Audio Books in MP3 Format Give Fresh Meaning to Term “Online Library”

Jul 22, 2008

Don't have time to sit down with that new book you've been wanting to read? OverDrive, Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio-based provider of downloadable eBooks, audio books and other media for libraries and schools, announced in June 2008 that the District of Columbia Public Library was the first public library in the nation to offer popular audio book titles in MP3 format. Many other libraries have added the format since June.

The new DRM-free format, OverDrive MP3 Audiobook, is compatible with Apple iPod players as well as other MP3 players including those from Creative, Sony, Samsung, Rio, SanDisk, and most cell phones. Depending upon publisher permission, patrons will be able to transfer the whole book title to a MP3 player.

"This is an exciting addition to our catalog of audio books, which used to contain only WMA, a Windows-based format," says David Burleigh, director of marketing with OverDrive, Inc. "These MP3 audio books are compatible with a much wider variety of media, including virtually all MP3 players, so it complements the overall collection nicely."

Just as any collection at any particular library will vary, OverDrive has some 100,000 book titles in their inventory, acting as a distributor for hundreds of different publishers from Harper Collins, BBC Audiobooks and Brilliance to Blackstone and Random House. In addition to audiobooks, OverDrive also distributes e-books, or text versions of books for a computer screen. New technology is enabling sound and motion to be incorporated with e-books, but generally they are comparable to looking at the pages of a standard book on a computer.

Some 7,500 libraries worldwide currently use the OverDrive service. The company is adding the MP3 format to the collections of all the libraries that request this service, and nearly all the libraries have, according to Burleigh.

The initial OverDrive MP3 AudiobooksAudiobooks catalog for public libraries features more than 3,000 popular novels, children's books, foreign language learning titles, and classic works and is growing rapidly as publishers join the program. Participating publishers currently include Books In Motion, Blackstone Audio, L.A. Theatre Works, Gildan Media, Audio Realms, CSA Word, plus others.

The new audio book catalog of OverDrive MP3 Audiobook titles will complement OverDrive's collection of approximately 20,000 DRM-protected digital audio books (WMA format) and over 80,000 eBooks in popular formats. Other libraries that have added OverDrive MP3 Audiobooks into their download catalogs (these are now live) include New York Public Library, Cleveland Public Library, King County Library System (WA), and Hamilton Public Library (Ontario), and hundreds more will be added throughout the end of 2008, according to Burleigh.

In order to download OverDrive’s MP3s, users must install the free OverDrive Media Console version 3.0 with newly added support for easy transferring of OverDrive MP3 Audiobooks to iPod, iPhoneT, and iPod touch. This new release also includes a Burn Wizard feature for creating standard audio CDs from downloaded audio books.

Because of concerns over file sharing, OverDrive is working with participating publishers and library partners to reinforce copyrights and permissions associated with download lending. Library users are required to agree to specific terms of use before they can download from their library's website. After the lending period expires, the OverDrive Media Console software disables access to the expired title, and then prompts users to delete all MP3 files and all transferred copies. "We are encouraging responsible borrowing and reminding patrons about our lending policies and hoping the public adheres to those," says Elissa Miller, interim director, collections, DC Public Library.

So far the D.C. Library has received positive feedback on the new system. Miller says, "We've had an increase in overall usage, averaging about 20 on any given day, with checkouts as high as 30 per day. As of today we have 290 checked out, after just three weeks of offering the MP3 downloads."

"I know we are getting increased overall circulation since this feature has begun. This is a wonderful new step for our library, to be the first in the nation to offer some of the most high tech media available. It's a fantastic way to attract old and new customers as well as potential customers in a city with a very diverse population."