Publishers’ signatures hold out hope for brighter e-book future


UK publishers have signed an “exciting” new agreement that should make it easier for many disabled people to access electronic books.

The agreement recommends that all electronic books – e-books – should automatically allow “e-reader” machines to turn the text into speech, at least where there is no audio-book edition.

An increasing number of e-readers now offer a text-to-speech facility, with campaigners pushing manufacturers to offer such accessibility features “as standard”.

Publishers and campaigners said they hoped the “recommendation to publishers” would “open up as many titles as possible to people with print impairments”, such as dyslexia and visual impairments.

They said that many individual publishers already enable text-to-speech on their e-books – while e-readers are becoming increasingly affordable – but the new agreement would bring “a common base position for all publishers in the UK to achieve”.

The statement was agreed by The Right to Read Alliance – which campaigns for people with “print disabilities” to be able to read books at the same time as non-disabled people and without any extra charge – following negotiations with The Publishers Association, The Society of Authors and The Association of Authors Agents.

Fazilet Hadi, group director, inclusive society, for RNIB, an alliance member, said: “These developments have a profound significance for me and for thousands of other blind book lovers.

“They point to a future when blind children and adults can buy the same books, at the same time and price as their sighted friends.

“E-books with text-to-speech could really open up a world of reading to people who cannot read print, so I wholeheartedly welcome this recommendation: it is incredibly exciting.”

Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins and president of The Publishers Association, said the text-to-speech function on new e-readers “offers a huge opportunity” to people with print impairments.

She said the association was “proud to have the opportunity to take such a big step forward”.

12 October 2010