OverDrive is putting another nail in the coffin of DRM with the announcement that it’ll stop offering audiobooks in the WMA format. Soon OverDrive will only sell audiobooks in DRM-free MP3.
The company’s primary customers are libraries — but this is still good news for individuals who use those libraries.
If you check out eBooks or digital audiobooks from a public library in the United States, there’s a good chance the transaction is handled by OverDrive. The company is one of the biggest players in the digital content for schools and libraries business.
Update: OverDrive says users will be prompted to delete MP3s when the lending period ends… but MP3s are still DRM-free, which will make that requirement hard to enforce. They’ll expire in the OverDrive app, but there’s nothing stopping you from saving copies.
There are a few problems with distributing audio files with DRM, or digital rights management software. The first is that some users might have trouble playing those audiobooks on their portable media players, PCs, or other devices due to content restrictions or other problems.
MP3 files have no DRM, and the MP3 file format is pretty much a de facto standard, so it’s hard to find a device or media player app that doesn’t support MP3.
One of the complaints folks often make about DRM is that it also prevents you from using content that you’ve bought in the way that you see fit. For instance if you buy an audiobook on CD you can loan it to a friend or sell it. If you buy one with DRM then you may only be able to play it on a limited number of devices and you can’t share it with another user.
Of course, public libraries aren’t in the business of just giving you stuff that you can keep forever — usually you borrow items from the library rather than taking ownership of them.
OverDrive’s move from WMA to MP3 means that when you check out a digital audiobook from the library you won’t have to “return” it or lose access to the audio at the end of a 2 or 3 week loan period. You can take as long as you’d like to finish listening… although the polite thing to do might be to delete the audiobook when you’re done or buy something from the author in the future if you really enjoyed it (and can afford it).
OverDrive will likely continue to limit how many times an MP3 audiobook can be downloaded by library patrons over the course of a year, depending on how many licenses a library pays for. But by eliminating DRM the company is making it easier for library users to listen at their own pace and on any device they like.
Titles that will now be available DRM-free content from publishers including Hachette, Harper Collins, Penguin, Random House, and others.
via Boing Boing