Today I received an email from one of my fans who is blind. My fan indicated that the assistive technology that he/she uses for reading books is not compatible with Kindle. My fan wanted to know if I published on Smashwords, as that is a more blind-friendly platform.
First of all – I was shocked!
How can a company as big as Amazon not have this technical issue sorted?
I am not blind, but I am disabled. I use adaptive technology to do ALL of my writing. I know how frustrating it is when you have to take a bunch of extra steps just because your technology doesn’t always work with everything else on your computer or online. Sympathizing with my fan’s frustration, I had to find a way to help.
I told my fan that I would do some research and see what I could find on solving this problem. What I found were several articles, including this article by David Faucheux, a well-known audiobook reviewer who is also blind. Faucheux’s article reflects all of the immense issues that others have been discussing across the Internet concerning usability for blind users. The main issues he mentions include:
- Lack of sufficient instructional information in braille or in an audio format
- Instructional information is not always written by people with experience educating the blind
- Customer support teams don’t have enough training to work with blind users
- Customer support teams don’t always employ blind workers who may be better equipped at helping blind users
Because of these and other problems, blind users and partially blind users are struggling to even make Kindle’s work, let alone find their way to the books they want to read, plus all the problems with the text-to-speech apps not always reading the books appropriately.
From what I have read in these various articles, there are several assistive technology programs that can read books to blind or partially blind individuals. Unfortunately, these programs don’t work with all book formats, and since Kindle uses a proprietary format, the format itself causes the issue.
Smashwords, among other book retailers, offers customers the option of different formats when they buy books. Multiple formats give blind users a better chance of finding a version of the book they want to read in a format that their assistive technology can understand.
My Plan Moving Forward
I would hope that someday Amazon will get things figured out and become more user-friendly for the blind community. Until then, I need to make some changes so that all of my fans can have the access they need to enjoy my books.
Up until now, all of my books have been enrolled in the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. For authors, Amazon has this KDP program to have exclusive rights to sell your books. They give you other perks, but for the most part they are trying to make the most money off of your books.
The KDP program automatically renews every 90 days. You can opt out of the program, but you have to specifically opt out on each book before the next cycle. In addition, even if you opt out, you have to wait for the 90 days to end, otherwise you are in breach of contract.
I have just opted out of the KDP program on all of my books. The cycles were not in sync, so each book will be officially out of the program on a different day. But, I will hopefully have all of my books available on Smashwords by the end of February.
I plan to release all my books from here on out on both Smashwords and Amazon, but I will avoid the KDP program altogether. I want my books to be available to as many people as possible, and that means making it available in as many formats as possible, which is why I think using both platforms will be the best way to reach everyone.