Three new IVONA voices have just been released for Text2Go, one of which is the female child voice named Ivy. Once the novelty of listening to a child text to speech voice had worn off, I was left wondering what I could use this voice for? The first thing that came to mind was perhaps a child text to speech voice could be used to read a childrens’ book aloud. To test the theory I set about converting a childrens’ ebook into an audiobook.
The ebook I chose was the popular childrens’ book The Sunflower That Roared by Michelle de Villiers available for free on Smashwords.com. This delightful story is full of beautiful watercolour illustrations. Like all ebooks published through Smashwords, it’s available in multiple formats, including .epub which is supported by Text2Go. If you have Text2Go installed you can just right-click on the link and Text2Go will download it and convert it to an audiobook for you.
I wanted to preserve the illustrations in the ebook and ideally have these displayed at the correct time during the narration of the story. This is possible without too much extra effort. Each chapter in an audiobook can have its own image and during playback it will display the image for the current chapter. By splitting the ebook into chapters and associating the correct illustration with each chapter, it’s possible to cycle through the illustrations as the story is narrated. The easiest way to split an ebook into chapters is to use the ‘Split at Cursor’ command in Text2Go.
The other thing I did before converting the ebook to an audiobook was to slow down the speed of the Ivy voice. This makes it easier for a child to understand and is also more realistic for a child reading out loud. You can change the speed of a voice in Text2Go using the Options page.
The final step is to have Text2Go convert it to an audiobook, transfer it to iTunes and then sync it to your iPhone, iPod or to best appreciate the illustrations an iPad.
You can listen to an except of The Sunflower That Roared.
The ultimate test was to see if it would keep my 4 year old son engaged, so we sat down and listened to the story together. It certainly held his attention for the entire length of the story and at the end he said he’d enjoyed it. It will be interesting to see if he asks to listen to it again.
Feedbooks is primarily an ebook publishing platform but it also has an incredibly useful feature that will turn any RSS feed into a downloadable ebook. Thankfully it supports the ePub ebook format which makes it a breeze to use Text2Go to turn this ebook into an audiobook which you can then listen to on your iPod or MP3 player.
Using Feedbooks and Text2Go you can convert any RSS feed into an audiobook with a couple of clicks. In summary all you need to do is
- Enter the URL of RSS feed you wish to convert into the Feedbooks News service.
- Copy the URL of the ePub ebook generated by Feedbooks
- Use the Open URL… command in Text2Go to download the ebook (If you’ve installed the Text2Go accelerator for Internet Explorer 8, you can combine steps 2 and 3 by simply right clicking on the ePub link in IE8 and selecting the Text2Go Convert to Audiobook accelerator command).
- Review and edit the eBook in Text2Go – you may want to remove old or uninteresting news items from the ebook before converting it to an audibook.
- Start the eBook to Audiobook conversion process in Text2Go.
Here is a detailed guide to converting recent posts from the blog ZenHabits into an audiobook.
1. Copy the ZenHabits RSS feed URL (e.g in IE, right-click and select copy shortcut).
2. Enter the URL of the RSS feed you wish to convert into the Feedbooks News service.
3. Copy the URL of the ePub ebook generated by Feedbooks
4. Use the Open URL… command in Text2Go to download the ebook.
3B. If you’ve installed the Text2Go accelerator for Internet Explorer 8, you can combine steps 3 and 4 by simply right clicking on the ePub link in IE8 and selecting the Text2Go Convert to Audiobook accelerator command.
5. Review and edit the eBook in Text2Go – you may want to remove old or uninteresting news items from the ebook before converting it to an audiobook.
6. Convert to an audiobook and listen to it in iTunes or on your iPod or iPhone.
Text2Go 4.0.2 has been released today. The major new feature is ebook to audiobook conversion. Text2Go reads ebooks in the open ebook format know as ePub (.epub), html (.htm or .html) and plain text files (.txt). The ePub format is preferred. If you have an iPod, Text2Go will create an audiobook complete with chapter marks. If you have another MP3 player, Text2Go will create one MP3 file per chapter and name them so they will appear in the correct order.
There is a tutorial on the Text2Go website that guides you through the process.
Changes since the beta include
- A faster text to speech process, resulting in quicker ebook to audiobook conversion.
- Support for DAISY text-only DTBooks.
- Improved ‘Split by Section’ command. It now recognises more variations of chapter headings.
- Support for ebooks containing drop-caps represented as an images.
- Correctly reports progress for ebooks with over 100 chapters.
- Now asks the user if they wish to share pronunciation corrections the first time they create a correction. Previously this was on by default.
You can download it directly here. Existing Text2Go users – make sure you uninstall your current version first.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to everyone who participated in the beta test and provided feedback. You input was invaluable.
I few days ago I invited Text2Go owners to take part in the Text2Go 4.0 Beta. I’m now opening the beta up to anyone who’s brave enough.
You can download it directly using this link Text2Go 4.0 Beta. If you already have a previous version of Text2Go installed, make sure you uninstall this first.
The beta version is quite stable and I encourage you to give it a try. Having said that, if you do find any bugs, please use the Support… command within Text2Go to let us know.
The major new feature is ebook to audiobook conversion. Text2Go reads ebooks in the open ebook format know as ePub (.epub), html (.htm or .html) and plain text files (.txt). The ePub format is preferred. If you have an iPod, Text2Go will create an audiobook complete with chapter marks. If you have another MP3 player, Text2Go will create one MP3 file per chapter and name them so they will appear in the correct order.
There is a tutorial on the Text2Go website that guides you through the process.
Here are a few sources of ebooks to get you started.
- Smashwords, a great source of contemporary works by independent authors
- epubbooks.com, a nice selection of free, public domain classics in the ePub format.
- Project Gutenberg, the original, most extensive source of public domain classics.
- Finding Free eBooks, free ebooks from all over the web.
- eBooks Just Published, my own site announcing reasonably priced and free ebooks.
This new version includes the following minor enhancements.
- Improved hotkey support. You can now define hotkeys for commands that work in Internet Explorer, such as Add Text, Speak Selected Text, Text2Go, Check Pronunciation, etc.
- Support for larger audio files. Text2Go was previously limited to producing audio files up to 2GB in size. This was a limitation of the Microsoft .wav audio file used as a temporary file during text to speech. Text2Go will now save speech directly to an MP3 file, avoiding this limit. A side benefit is that outputing MP3 files is now faster as there is not need to convert from a .wav file to an MP3 file.
- A number of minor bug fixes.
Let me know what you think.
Well I did and here’s why I think it was well worth it.
How to Generate Traffic to Your Website is written by Stephane Grenier, founder of LandlordMax Software Inc, a small software company (or microISV) that develops software to help investors and property managers, manage their property portfolios.
The book is based on Stephane’s experiences over the last few years of marketing and promoting his software company online. This makes the content highly relevant to myself, as I strive to improve the marketing of my own software product Text2Go. I found the examples and statistics quoted in the book fascinating.
The material would also be relevant to anyone starting a small online business, not just a software business. I’m sure the issues are the same. Limited time, little to no marketing budget and 100 tasks all competing for your attention.
Stephane covers an impression range of traffic generation techniques in his book, the highlights being SEO, content generation, freebies, blogging, Google Adwords, press releases and social networking.
I found each topic was covered to just the right level of detail. As you can imagine, separate books could easily be written about each of the above topics. However when running a small business you don’t have the time to become an expert on every possible online marketing strategy. Stephane provides enough information on each topic to get results. Each of the major topics also includes excellent references to more indepth sources of information.
Stephanes writing style is clear and easy to follow. The writing is illustrated with plenty of interesting graphs and screenshots.
One of the highlights of the book for me was the sense of balance and perspective that is shown. For example, it’s possible to endlessly tweak your Adwords campaigns or your onsite SEO. However, Stephane repeatly emphases the point that you need to look at the ROI of your time. I also think the fact that he’s not advocating a single traffic generation technique means that he’s not afraid of recommending you weigh up each technique when deciding on how to make your next improvement. One really useful tip he makes is to play to your strengths. For example if you write great content for your blog and you enjoy it, then do more of that rather than trying to become an expert in another technique such as Google Adwords.
The other highlight was an emphasis on persistence. It’s very easy to say that getting an article on the front page of Digg will generate a lot of traffic to your site (so much so that Stephane spends a fair bit of time on how best to prepare your server for the onslaught). However getting on the front page of Digg is not easy and won’t happen the first time you try. It was nice to hear Stephane candidly recount his own experiences, stressing that it takes time and persistence.
In conclusion, How to Generate Traffic to Your Website contains a wealth of really useful information that’s well organised and clearly presented. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to other small online software and non-software business owners. At $28.95 (or a couple of hundred Google PPCs) the ROI will be very quick.
Daughter, Maya, has just had her first day of sex education at school. Full of questions, she cajoules her father, Will Hayes, into recounting how he came to meet and marry her mother. Will has three likely woman in his past, all of them beautiful but each with their own distinctive charm and personality. He changes the names of the women during the retelling, which keeps Maya guessing as to who is her mother, right until the end. This also keeps the audience guessing. Unlike many movies, Definitely, Maybe starts a little weakly but improves as it goes on and provides a satisfying ending.
The film is set in the present day but as it’s told in flashback, the majority of the movie is set in New York during the early nineties. The period is defined as being pre to early internet days. I loved the scene where a cafe owner is hoisting a big sign in his window, declaring ‘Internet coming soon’ and the scene where Will, a political campaigner is trying to download a guest list for an important political dinner using a dial-up modem. The sound of two modems performing their audible handshaking ritual sends a shiver down my spine and makes me thankful for ADSL broadband.
Some may find the interruptions of the daughter during the movie a little annoying. Again I think that as the film progresses, she becomes more likeable and turns out to be more than just a plot device. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for this technique as my favourite movie of all time (The Princess Bride) does the same. Abigail Breslin’s performance as the daughter is convincing and I’m afraid it won’t be too long until my own daughter starts to ask the same sort of questions.
One of the central elements in the movie is a copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë. It has special significance for one of the women, although to avoid a possible spoiler I won’t elaborate further. Jane Eyre is out of copyright and available for free download from Project Gutenburg here, so I’m going to download it and convert it to speech with Text2Go so that I can listen to during my daily commute. I just hope writer/director Adam Brooks’ taste in English literature is as good as his movies.
Update – Where can you get those wireless earbuds that Will uses in the opening scene?
You can’t. They’re not for sale yet. Why do I know this. Because if they were available they’d come up in the top position for the Google search ‘Definitely Maybe wireless earbuds’ and there would be about 10 Adwords ads for ‘Definitely Maybe wireless earbuds’ in the right hand column.
There are a couple of really clunky looking products available now but they are not the ones featured in the movie. All I can hope is that someone’s doing some prelaunch marketing and they will be available soon. It would be nice to say goodbye to tangled earbud chords!
During 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.
This book is also available in print – ISBN 0765312786
With 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
DRM 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.
Today I purchased a new eBook ‘As the Mirror Cracks’by Steve Jordan and I thought I’d share a few tips on converting eBooks from text to speech.
1. Check the DRM permissions. In a perfect world people would trust each other and all eBooks would be DRM free. Thankfully Steve Jordan publishes all his books in multiple formats, none of which have any DRM protection. However the majority of eBooks available for sale are DRM-protected and they will cause you a world of pain. DRM-protected works place all sorts of restrictions on how and where you can view your eBook. When converting an eBook to speech, the DRM protection must allow the text to speech operation. Check very carefully before purchasing the eBook that you are granted this right. If it’s not explicitly stated, assume text to speech has been disabled. Even if the eBook allows text to speech, it will only allow it to be performed from within the authorized eBook reader. If this runs on your PC, then you will only be able to listen to the eBook while sitting at your computer. To use a product such as Text2Go to convert an eBook to an MP3 file that you can listen to on the go, the eBook will need to grant you ‘Copy and Paste’ rights. Most don’t, so it’s best just to say no to DRM-protected works.
2. Don’t convert an eBook in one single chunk or you’ll end up with one enormous track. If you lose your place during playback, it will be very hard to find it again as you will need to seek through an enormous file. Instead I create a playlist for the eBook and then split it up chapter by chapter and store each chapter as a track within the playlist. If I lose my place during playback, it’s easy to find the chapter I was up to and then do a quick seek within the corresponding track.
3. Don’t convert an entire eBook upfront. Instead I convert and listen to the first couple of chapters. This allows me to quickly identify any problem areas during the text to speech process. These may be mispronounced words (most common when the eBook contains a lot of jargon, slang or terminology specific to a particular field), or formatting specific to the eBook (e.g. special characters used to denote pauses, or dividers between sections, chapters, etc). I can then add corrections for the mispronounced words to the pronunciation dictionaries and create text cleanup rulesto handle the eBook’s specific formatting. With these in place I will convert the remaining chapters of the eBook.
4. Don’t use the free Microsoft voices. Listening to an entire eBook with one of these voices will not be a particularly pleasant experience. Instead purchase a high quality, natural-sounding voice.
That’s it. Do you have any tips of your own? Stay tuned for a review of ‘As the Mirror Cracks’.