difficult it is to strip Amazon DRM and convert KF8 to ePub. Anyone care to spill the beans on that?

  5. Michael, Ross & Frank: Thanks. I hope everyone will not only write the
    FCC but also Jeff@Amazon.com. And please share with us any interesting
    responses you get.

    @Michael: Bluetooth for Kindles and cheap page-turners would be
    terrific, and ideally Amazon itself will be open to some logic here. I
    agree with everything in your just-made comments.

    @Ross: Great thoughts. Amazon already has some e-book-audiobook
    syncing, but it could be improved. And, yes, a big difference exists
    between text-to-speech and human-read audiobooks

    @Frank: The best DRM for “owned” books, of course, is no DRM. Failing
    that, “social DRM” would be another option – since the files could
    still be read on a number of devices. As for discussion of stripping
    DRM, even for non-infringing purpose, that is a touchy subject if we
    go by the technicalities of the law. But certainly ways exist for this
    to happen.

    Ideally, with e-book growth slowing down, Amazon on its own can
    rethink its proprietary approach, which in so many ways interferes
    with customers’ enjoyment of books. Without DRM, Amazon would still do
    well because it is so often price competitive and has an unmatchably
    large collection of reader reviews. What’s more, while the hardware
    isn’t perfect, on the whole it’s pretty good.

    Of course, let’s keep in mind that the DRM decision is not Amazon’s
    alone – given the crazy insistence of large publishers on use of the

    The solution would be for Amazon to reward books without DRM (at least
    the traditional kind of DRM) and make it less profitable to sell the
    usual “protected” titles. Perhaps a little less promotion for them, if
    nothing else? And of course a transition to ePub would likewise be

    Happy New Year,

  6. My email to the FCC address above resulted in the following response.

    Thank you for your message expressing your desire that e-readers have that ability to render text-to-speech.

    The FCC’s rules require equipment used for advanced communications services (such as e-mail services) to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. On January 28, 2014, the FCC waived those requirements for basic e-readers that have an Internet browser that can be used for advanced communications services. A copy of that waiver order is available at https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-14-95A1.docx.

    The waiver will expire January 28, 2015. A coalition of e-reader manufacturers petitioned the FCC to extend the waiver. On September 26, 2014, the FCC released a public notice asking for public comment on the petition (https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-14-1403A1.docx). Comments were due by October 27, 2014, and reply comment were due by November 5, 2014.

    As described in the public notice, the FCC will treat your message about e-readers as an “ex parte” communication because it was submitted after the comment and reply comment periods. “Ex parte” communications must be filed in the FCC’s electronic comment filing system, which is available at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/. The FCC cannot consider “ex parte” communication in this proceeding that is not properly filed. The “proceeding number” in this matter is 10-213.

    If you want the content of your e-mail message filed as an “ex parte” communication in this proceeding, please submit it electronically at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/. If you need assistance with the FCC’s electronic comment filing system, please let me know. I can submit the content of your e-mail message for you, but you must provide me with your full name and mailing address (street address, city, state, and zip code). When filed, your name and mailing address, along with your “ex parte” communication, will be available to the public on the Internet.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    Rosaline Crawford
    Attorney Advisor
    Disability Rights Office


    Remember, this is government. Everything needs to follow the proper procedures and practices. So an email isn’t enough. We must use that FCC comment filing system for what we say. Here’s the link again.


    I wonder if the hitch may be the all-or-nothing nature of this ruling. Amazon is huge, deep-pocketed and already has TTS software and hardware. Restoring TTS wouldn’t be a burden to them and might actually improve Kindle sales. But the FCC may balk at imposing those same requirements on smaller and less-prepared ereader manufacturers. I’m not sure if the FCC can’t make a distinction between the two, but perhaps they should at least try by issuing a ruling by size, requiring TTS soon for the larger manufacturers and delaying it for the smaller ones.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

  7. I am going to play devil’s advocate here. I am personally fine with advocating Amazon to include text to speech in all of their readers, but I am not at all sure that getting the government involved is the wisest of moves. Lets keep in mind, accessibility requirements are tied to specific capabilities that the kindle has, specifically its ability to browse the web. I wonder how many Kindle owners really use that feature for anything other than buying books? In addition, it seems what most of the commenters here are asking for is for text to speech to be restored to the reader, it is not clear to me that FCC requirements will be limited to that capability but might also include other requirements that will ultimately make e-readers essentially as expensive (or more expensive) as tablets with greater functionality.

    The ultimate result might be that e-ink readers might be either forced out of the market or the devices that remain might be stripped down to prevent any sort of browsing beyond purchasing books.

  8. @MarylandBill: No prob with appealing to Amazon directly! I’ve done that. But we also need to encourage Washington to care about accessibility when the cost-benefit ratio is so attractive.

    Notice? Kindles once had TTS. Inclusion of TTS would hardly make the readers likely to vanish from the market. Amazon has already demonstrated it isn’t a burden. Perhaps TTS restoration per se could be a bargaining chip for the FCC to use in place of other accessibility measures for the Kindles and rivals. The other thing is that, as Mike points out, this could be done by company size, if the FCC somehow felt that TTS in the very near future would be a burden on smaller manufacturers. Or maybe by machine cost? It’s hard to argue that TTS would be a burden in Amazon’s $200 Voyage.

    Why no TTS in the Kindles, then? The probable reason is that some Amazon marketers hoped to get people to buy Fires as well since the latter had TTS. Dumb move. No audio of any kind in the Kindles means less of a market for Audible. TTS is not the same as human narration. Let’s think economics, not just the obvious moral considerations.

    At any rate, I’m keeping my eye on the main objective here, restoration of TTS, and if Jeff Bezos will do it on his own without a nudge from D.C., then great!

    Zillions of Amazon users—not all but many—hate the lack of TTS. Isn’t Jeff supposed to be customer-friendly? And didn’t Amazon act when TeleRead writers and others complained about the lack of an Android app for Instant Video? So I’ll think good thoughts and hope that Jeff will be responsive in this case, too.

  9. I’ve never really thought about this because I still have my 3rd generation Kindle keyboard. Something else that I wish would happen is a paperwhite Kindle that is the size of the old DX. I know they brought that model back briefly last year, but I’d love to have a reader that size with touchscreen capabilities and updated features. The complaint I have about my current Kindle is that it doesn’t have enough of a book feel. I love the size of my iPad Air for reading, but I hate reading on what is essentially a computer screen. Does anyone know if there are any plans for a larger screen eReader from Amazon?

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