85% of Men Prefer Listening to a Female Voice

January 23, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Posted in RealSpeak, text to speech, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Computerized Voice PrefencesI had a gut feeling, based on my own preferences that men prefer listening to female voices. I also assumed the opposite was true – women would prefer listening to male voices. Wrong!

To test these assumptions, I dug up some of my recent sales data for computerized voices. When you purchase Text2Go you can also choose to purchase one or more high quality RealSpeak voices. I looked at all purchases that included a single voice. I disregarded any purchase that included both male and female voices and any subsequent voice purchases. I also disregarded all sales of the Indian English female voice Sangeeta as there is no corresponding male Indian English voice.

It’s clear that men have a strong preference for the female voice and it’s what I expected. What is surprising is that women also prefer the female voice, albeit to a much lesser extent. In fact the statistics show woman don’t have a strong preference one way or the other. My wife certainly prefers the male computerized voices, so I’d expected this to be the case for the general population.

Not wanting to let hard data get in the way of assumptions and gut feelings, here are a couple of reasons that may explain the unexpected results for the women.

1. There are characteristics of the female voice that make it easier to produce a more natural sounding computerized voice.

2. We currently sell 7 female voices but only 3 male voices. This extra choice may give some bias to female voices. It may also be an indication that the developers of computerized voices have recognised the popularity of the female voice. Note that the US, UK and Australian accents have both male and female voices.

What’s your preference? Have a listen to the computerized voices on the Text2Go website and let me know.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town eBook Review

January 16, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Posted in eBook | Comments Off on Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town eBook Review

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves TownDuring my recent search for DRM-free eBook sites, I discovered Cory Doctorow and thought I’d try his most recent novel. As always, I used Text2Go to convert it to speech so that I could listen to it while commuting between home and work.

The story starts out reasonably normal. The main character, Alan, buys a house, moves into the neighbourhood, renovates the house, meets his neighbours and plans to write a novel. It’s only when Alan starts to recount his past that we realize that he’s had a rather strange upbringing. Initially I thought Alan was speaking metaphorically when he referred to his father as the mountain and one of his brother’s as an island. However when his mother is revealed to be a washing machine, and three of his brothers a trio of nesting dolls, each born 30 days apart in three violent spin cycles, there’s no doubt this is not your average family.

 Unlike his brothers, Alan is outwardly normal and the story traces his attempts to fit into society and lead a normal life. Along the way he meets Kurt, a punk who’s main passion is dumpster diving for discarded tech that he can recycle and sell on eBay in order to finance the free wireless mesh network that he’s rolling out in his neighbourhood. Alan quickly joins his cause and the two become fast friends.

I loved the idea of the free mesh network, so it was an amazing coincidence when Bruce Schneier wrote in Wired magazine last week that he ran an open wireless router and urged people to ‘Steal this Wi-Fi‘.

I particularly enjoyed Cory’s writing style. He seems to be able to paint the most vivid of scenes using just a few, well chosen words. I felt like I was right there with the characters, able to taste, touch, hear and see everything they experienced.

The one thing I didn’t like was the way Cory keep changing the names of Alan and his family throughout the entire book. Perhaps it was meant to show that they were all trying to fight for a real identity in normal society but I just found it annoying (perhaps this would not have been such a problem if I was reading rather than listening to the story). The only consolation was each brother always had a name starting with the same letter and this letter was determined by their birth order (i.e. Alan was the oldest, George the youngest).

All in all Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is an imaginative, entertaining read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Highly Recommended!

This book is also available in print – ISBN 0765312786

The Top 13 DRM-free eBook Sites

January 4, 2008 at 6:44 am | Posted in eBook | 56 Comments

The Top 13 DRM-free eBook SitesWith the holidays upon us, many of us can think of nothing better than curling up with a good book. Therefore I  thought it a good time to compile a list of the top DRM-free eBook sites. If you want to know what DRM is and why it’s bad when it comes to eBooks, see my previous post on The Perils of DRM-protected eBooks.

The following sites contain either completely free or DRM-free eBooks. Note that you may still be required to pay for a DRM-free eBook, although the cost is usually very reasonable, often around the price of a cup of coffee.

So without further ado…

UPDATE 5th November 2008 – I’ve created a new site called eBooks Just Published that announces new DRM-free ebook releases. Readers can subscribe using RSS or subscribe to a weekly email newsletter. The site is very new but I’m hoping to be able to announce at least one new ebook every day. Only completely DRM-free ebooks will ever be announced on the site.

1. Project Gutenburg

The grand-daddy of eBook collections, Project Gutenburg has over 20,000 free eBooks and contains classic works from authors such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austin.

2. Project Gutenburg Australia

A sister project to the main Project Gutenburg site, the Australian site has 1500 additional eBooks which are public domain in Australia (the works of authors who died before 1955). These may be still under copyright in your country, so check before you download them. The site also includes Australian literature, eBook reviews and various listings based on different categories such as children’s literature, classics, bestsellers, etc.

3. Manybooks.net

Another very large collection, sourced mainly from Project Gutenburg. There are some additional public domain and creative commons works from other sources. What Manybooks.net offers over Project Gutenburg is the ability to download the eBooks in a huge variety of formats suitable for display on a wide range of mobile devices. The site also receives several book reviews per day from readers.

4. Webscriptions and Baen Free Library

The most well-known Science Fiction collection around is the popular Baen Books. I’ve mentioned this site before this site before and I’ve found the books on this site to be of a very high standard.

The Baen Free Library mostly has starter books in a series and sample books for authors who have many other books for sale. These are offered for free to entice you to buy other books from the same authors.

Baen also runs the Webscriptions website, selling non-DRM e-books from over 200 SF and Fantasy authors. The e-book prices are extremely fair and well below paperback prices. Downloads are available in formats that cover all e-book readers. There is also a subscription model that offers a package of 5-7 novels per month.

5. Fictionwise

This site has both DRM-protected and DRM-free eBooks. DRM-free eBooks are listed as ‘Multiformat’ and it’s possible to restrict searching  and browsing to just Multiformat eBooks. This site is well laid out and easily searchable. For example you can browse a specific genre and sort by Bestseller or Most Highly rated.

6. Double Dragon Publishing

A small independent Canadian publisher, Double Dragon Publishing has over 500 eBook titles in various genres, including Science Fiction, Fantasy and Romance. Most are priced at $5.99 but there’s a collection of 74 ‘Dollar Downloads’ which range in price from ‘free’ to $1.99.

7. Dr Who Classic Series

The BBC has made a number of rare and acclaimed Dr Who novels freely available. These can be read online or downloaded in PDF or the popular mobile formats.

8. BooksForABuck.com

This site has a good collection of very affordable eBooks but seems to have suffered from inflationary pressures as eBooks from BooksForABuck.com range in price from $1 to $3.99. Still you can’t really complain when you can buy an entire novel for the price of a cup of coffee. Each book is reviewed and also provides links to any external reviews. Many of the books allow you to read the first chapter for free.

9. Cory Doctorow

A science-fiction novelist who makes his novels available as free downloads at the same time as they go to print. All his books have received rave reviews.

10. Only-Free-Fiction.com

The URL says it all. Only-Free-Fiction.com has a good collection of free eBooks in various genres. Each book includes reader ratings and reviews.

11. Speculative Fiction Review

A publisher of science fiction, suspense, thrillers, topical and mixed-genre fiction, Speculative Fiction Review has a small but highly rated selection of eBooks in Adobe Acrobat format. None of their eBooks have any DRM.

12. iFiction

The iTunes of eBooks, iFiction allows you to read the first part of a novel for free and then you can pay a small amount (usually less than $1) to read the rest. It doesn’t have as many eBooks as iTunes has music tracks yet. The site is maintained by author Andrew Burt.

13. Steve Jordan Books

I’m currently reading and enjoying Steve Jordan’s latest novel ‘As the Mirror Cracks’. Steve Jordan is an author who publishes his own works in eBook format. His novels are $2.50 and he also has a number of short stories available for free.

UPDATE – A few great sites I missed the first time around

14. Free TechBooks.com

FreeTechBooks has a nice collection of free Computer Science, Mathematics and Computer Programming books.

15. Feedbooks.com

FeedBooks.com has a pleasant Web 2.0 look. One feature I like is the ability to browse books by publication date, so you can quickly find recent works.

16. MobileRead Forums

Check out the ‘eBook Uploads‘ forum group which has over 3000 hand-compiled eBooks available for download. MobileRead Forums is also a great place to find any eBook / Mobile reader related news and information.

Let me know of any great sources I’ve missed.

If you don’t like reading from a screen or just can’t be bothered, why not try converting your eBook from text to speech so that you can listen to it on your iPod or MP3 player. Check out this recent post 4 Quick Tips When Converting eBooks from Text to Speech

The Perils of DRM-protected eBooks

January 4, 2008 at 6:42 am | Posted in eBook | 11 Comments

DRM-protected paperbackDRM stands for ‘Digital Rights Management’, a term describing the technology employed by publishers to prevent unauthorised duplication and distribution of copyrighted digital works (e.g. eBooks). Unfortunately in their attempts to protect their own rights, many rights of the consumer have been sacrificed along the way. This is particularly apparent when comparing a DRM-protected eBook with the traditional paperback. A paperback can be read anywhere, lent any number of times, given away and resold. A DRM-protected eBook gives you none of these rights. Heck, most don’t even let you print them.

If typical DRM restrictions were placed on a traditional paperback, then you would be forced to designate a chair for reading at purchase time. Your paperback would then be delivered to your home and chained to the said chair. Whenever you sat down to read your paperback, your mouth would be taped up so that you wouldn’t be tempted to read aloud to anyone in the room.

Perhaps the most onerous restriction in my mind is the practice of forcing you to choose a single eBook reader format at purchase time. This usually means that your eBook can only be viewed on a single mobile eBook reader or even worse, the PC that you purchased the eBook from. Amazon’s new Kindle is a classic example of this approach. On the one hand it’s a great step forward in terms of eBook reader hardware and useability. On the other, any eBook purchased for the Kindle will only ever be able to be viewed on the Kindle. What happens when a rival company develops a new reader that blows the Kindle away? You don’t want to have to re-purchase your entire library in a new format. Amazon has effectively locked you in.

Instead of reading eBooks, I prefer to use a text to speech application such as Text2Go to convert the text to an MP3 file so that I can listen to it on my iPod while commuting. However just about all DRM-protected eBooks have the ‘Read Aloud’ capability disabled. Why? Because it introduces a security hole. For someone like myself, this is merely frustrating, but what if you’re blind or visually impaired. Being able to purchase any book in digital form and have it read to you would be wonderful.

On the other side of the coin, authors and publishers need to be fairly compensated for their work. There could be nothing worse than spending months and months writing a novel, only to find it freely available all over the net, days after its release. One approach is to provide DRM-free eBooks and place full trust in the consumer. Consumers really appreciate this and I suspect that very few would ever dream of distributing any of the works that they’ve purchased. The most well-known example of this model is Baen Books, which I’ve mentioned before.

Another approach which I am also comfortable with is providing an encrypted file that contains the eBook and some information that identifies the purchaser. To view the eBook, the purchaser simply enters a password. As long as they are granted full rights to print, copy, and read aloud the text, this is not too onerous. The fact that the eBook contains information identifying the purchaser will be enough to discourage honest people from distributing it. One important caveat of this DRM approach is the eBook format used. It must be stored in an open format that can be viewed on any PC or mobile reader device. It must not use a proprietary format that locks you into a particular device or reader.

As a software publisher, this is the approach I use to protect Text2Go. When someone purchases Text2Go, they are given a license file that contains a key to unlock Text2Go and some details of the purchaser such as their name, address and email. This license file is not locked to a particular PC so Text2Go can be installed on any PC they use. To discourage the distribution of license files, the user’s personal details are encrypted in the file. This makes it pretty easy to see where the license file came from if it turns up on the internet. The other service that I provide is to re-issue a license file free of charge on request. This provides a safeguard in cases such as a hard drive failure or a stolen laptop.

It’s interesting to see the change in stance to DRM in the music industry, most notibly the introduction of DRM-free MP3 tracks at iTunes and the release of Radiohead’s new album ‘In Rainbows’ where the consumer could pay what they liked to download the entire album.

I hope the same trend will occur with eBooks. In the meantime, there are a lot of great sources of DRM-free eBooks.

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