How John Birmingham lost a reader

by John Wilker in Business, eBooks, I am a Consumer, Kindle, Writing

designatedtargetsI stumbled across John Birmingham’s “Axis of Time series” because book 1 was free in the Kindle store (Great idea, Amazon or John or his publisher).

After thoroughly enjoying ‘Weapons of Choice’ at the gym and while folding clothes in the Kindle’s robot voice, at the car wash, etc. I bought book 2, and added 3 to my Universal Wishlist.

Sunday morning I was getting ready to fold some clothes, so I grabbed my Kindle, went into the menu for ‘Designated Targets’ and what do I see? Start Text to Speach, is grayed out.


Sure enough, someone; John or his publisher has decided I’m not allowed to use the book I legitimately purchased in any way I please. The decision was made that I couldn’t listen to the book while I did something else.

I won’t be reading future books in the series, nor will I be finishing ‘Designated Targets’, and I hope no one else does. As a consumer and someone who believes that technology is not a tool for abusing consumers, I can’t support an author that thinks I’m not trustworthy, or thinks he can milk me for more money with an version of the book or whatever shitty logic is applied to the “Disable text to speach in my books mentallity”

I really hope that publishing wakes up sooner than (have they yet?) the RIAA/MPAA. I can’t stress this enough, this time in history for publishing is the same as the launch of iTunes, napster before it, etc for music and movies. So far publishing seems to be going down a similar path.

I also hope that Amazon makes it clear on product pages, which Kindle editions have been crippled, so that I can avoid those books. It’s a bummer for sure, but I won’t support such practices.

13 Responses to “How John Birmingham lost a reader”

  1. Keith Peters says:

    It took a lot of years for the recording industry to realize that excessive content restriction is bad for business in the long run. Looks like the publishing industry is going to have to go through the same learning process. The text to speech restriction is pretty ridiculous though. I can't imagine anybody playing and recording an entire book via the Kindle's text to speech feature, and sharing it. No doubt it will happen, but I don't think it would even have a significant impact on that book's sales. I've occasionally used text to speech on my Kindle, but would wouldn't want to read an entire book that way.

  2. John Wilker says:

    Yeah I was really hopeful they'd actually learn from past mistakes.

    And yeah the text to speech is nice, but in now way comparable to an audio book. I can only take the read aloud for a little while, so many mispronunciations (at least in Sci-Fi and Fantasy for obvious reasons) that I can't imagine it being a threat to that section of business, and yeah sure some one will, people still sneak camcorders into movie theatres, LOL.

  3. John, I can understood you’re pissed off. But I don’t make these decisions. I didn’t even know DT was available on Kindle, or that you could listen to it. So while I’m sympathetic, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go shitcanning me for marketing or technical snafus for which I am not responsible. It could be Del Rey. It could be Amazon. It could be a fault in your machine. An oversight in coding. There could be any number of reasons why you can’t listen to the fucking book. But it’s not me.

    • John Wilker says:

      It's great that you've responded, that's awesome and a genuinely cool thing to do. While I never figured you were sitting in a dark room, laughing maniacally hitting a "Kill speech to text" button, I do think authors should exhibit some control over their work. Maybe it's new and needs to be added to boiler plate, but standing back and taking a "Not my call" stance is uncool IMO. It's your work, at the end of the day it's your name (above|below|next to) the title and on the spine, stepping back once you've typed the last "." and letting others control your work is weak.

      So yeah, Poo Poo on Del Rey if it was their call (I don't disagree that it probably was) but sorry, poo poo on you for not being more involved.

  4. Keith Peters says:

    To be honest, I know that some of my books are on Kindle, but really have no idea whether or not text to speech is enabled or not. I guess I should check it out. But really, it's not the kind of think you even think about as an author until it gets brought up.

  5. John Wilker says:

    Yeah I suspect it's too new (to which I can cut some slack, LOL) I'm sure eBook features aren't commonly covered in standard boilerplate contracts (yet, i hope).

    I really hope it becomes something the author has complete say in. I think it's really their call.

  6. joev11 says:

    I am fairly new to the John Birmingham series of alternate history and although then premise for this series is excellent, its actual portrayal by the author is such that I managed to get through just 3 books and will not read another. The reason, simply enough is these books are pretty strongly biased against the military and the political right. The military is portrayed by Mr Birmingham as oafs, low brow and wanting nothing better then to put citizens in camps while they run around destroying other countries who have dared even criticize us. References made of soldiers who come from "Podunk" indicates Mr Birmingham's elitist views on the military. I suppose the claim that the Super Carrier "Hillary Clinton" being named after what Birmingham calls "The fiercest and most uncompromising Commander in Chief ever" (paraphrase) should have warned me about the message the author intended to send.

  7. bmjmiller says:

    I had heard of the series before, but hestiated to buy. When the first book was offered free I hestiated no longer. And he hooked me. As soon as I finished the first I bought the second. And as soon as I finished the second I bought the third. So I say thanks to the publisher for making the first one available free. If it was a strategy, it worked. As this technology matures I expect publishers (and authors) to get more savvy in marketing to readers of electronic books. I have no problem with them putting limitations on what they sell so long as they make the limitations clear up front, and give me the opportunity to decide whether I want to pay what they ask for a limited product. As for the bias against the military the above commenter saw, I don't buy it. Some military people were portrayed as bigoted, oafish, etc. Others were portrayed as intelligent, compassionate, and competent. Sounds like the same mix as real life.

    As to the perceived bias against the right, I did get the feeling that Mr. Birmingham is probably further to the left on the political spectrum than I am. But having looked for some of his columns online I find that we agree on quite a bit politically.

  8. Wellduh says:

    Recent publication ALWAYS disable Text to speech for LEGAL reasons on works that contain HATE speech.

    Why? Because the publisher would be liable in part if some racist decided to repeated replay the content in a public area. Or some innocent party got that crap beaten out of them for accidental play.

    Audio books are NOT as big a problem because there is tighter language FORBIDDING their being played in public forums.

  9. Wellduh says:

    Additionally if there are AUDIO books made then contractually text to speech violates the standard audio performance clauses particularly for exclusive audio performance contracts.

    And YES most authors should know that unless they are in the habit of signing away all their book rights including future movie deals in one big bundle.

    So we could assume that either they didn't have their morning coffee to wake up and remember they sold those audio rights to a separate publisher or they let their agents worry about all those details.

    But most likely the authors are just politely pretending that you are not a cheap skate. Audio books typically cost 10-20% more than the hardback printing and do not drop in price until 3rd or 4th printing of the paperback editions…and still cost 40-60% more than the trade printings. Everyone makes a mint on the audio book versions.

  10. John Wilker says:

    I can only speak to your points as a consumer. Audio books aren't even in the equation for me, so it's a sacrifice for non business from me, and I've met very few people who use audio books in my entire life. Maybe they all live in UT or something?

  11. Bill says:

    John Birmingham is an awesome author. I have his Axis of Times series and his After America series in both paperback and electronic copies. Finish the series. I agree about the text to speech, but you are really missing out on some great books.

    • John Wilker says:

      My only complaint (I went and bought the last book on paper) was the ending. It just kinda, ended. No big battle, no big conclusion, just “Life goes on, war’s over”

      No argument it’s a great series

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