29 November 2007

FAQ: What about iPods?

Unfortunately, none of the companies providing downloadable audio book service to libraries can provide a service compatible with iPods. Sure, you can buy audiobooks through iTunes for your iPod, and you can subscribe to Audible and pay to download a certain number of titles per month, but neither of these services allow for items to be checked in or out. It's just like the difference between a bookstore and your library.

The technology that allows for electronic items to be checked in and out is governed by digital rights management, or DRM. You've probably heard this term in relation to music mp3s. Windows has its own DRM software, and so does Apple -- and never the twain shall meet, at least for now. All of the providers of check-in-and-out-able downloadable audio books use Windows-based DRM, which requires Windows Media Player (version 9.0 or greater).

So what to do?
  • Offer a quick-access computer station in your library so people can stop in and download (helps folks with slow Internet connections or those with Macs, as well as all those who just need to quickly check their email).
  • Purchase a few portable mp3 players to circulate. Generally, players made by Archos, Creative Labs, Samsung, and Toshiba are compatible with the service and can be purchased for as little as $30 from major retailers such as Staples, Circuit City, etc. That's less than almost any traditional audio book, and can be used for any title. Patrons can check these out for however long you determine (two weeks? three?) and either load a book at the library or bring it home.
  • There are workarounds. Ask your favorite techie or Google and you'll find many ways that your patrons can get audio onto their iPods.
As many states and libraries around the country are doing, we will continue to pressure vendors to offer access to both platforms. It's not likely in the next year -- but eventually, it will become reality.

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