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OverDrive library platform to drop DRM-enabled WMA files
January 24, 2014 6:18 AM   Subscribe

The library platform OverDrive has announced that it will discontinue the sale of audiobooks in the WMA format, and transition solely to DRM-free MP3 files. Many local libaries use OverDrive to offer ebooks and audiobooks for download to their patrons. [Disclosure: my local library does, and I hate it.] Currently, some audiobooks are offered as DRM-enabled WMA files; the are not playable on iOS devices, so this will open up a lot of the collection to a wider user community.
posted by wenestvedt (30 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now will they drop DRM on books?
posted by srt19170 at 6:29 AM on January 24


I'm looking forward to it. I've used their ebooks through my local library but I would only use an audiobook on my iphone so I've never been able to use those.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:35 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


This is good news I think but oh my god I hate Overdrive.
posted by rtha at 6:37 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


So, if they make these available in mp3 format, then I should be able to "check them out" through the library, download them, and then copy them to my old Sansa player? So no more hassle with ripping cds?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:40 AM on January 24


Right, Old'n'Busted: according to the linked piece they will scold you to delete them when your loan period expires.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:45 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


iUsers complaining about Overdrive and wma files is just a bit too much for me to handle.
posted by srboisvert at 6:49 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


We Android/linux users did some serious complaining as well. You just didn't hear it at the coffee shop.
posted by cmfletcher at 6:52 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


Now let's see if they drop the Fraunhofer tax and serve Ogg files.
posted by ocschwar at 7:03 AM on January 24


What's wrong with Overdrive specifically? I haven't had any problems (although a go to page X would help).
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:09 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


It is hard for the average person to figure out how to use it. I've had to help several people I know get it working. And I don't work at the public library so they must spend all day answering questions.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:24 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Also at one time it had a glitch where it would let you check out a book that you didn't really have the "rights" to use. And then it wouldn't let you check it back in so you were stuck with a book you couldn't read for 3 weeks.

Although I think they fixed that. It hasn't happened to me lately anyway.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:26 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Overdrive can be aggravating (I currently have an e-book in there that gives me options to Download an ePub or Read in Browser, but no Delete or Return) but I'm mostly just annoyed that until recently there was one e-library system for the province, and now they've branched into two, one for the city and one for everywhere else. Not only does the provincial system seem to have a larger selection, but audiobooks that are never available on the city's system are just sitting there in the province's system, waiting for some damn farmer who'll never check them out. That several of the books available on the city's system were incompatible with my iPod was a pisser on top of a pisser, so this is welcome news, at least until I get a library card from somewhere out in the boonies.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:42 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


There are a number of commonly-voiced problems with OverDrive, including that a) it's harder to use than it needs to be, mostly because b) it uses DRM, and also that c) libraries aren't buying eBooks and/or audiobooks through it; they're licensing access to them, so if the contract expires, so does access to the materials.

This is on top of various frequent complaints about publishers' dealings with libraries, from Random House and Hachette's price gouging (but RandomHouse at least consider libraries to own the titles they've paid for, regardless of what OverDrive's contract says ... not that that's any help in the face of a legally-binding contract) to the "metered access" publishers which require libraries to repurchase relicense titles after 26 checkouts (HarperCollins), or 52 checkouts and/or two years, whichever comes first (Macmillan), or one year regardless of the number of checkouts (Penguin). And, of course, licensing rather than buying means that the libraries have no first-sale rights, and that they're also beholden to corporate interests, which might change the contracts at any time with the only recourse being not to renew, meaning that they also lose access to the titles they've paid for.

This is all in conjunction with Simon and Schuster only dealing with a handful of libraries at the moment, which they pose as "a trial," and which leaves the rest of libraryland holding their breath and hoping that someday they can too be so blessed.

So, in short, there's the general feeling that libraries are getting treated badly all around because they're dealing with electrons instead of the entire atom (or, more bluntly, that it's all kind of a clusterfuck of avarice, cowardice, and IP law conspiring to offer the public something inferior, with libraries holding their noses and signing on to it in the hopes that offering something inferior is better than offering nothing at all. And there's argument, too, about whether it is, with opinions seeming to vary based on commitment to principles and/or practicality).

That said, general consensus is that the OverDrive app could be easier, while the 3M app and their site is terrible because it is painfully slow. I haven't heard much about Baker & Taylor yet, except that their sales pitch is something along the lines of "you want to deal with us for eBooks because you're already dealing with us for print books," which is not really selling the product so much as (failing to) sell the company.
posted by johnofjack at 8:16 AM on January 24 [17 favorites]


Thanks for the outline, johnofjack. I had a little* trouble installing Overdrive but since then have found it remarkably easy to use (on my iPad) from the library user's side; I had no idea about the annoyance to libraries. (And I want to thank my library in particular for putting up with it--they've really done a 180 in more customer services recently.)

according to the linked piece they will scold you to delete them when your loan period expires.

What's happened in my experience is that you get scolded once if you keep it after it's due, and then the next time you open OD it self-deletes. There's supposedly a renewal option available (if there's no hold list) for the two days after to due date, but I haven't managed to make use of it.

*I think it took three rounds of logging in, actually.
posted by psoas at 8:33 AM on January 24


As a linux/android user, it was approximately 20 times easier to just download a pirate copy of a book than it was to check it out with OD. When you consider that I am a library computer geek, it should become obvious how ridiculous OD's DRM is.

Although, I blame the publishers far more than OD.
posted by QIbHom at 8:55 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


I listen to lots of audiobooks using Overdrive through my library.

"For libraries and schools that currently have WMA audiobook files in their collection, we will be working with the publishers of those titles to gain permissions to update your inventory to MP3." (from the first link)

I am going to be sad if I don't get to listen to Alpha and Omega. I am currently listening to The Johnstown Flood. Searching for these two only shows one audio version, WMA.

If I go to all audiobooks and then click "format" on the side, it tells me:

OverDrive MP3 Audiobook(9654)
OverDrive WMA Audiobook(14117)

For the sake of argument, I will assume all the mp3 titles are available as WMA (because I did one day go through ALL the audiobooks of each kind and found this to be mostly true). This means there are 4516 titles that would vanish from the catalog if they remove all the WMA ones and do not get mp3 versions of them.

I guess this is good and I understand all the Mac/iPod people will be happy. That's great.

But - more than 4500 books possibly gone from the catalog! :(
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:06 AM on January 24


People with Apple devices totally can listen to WMA audiobooks, they just have to jump through a lot of hoops (download to a PC, load via iTunes section by section) but the upside is you can keep it forever because the DRM gets totally broken that way. See instructions here.

That said, I only ever did that once for a book that turned out to totally not be worth it (because those hoops are a royal PITA) so I stuck to mp3 after that. But the WMA books did broaden the Overdrive collection a bit, so sometimes if you really wanted a book bad enough, you'd deal with the WMA BS. I'm both happy and sad about the move to mp3-only, because I don't think the books they offered in WMA are going to be duplicated in mp3.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:25 AM on January 24


the upside is you can keep it forever because the DRM gets totally broken that way.

My understanding -- and johnofjack knows this probably better than I do -- that the MP3s that Overdrive offers are just nagware and not encumbered with DRM but if you're only reading/listening to the books in the app, the file will disappear from the app. This does not keep people from accessing the file in some other way, but this is challenging on tablets and the like that don't offer real access to file systems. Can someone let me know if this is accurate?

Overdrive is the only company right now who is making a real effort in this field and they are still too little too late in a lot of ways. The guy who runs Overdrive is a real mensch, but he is dealing with troglodytes from the world of publishing who are wanting Overdrive to basically do the impossible (get them money without making the files accessible for anything but listening to) and they've been kludging their way through this process in ugly ways trying to please everyone. Some examples of ridiculousness...

- Offering WMA files when the most popular audio player in the world can't play them
- Making smaller libraries pay extra fees for designing and "maintaining" a website that doesn't adhere to web standards and barely works (this has gotten significantly better in the last year or so but it's been years we've waited)
- Their weird tut-tutting tweet to BoingBoing
- Making libraries who already have the WMA version of a file pay again to have an MP3 version of that file (I'm unclear what happens when this change goes totally through)

We had to make a decision, as libraries, whether to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I'm not always sure we made the right one. Larger libraries can integrate the files into their catalogs and skip a lot of the super-shitty Overdrive UI that the rest of us have to deal with. Most of us are not so lucky. The worst part, from my perspective, is that it passes down the "Computers are hard, look how confusing this system is just to get a book!" attitude through librarians (many of whom are not that tech literate and struggle with this stuff) to patrons who don't know any other way, or even that another way is possible.

My deal with me (and my own personal moral compass) is that if I've checked the book out from the library in any format, I feel okay getting it in any other format (i.e. ganking a digital file from the innertubes). I also do a lot of work with Open Library who does a lot of book lending of older (20 years?) materials using Adobe's DRM scheme which is less crappy but still sort of crappy. We've got a ways to go. This is a step forward that should have happened five years ago.
posted by jessamyn at 1:57 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]


My understanding -- and johnofjack knows this probably better than I do -- that the MP3s that Overdrive offers are just nagware and not encumbered with DRM but if you're only reading/listening to the books in the app, the file will disappear from the app. This does not keep people from accessing the file in some other way, but this is challenging on tablets and the like that don't offer real access to file systems. Can someone let me know if this is accurate?

Yes, that is accurate. The file "expires" when the lending period is up and can no longer be accessed, without checking it out again from Overdrive.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:40 PM on January 24


My experience of OD must've been atypically seamless, but I kind of guessed from all the ebook clinic events at the library that it's sucking up a lot of staff time.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:40 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


The file "expires" when the lending period is up and can no longer be accessed

Thanks for the info. -- I just decided to try this myself with an audiobook from our local consortium. Looks like the audiobooks are split up into a bunch of MP3 files that appear to just be regular MP3s. I can play them in iTunes. When I click on the "get info" button I get this message about the book. So I totally get that people are supposed to "return" the items when they are due back, but this is more of a "we trust you to do the right thing" note for anyone who has access to their file systems (which isn't most people on tablets/phones &c). So it works decently well for Overdrive but isn't the same set of hassles that the WMV files were.
posted by jessamyn at 2:53 PM on January 24


I also do a lot of work with Open Library who does a lot of book lending of older (20 years?) materials using Adobe's DRM scheme which is less crappy but still sort of crappy.

I was appalled to discover OverDrive requires you to have an Adobe ID and input the username and password in their application.

Recently 150 million (or more) Adobe IDs were stolen from their unsecured computer system. As far as I know, hackers got ALL of them.

Go Here to see if your Adobe ID and password was stolen. Mine was.

This is not "sort of crappy," this is extremely crappy.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:44 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


This is not "sort of crappy," this is extremely crappy.

The security on their general password situation was extremely crappy. Their DRM scheme is only sort of crappy (in that it's not as onerous as other ones when it's working correctly though Overdrive's has improved in recent years). All options are not great. People who want to use Open Library and not have an Adobe ID are more than welcome to just read the books online in the BookBrowser but it requires an always-on internet connection.

Part of the general problem with lending in-copyright ebooks is that these systems necessarily have a bunch of authentication hoops that people need to jump through, whether it's your library ID and password, your Amazon ID and password or your Adobe ID and password and these go from point A to point B because the people who own the copyrights and require authentication are often not the same ones who are running the servers with the books or not the people who are operating the lending scheme.

We get a bunch of shit at Open Library for being free culture people using DRM at all but our alternative (after doing a decent amount of research on this) was that this was the best option out of a small set of options all of which were sort of lame. I'm not thrilled with it. I'm willing to tolerate it because a worldwide ebook lending program (not limited geographically by whatever your library system is willing to pay for) is a huge sea change in the world of ebook lending and is bringing books to people who lack access to them. In the grand scheme of things, that's a bigger deal to me. Not within your risk tolerance? Totally OK. Waiting until there's an unhackable ebook option? It will be a while.
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, usually I'm not overly tech savvy, but I managed to get OverDrive kicked in and working with minimal problems. Yes, having that damn password stuff was a PITA. I will admit OD is one of the clunkiest user interfaces I have ever worked with--and the update isn't any better. Dogs help you if you lose your place in the book without a bookmark. All that said, I love reading books electronically.

Now, if they'd just take care of the light-from-computer-screen-before-bedtime issue...
posted by BlueHorse at 7:00 PM on January 24


Just use Calibre to remove the DRM on EPUBs.
posted by reiichiroh at 7:20 PM on January 24


Now, if they'd just take care of the light-from-computer-screen-before-bedtime issue...

redshift or f.lux will sort ya out.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:30 PM on January 24


As a linux/android user, it was approximately 20 times easier to just download a pirate copy of a book than it was to check it out with OD. When you consider that I am a library computer geek, it should become obvious how ridiculous OD's DRM is.

My library's install of OD seems to have a bug. It reads "Click here to download a .epub" rather than "Click here to download a .acsm file and then install some other nuisance that reads that and pokes a server which sends you a .epub file".
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:01 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


OverDrive is hopelessly clunky. When it sends me an email letting me know that a hold has arrived, I need to:
  1. Visit their web site
  2. Select Account
  3. Type in username and password
  4. Sign in
  5. Select Holds
  6. Find the book that is available among my other holds
  7. Check the book out
  8. Find the book again in my Bookshelf
  9. Click download
  10. Select Kindle
  11. Select the Kindle device I want to download to
  12. Click the download button
Some of this is from memory because none of my holds right now are available and I can't repeat this process right at the moment. But suffice to say, this is a needlessly involved process. There's no technical reason they shouldn't be able to include a link in the email that would download the hold immediately, or send you to Amazon if you are using Kindle.
posted by grouse at 6:11 AM on January 25


It reads "Click here to download a .epub" rather than "Click here to download a .acsm file and then install some other nuisance that reads that and pokes a server which sends you a .epub file".

There's no technical reason they shouldn't be able to include a link in the email that would download the hold immediately, or send you to Amazon if you are using Kindle.

These are both excellent points. People who are decent with computers (much less people who are good with them) understand that these hoops are being created and enforced because of the DRM/control issues and have nothing at all to do with the distributing or reading of ebooks except that the people who own the rights to them are requiring it. The fact that Overdrive is shifting to a model where people will even have access to the un-DRMed files is sort of a big deal.
posted by jessamyn at 7:41 AM on January 25


Jessamyn: on some (definitely not all) devices you can plug them into your computer and navigate the file system to find the mp3, but this is not something most people know.

On the plus side, Penguin finally removed their "sideload to Kindle" requirement (also their "if you checked this out in Kindle format but you have a Kindle app, not an actual Kindle, we aren't going to let you read it" requirement), and OverDrive has implemented the fix after announcing it in September.

Also on the plus side, in re: DRM, extra accounts, etc.: if it's a title offered in the OverDrive Read format, you can open it in your device's browser and then use the "Download" link provided to have it stored on your device. You can then read it offline without needing an Adobe ID or an Amazon ID, though the browser does still enforce expiration on the due date.... This seems to work only with actual handhelds, for some reason; I haven't been able to get it to work with either my work computer or my home computer (they both keep prompting for a connection once I turn a few pages, even though they say the file's downloaded). This is progress, at least; there are a lot of questions (as there should be, I think) about why someone would need both a library card and an account with some billion-dollar corporation to check out eBooks.
posted by johnofjack at 6:11 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


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