lit out loud

Just thinking out loud: Let’s say you’re a blind person, and you would like to access public domain literature on the web, the kind of stuff that is made available to sighted readers by folks like Project Gutenberg or the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia (two very different enterprises, but you get my drift). You could acquire a screen reader program, which will read text out loud right off the screen. But let’s say you want to hear it in a more ‘natural’ sounding voice, rather than in a somewhat robot-like voice.

  • Where do you go? Are there free sites on the web featuring sound files of people reading out loud?
  • If not, why not?
  • How hard would it be to start up such a project? An oral/aural Project Gutenberg staffed by worldwide volunteer labor? Obviously the necessary storage space for sound files would be larger than for text files, but not insurmountably so.
  • If one were to apply for grant money to support such a project, what would be some likely places to apply?
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10 thoughts on “lit out loud

  1. There is a non-profit group called “Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic” at http://www.rfbd.org/ that does something like this, although the recordings aren’t on-line. I remember walking by a volunteer reading studio in downtown Chicago years ago.

  2. What about taking the infrastructure of, say, the publishers’ audiobooks ventures and expanding it in these directions? Say, “Hey Random House, Penguin-Putnam, and FSG, we want to license your IP and plaster your name all over the site and run a 501(c)(3) venture for the visually impaired. Whadda ya think?”
    Seems that some iteration of the audible.com model would provide the tech platform. Who’s in?

  3. It’s unclear if Project G has received any grant money, but they do solicit donations (http://promo.net/pg/donation.html ), and their texts are donated by volunteer labor.
    I don’t really have something in mind that would require licensing the intellectual property of a big publishing house. I’m thinking instead of older material that is no longer copyrighted. But it would be interesting to see how publishers responded to a request for funding for such a venture.
    Certainly there are sure to be complicated )but not insurmountable) details regarding archival standards for digital audio.
    Still thinking…

  4. George, I don’t see the role of etext collections like Virginia or Gutenberg in what you’re describing; in other words, if the basic idea is to have an archive of free audio files of public domain literature, then what does it matter that the source of the readings be an online etext repository? Why not just read in Moby Dick from an out of copyright print edition?

  5. Matt, I only meant to use those two collections of e-texts as an analogy to what I had in mind with audio files, not as the source for texts that would be read out loud and recorded.

  6. Sorry to have been dense. But thinking about it, it would actually make a great deal of sense to partner with one of the existing etext repositories, for which the sound files would be a kind of two-way value added–sighted users might still find all kinds of uses for the audio, and the visually impaired would be able to leverage (with the aid of screen readers, etc.) the search functions or other features of the repository–indeed, perhaps opening up interesting possibilities for encoding audio for structured search and retrieval. I even wonder if the text and audio couldn’t be used comparatively for error checking, since both are ultimately a kind of transcription (hence imperfect). Thinking in very broad strokes here, obviously . . .

  7. Gentelmen,
    Your discussion has me wondering about the potential of streaming technologies to meet a need not only for the blind but also for the “screen weary”. The other model besides the repository is the match-making hookup of readers with listeners. Of course, the fee structures of voice over net(VON)services should be compared with the costs of producing and maintaing repositories. And there is the potential of campus radio stations broadcasting over the http://WWW...

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