Calibre Audio and RealSAM: A Smart Speaker for Sight-Impaired Readers

In News by Porter Anderson

Using all voice commands, the RealSAM system for sight-impaired users becomes a new home of the UK charity Calibre Audio.

Image – iStockphoto: Alberto Pardo Gomez

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Keep Books Open to All’
Our Publishing Perspectives readers will remember that we touched on the accessibility work in December of the United Kingdom’s charity program called Calibre Audio for readers who have print disabilities. The program services listeners in Marrakesh Treaty countries.

Today’s news from the organization (March 9) is that it has partnered with a company called RealSAM, which produces products for the blind and visually impaired such as the “In Your Pocket” cellphone that’s fully voice controlled—none of that stabbing around on the screen that so many of us sighted people do.

In having as many as 27,000 books—as well as coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic information podcasts and updates from many UK charities—available through the RealSAM offering, Calibre points out how much it ups audiobooks’ accessibility when they’re available through smart speaker systems, which of course is what RealSAM is.

In a statement to the news media from Calibre’s offices in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, we read, “Subscribers to the [RealSAM] platform will get access to the latest Calibre Audio book releases and existing collection, divided into 69 book categories including: classics; biographies; crime, and popular fiction.

“Parents looking for resources for children who are blind or have visual impairments can use more than 3,000 audiobooks specifically for children and young adults, including Key Stage 1-4, GCSE, and A-Level texts to assist with studies.”

In explaining how the all-voice-command tech of RealSAM provides an advantage, the charity’s people point out that the service uses “building questions” to take commands. For example, a user can search for a book by asking first for its genre, then its author, then its title. Search hierarchy, in other words, functions on the system by voice command.

In a prepared statement for this new partnership, Calibre’s CEO Anthony Kemp is quoted, pointing out that the RealSAM functionality can help the charity “provide our audiobooks in homes across the country as we strive to create a more inclusive and accessible publishing industry, and to keep books open to all.”

Louise Humphreys

And speaking for RealSAM, the UK country manager Louise Humphreys is quoted, talking of the pleasure of adding “so many of the country’s leading sight loss organizations to our platform and assist in making their information more accessible to blind people.

“We developed this service in response to feedback from our partners and customers,” she says, “and hope our dedicated hub will reduce some of the complexity in accessing information for people with sight loss.”

An interesting note turns up very near the end of today’s communications, indicating that RealSAM subscription is available from Google Home now and, starting in May, will be offered through Amazon’s Echo system of smart speakers, generally known as Alexa.

While Calibre’s services are free, the RealSAM program, a service of RealThing AI, has pricing plans starting at £25.99 per month (US$36), rising by how many gigabytes of data are provided per month.

In addition to RealSAM’s Pocket v3 handset made by Samsung, the program also has big and large standalone smart speakers, much like Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot.

At this point, we see RealSAM operative in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, more on the UK market is here, and more on reading accessibility is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.