Overdrive and audiobooks and the pervasive ipod

New Orleans Public Library is offering audiobooks for their patrons via Overdrive which I read on Shannon’s blog and also on the NOLA blog. New Hampshire public libraries also offer downloadable audiobooks via Overdrive. Well, they’re downloadable to anything but an iPod, the most popular make and model of MP3 player. This is because, generally speaking, iPods don’t play DRM-ed Windows Media files which are the types of files Overdrive makes available. Overdrive makes audiobooks available in this file format because you can program things like “expiration date” into the digital rights management of the file. This allows Overdrive to sell “checkoutable” books to libraries. Some libraries in Vermont are considering going with Overdrive also. I personally think that this is great. However, I also think that it’s just part of what we should be doing to bring digital content and digital content awareness to patrons.

Every time a patron checks out a book via Overdrive, you as the library have an educational opportunity. You can say “Here is this service we are providing you. Yes it won’t work on an/your iPod. Yes there are other ways to get audiobooks for your iPod and some of them are even free. We have provided links to other ways to get audiobooks on our website right next to the Overdrive link.” What do we usually say? Well if my anecdotal experience is any indication — take with a grain of salt of course — we say “Yes you can check out an audiobook via Overdrive. No it won’t work on your iPod. This is the fault of [insert suspected faultmaker — whether it’s Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Overdrive].” and then the story ends there. We can do better.

If you’re using Overdrive — and good on them for getting to the market first with digital content that provides library patrons with the Real Library Experience — why don’t you also consider encouraging and assisting patrons with finding free audiobooks as well? It’s sort of a weird thing to do since both types of books are “free” as far as the patrons are concerned, but one type is free for everyone and one type is paid for, actually subscribed to, by the library. There’s another whole post sometime down the road about whether it’s our business as libraries to help the patrons save us money, but for now, please enjoy these providers of quality FREE audiobook content. Librivox for public domain books, the classic poetry podcast , podiobooks for serialized scifi, and many more listed on this page at Openculture.

29 thoughts on “Overdrive and audiobooks and the pervasive ipod

  1. Jessamyn, this is something I literally never thought of, and I’m supposed to be the electronic resources/popular culture/whatever librarian. We have OverDrive and NetLibrary, and I’m working on screencasts to show patrons how to download both eBooks and eAudio (well, I will be working on it when we jump all the bureaucracy hurdles to buy the software), which of course are totally different on the two platforms. I planned to have “sorry no iPods” information, but now I think I’ll add a link to Openculture as well. Thanks so much!

  2. I’ve been following the whole e-audiobooks movement pretty closely, and most libraries pair their NetLibrary/Overdrive subscription with circulating non-iPod mp3 players. So not only can we say yes, there are other free e-audiobook services out there that work with iPods (as well as a terrific paid service, Audible.com), but we can lend you an mp3 player that *will* work with our service. Now there’s a solid response. Oh, and to your links for free sources, you can add: Project Gutenberg and FreeAudio.org.

  3. Our library web site has a page of alternatives to Overdrive (which is offered by our statewide public library consortium), for the reasons you mention in your post. I have had some upset ipod users, and am hoping listing a bunch of alternative links will help them out.

  4. Most of our patrons find our Overdrive collection by searching our OPAC, and linking directly to the Overdrive page for that material. I agree with offering alternatives, but if we can’t add those books/digital audio to our OPAC, I don’t see an advantage to our patrons. Has anyone checked these other sites for permission to do just that?

  5. Jessamyn – one more source for free audio is Assistive Media, which produces short format works (fiction and non-fiction, mostly from magazines) for the visually impaired. The collection includes works from The New Yorker, Harpers, and a wide range of others. Good stuff.

  6. I just attended an Overdrive presentation and the CEO said that most of their audiobooks can be burned to CD and then brought over to an iPod. He showed us their interface which made burning CDs really easy. Was he misrepresenting the product or are there a few more steps involved?

  7. Terry, that is a really good question. To the best of my knowledge that’s correct. In fact the fairly standard way of getting around any DRM system is to burn the music to CD and then reimport it to your computer. This works for iTunes Music Store files since what you’re technically doing is converting the file from an AAC file to an AIFF file and back again.

    More inportantly, however, is whether overdrive’s licensing agreement with the library allows this sort of burning/importing. Since it would seem to be a revenue loss for Overdrive, I’d be surprised if it was allowed, but if you think that’s what the CEO is saying, I’d be curious to see libraries try it. This is something we can already do for books on CD, but I don’t see a lot of libraries doing that either. It becomes a tricky issue: when you can no longer circulate an item but instead just give it away what does that do to the library lending model. Thanks everyone for your comments so far.

  8. Re: Terry – from the Overdrive website, burning to CD requires that the publisher has allowed the audiobook to be burned. I would’ve been VERY surprised if it was otherwise.

    Jessamyn, as a patron I think this is a very constructive response to Overdrive. I’m very anti-DRM and Overdrive bugs me, but if DRM has a place it’s in the library. I think the logic of using DRM in this situation depends on how many times patrons listen to audiobooks in a given time period. If most folks only listen once, then there’s little risk in distributing them as mp3s via a limited-access site (by domain or library card #). This is the model used by many scientific journals, though there are valid criticisms (cost) there too. I wish that library systems would negotiate with publishers to create services they think are optimal, rather than snapping up the DRM services.

    If people listen more than once then it’s in publishers’ interests to DRM library files to, as you said, provide the library experience. Of course, devoted buccaneers will either circumvent the DRM or dub through the analog hole, and OD does nothing to stop CD ripping. Perhaps the publishers hope that OD will reduce or replace physical media – what do you think? Also, I wonder about the cost/benefit of libraries providing music players, and whether is might make more sense to just get the CDs…

    However, from a rhetorical perspective OD is great: an in-your-face example of what DRM is and why it sucks.

  9. @ Jake – I checked my handouts and couldn’t find any numbers, but my notes mention that the CEO said that many publishers were allowing burning. He also said that he had much less success with Overdrive’s music and movie suppliers.

    @ Jessamyn – We were impressed enough that we’ll be going with Overdrive next year. I can report more then. I will say that the choice was made based on price, selection, and ease of use and without DRM consideration. It also helps that we can integrate it with our catalog.

  10. I’m a very satisfied patron of the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, Michigan. They provide me access to audio books through OverDrive and NetLibrary. They’ve also recently added eVideos from OverDrive.

    Regarding OverDrive allowing CD burning, the local FAQ states:

    “The publisher of each title decides whether or not to allow the title to be burned to CD; this decision is at the publisher’s discretion. Many publishers enable this functionality while others choose not to permit this use of their content.”

    As I quickly browse the new audiobook selection I would guess about 25% allow CD burning (the icon is very visible for each record.)

    I really like the service and bought my mp3 player specifically to listen to these audio books.

  11. We would be glad to see CCs of any letters you send at campaigns@fsf.org and to hear about any similar policies in place at libraries other than the BPL.

    Please keep an eye on our DRM campaign area for future updates about this and other related issues.

    Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing

    * Send this page to somebody
    * Print this page

    DRM is often written as “Digital Rights Management”, but this is misleading, since it refers to systems that are designed to take away and limit your rights. So, we suggest you use the term “Digital Restrictions Management” instead. We also suggest “Treacherous Computing” as a replacement for the misleading “Trusted Computing”.

    * DefectiveByDesign.org, FSF campaign to eliminate DRM
    * Opposing Digital Rights Mismanagement, an interview of Richard Stallman by BusinessWeek Online about DRM
    * Boycott Blu-Ray
    * Reaction to the DRM clause in GPLv3, blog entry by David “novalis” Turner
    * Free software without the freedom?, blog entry by John Sullivan about DRM
    * A letter to the Boston Public Library from Richard Stallman condemning their use of DRM for public library audio books. You can help by sending your own letter to gref at bpl dot org, and by finding out if something similar is going on at your own local library. Please let us know if there is, and CC us on any letters you send at .

    Other sites of interest

    Trusted Computing: An Animated Short Story
    by Benjamin Stephen and Lutz Vogel
    An Italian community against Treacherous Computing

    Recent history

    * 4565 people signed this pledge to refuse music CDs that use DRM. The pledge ended 2006 February 06.

  12. Question…
    Around the web what links are there that have some audiobooks?… not needing people to install more than what they would usually have already.

    What web links list all or a lot of the audiobook resources around the web?… not needing people to install more than what they would usually have already.

  13. Jessamyn

    Many thanks for the reference to Classic Poetry Aloud. My own experience in producing free readings of out-of-copyright poetry shows a definite demand for this medium. I am constantly amazed and delighted by the positive feedback I receive from subscribers to the service from around the world, and by their rapidly increasing numbers.

    Interestingly, although iTunes continues to be the dominant medium for playing the sound files, my stats show that more and more users are choosing to access the files not through an iPod, but via their computer or through a non-Apple player.

    Best of luck with your blog. I continue to be an enthusiastic user of my local library here in London – but not always by visiting. Often I access the catalogue and order a book from home, over the internet.

    Classic Poetry Aloud

  14. In regard to burning eaudiobooks to cd, then ripping them back so they are playable on the iPod….

    Technically, sure. (And someone above already pointed out licensing restrictions that may exist.) But realistically, I can get just over an hour of book time onto a cd and, frankly, I don’t want to burn 10 cd’s and then rip them all back and then put them on my portable device. It’s an inconvenience and I’m certain I wouldn’t go to the trouble to do it. I’m more likely to visit Audible.com and buy it.

    Fortunately for me, I’m not an iPod owner. I prefer my Creative player. However, there are many iPod users visiting libraries in my area that would like to play books on them. Interestingly, though, at one local library, they’ve had a number of users simply say, “well, I own more than one iPod, I might as well go buy a cheap player for books, too.” Interesting.

  15. @GinaP: I recently bought a MuVO for exactly this reason, after several years of looking for a player that suited my uses. My husband owns a Shuffle and it drives him crazy.

    We can’t support the cost overhead of Overdrive , but because of our wonderful statewide reciprocal program, a lot of our patrons have accounts at Denver and download from them. We’ve heard a lot of these same complaints and have just started putting together a companion brochure to the free-music FAQ brochure that we put out at the beginning of the summer. That brochure has drummed up a lot of interest in indie music among a teen crowd whose tastes had been pretty limited to Walmart’s top 10 CDs, so I have high hopes.

  16. I have done the burn-to-CD-and-import thing exactly once. It’s about as threatening to DRM as thinking people are going to photocopy entire books. Even with access to a free photocopier, you just wouldn’t want to. So I think the burn-to-CD loophole is just enough to appease the diehards but is no real threat to DRM.

    The DRM issue also has to do with the economy of writing (or at least modern publishing). I think it’s great that we have a public domain, and that many writers contribute free work. I’d like to be able to sustain all of my writing through road shows and big concerts. ;-) But for a significant number of participants in the writing economy, the traditional model (someone produces a work product, and someone else pays for it) drives some of the decisions that result in Overdrive being forced to use DRM-based devices. (Apple is no stranger to DRM, of course, as anyone who has bought anything through iTunes knows.)

    I’m not sure complex explanations work with patrons. It’s not that people are stupid, but they are busy and focused on what they came to the library to do, which is reading/listening, not on wrangling publisher agreements or worrying about device dependency. I think “this is about as messy as VHS versus Beta” might work for older patrons. “Evolving technology” is another good one. Overdrive is the most innocent of all participants: it’s looking to maintain a viable service that real publishers will use. Apple versus Windows… well, at that point you can say “they’re both out to make a buck” and point out, “In ten years, everything will be different.” ;-)

  17. The other issue here is that Overdrive is incompatible with Macs, too. My library (where I work AND where I’m a patron) went with Overdrive, and it’s a service I can’t use except on my work computer (which has other issues). So, this service automatically excludes a portion of the user population. (I’m sure the demographics of Mac users versus PC users varies depending on where you are, so, granted, it might be a small portion of your users.) So, to use Overdrive, I would have to buy an mp3 player that is incompatible with my own equipment, and reserve PC time to download an audiobook. Which isn’t going to happen. Just another thing to consider…

  18. I am the writer behind Aldo on Audiobooks, which is a resource for people who want to listen to audiobooks, particularly on iPods (and now the iPhone). The most popular article I’ve written are instructions for how to import audiobooks into iTunes from standard Audio CDs.

    I get a lot of follow-up questions from people who read the site, and one of the top questions is about the various downloadable audiobooks from libraries. And although the detail are messy and complicated (as noted by others above), my advice to people is simple: Ask your local library to spend its money on audiobooks on standard Audio CDs, instead of downloadable versions that don’t work for a significant percentage of library patrons.

    Libraries and librarians want to be helpful and relevant to their patrons and communities. That’s why they’re experimenting with the various downloadable formats. There are a few benefits of downloadable versions, primarily accessibility for people who can’t come to the library, and eliminating the risks of physical damage to or loss of the asset. These would be terrific advances for libraries and patrons.

    But the devil is in the details, and current implementations of downloadable audiobooks, at least in expiring, library-style time limited loan formats, just have too many problems to consider them a solution. I think it’s good to experiment with them, but with the understanding that it shouldn’t come at the expense of acquiring audiobooks in Audio CD format, which are compatible with a far more broad range of playback devices.

  19. I’m going to play a little bit of devil’s advocate here and point out that with every shift in technology there is a significant portion of the patron population that doesn’t want us to change formats because they cannot yet use that format. We still purchase some audiobooks in cassette tape format for those with vision difficulties (MUCH easier for them to use than CDs) and those with car tape players. Obviously the trick is to make sure your overall choices are meeting the needs of your patrons while still trying new things.

    To be honest, we’ve gotten some very positive feedback from having downloadable audiobooks (Overdrive and Netlibrary), and I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to hold that portion of our patrons back by not offering any. It’s like anything else–moderation and making sure you’re meeting the needs of your patrons should be your goals.

    That said, this has been a fantastic discussion. I’m definitely adding another page to our eaudiobook handouts to flesh out the answer to “Will these work with my mp3 player?” Now I can direct iPod users to some resources that will.

  20. I just want to second Kim Leeder’s comment that the best thing we can do for iPod owners is to loan them a cheap MP3 player to use with their OverDrive books. My state library runs the library service for the blind in Oregon and we participate in Unabridged, a multi-state, OverDrive-based downloadable audiobook service for blind and print-disabled readers. We now offer all our users an MP3 player. You can get them now for well under $50 each and they work great with OverDrive. Of course you can’t be a Mac user, but most of our users are not.

  21. Worth noting that in my experience patron’s don’t liked to be steered to a “lesser” service. One of the problems we have with our NetLibrary subscription is that we don’t have very many bestselling authors, which upsets people.

    I agree with you, however, that we ought to use the chance to educate. Also worth posting is links to some NPR or other good podcasts that would appeal to library users.

  22. I’m a librarian at a small (four libraries) system, and we haven’t broached the Overdrive question. Part of it has to do with our web presence, and another part of it has to do with the ubiquity of iPod headsets all the professional staff see extending from patrons’ ears.

    The idea of encouraging patrons to copy CDs appears to go against US Code 17 as posted by the photocopiers here. We’re not copyright police, but it seems that we’re telling people that it’s OK to speed on one freeway where they won’t get caught and not to speed on another which is enforced (we ask people not to burn and remind them of USC 17 if we see them with a stack of our items and a container of blank CDs). This sets up a state of cognitive dissonance for them and makes us look like we’re talking on both sides of our mouths.

    At last year’s CLA, I met a publisher of audiobooks who says they burn theirs to portable devices all the time…so does that make it OK?

    A previous poster suggested purchasing books on CD (only) and skipping the compressed and more convenient MP3/WMA/etc. I’m in favor of that.

  23. Note that the Overdrive is based on Microsoft’s digital rights management (DRM) software which means it’s incompatible with any unix, linux & Apple-based operating system. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to work with Microsoft’s own music player, the Zune because Microsoft introduced in a new DRM standard with their player. In doing so they made the Zune incompatible their earlier, licensed standard, “PlaysForSure DRM”, that a few other MP3 device makers had already integrated (The latter DRM system also forms the core of Overdrive’s content protection scheme).

    The result is:
    * A handful of relatively low-capacity players that can use the Overdrive format and an older DRM-version.
    * A single line of Microsoft players using a newer DRM system that is incompatible with everything else.
    * Incompatibility with a large number of players which comprise 80%+ of the units in the US, including the i-pod line.

    Better options include:
    * ‘Audible’-formatted media — This has far greater market penetration in players (including i-pods). I’d talk to Audible to see if they might want to provide systems for libraries.
    * And Open-DRM system. This appears to be a fantasy. Why would anyone except consumers or copyright owners want a royalty-free system that any player manufacturer could install on any device or operating system?

    In any case, I’m a bit disappointed that there has been so little push-back from libraries before adopting the Overdrive system. Like Alderete, I would favor libraries purchasing audio-CDs until the many bugs are worked out of the competing DRM systems. I have no complaints about DRM or the idea protecting the content of producers, but I am bothered by the long history of ham-fisted, monopoly-protecting, DRM implementations.

  24. Oops, an error. There are a few large capacity, Overdrive-compatible players out there from Creative and i-River.

  25. “Well, they’re downloadable to anything but an iPod…”

    They are downloadable for playback on Windows PCs and for playback on only a small percentage of portable players.

    What do they lose by going with WMA DRM? People with ipods can’t use the downloaded materials without going through severe contortions (burning to cds and then ripping to an ipod-friendly format like mp3) to do so. And in the end, if someone wants to “pirate” the files, they can do exactly the same thing as the ipod owner. Ultimately, they end up inconveniencing EVERYBODY, perhaps to the point that people don’t use the resource, for the sake of inconveniencing a minority of users who want to distribute files illegally without actually preventing this minority from behaving illegally.

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