Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) new Kindle doesn't appear menacing. It's a lightweight gadget for page-turning book lovers and -- let's face it -- nerdy bookworms.

However, one of the more controversial features of Kindle 2 is its ability to convert text to speech. Publishers are already wondering whether the Kindle's ability to read e-books out loud will eat into their audiobook business.

Publishers are idiots. OK, some publishers are idiots.

  • Do they really believe that someone who buys an electronic book was going to buy an audiobook, too?
  • Is there really any comparison between the rich voices of a James Earl Jones or an Emma Thompson and a fake software storyteller?
  • More importantly -- and this is why publishers are really buffoons -- don't they realize that if someone is listening to a book or a magazine article, it will get them through the text more quickly? Won't that stimulate even more purchases?

Let's let the bickering publishers figure these things out on their own. They'll never read this anyway.

As an investor, I'm concerned with what Amazon's "Read to Me" feature will mean for Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI), terrestrial operators such as Cox Radio (NASDAQ:CXR), and portable media players such as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Zune, and SanDisk's (NASDAQ:SNDK) Sansa.

You're laughing, aren't you? The Kindle can't be a threat to any of these audio gadgets. However, when will Kindle owners be likely to listen to the morning newspaper or the latest best-seller? It will be when they are in the car, with the radio turned off. It will be when they are walking around, with their media players turned off.

It doesn't seem like a big deal right now because the Kindle is still a niche device, and the popularity of its experimental text-to-speech conversion remains to be seen.  Keep watching, though, because if Sony (NYSE:SNE) follows suit with its rival Reader and the Apple App Store begins filling up its "Read to Me" with me-too applications, then the Kindle really will challenge the value proposition of premium audio gadgets and services.

The publishers see a monster that isn't really there. Everyone else fails to see the monster that is growing underneath the bed.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz finally bought his Kindle back in May. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.