If you listen to audiobooks, there have been some happenings of note at Overdrive. This is a company which has arisen as one of the primary providers of audiobooks to libraries in the past few years–working with Boston, New York, Chicago and many other systems. I started using it as a patron when I was working in an office where I could wear headphones all day.(1) It was a lovely opportunity to zone out and work with a classical book filtering past my ears. New York Public Library has the widest catalog available of any that I’ve seen thus far and material availability was pretty good too. Lending period is three weeks, which is the most generous time allotment I’ve seen.

A couple of things have come up in the past couple of weeks that are going to be something to keep an eye on–both as the consumer and as a librarian. First, Overdrive recently announced a partnership with Borders. This is an interesting change, because before this I think we’ve mostly seen Overdrive working with libraries. It changes their model. Of course, Borders isn’t in very good shape at the moment but

I forwarded that little announcement to a friend who is an avid audiobook listener, but who uses Audible primarily. He likes patronizing Borders as well so I knew it would be a good fit but for one caveat: Overdrive uses WMA-Compatible DRM: Digital Rights Management protection software that only works with Windows. Said friend is also a heavy Apple user (2) and the DRM isn’t Apple compatible. So here was a chance for one of his favorite stores to be selling an item he buys all the time–and he wouldn’t be able to use it.

Then last week, the morning I had to give a training presentation on Overdrive usage, this press release came out: Overdrive to Distribute MP3 Audiobooks to Booksellers and Libraries. This is important because mp3 will be compatible to Apple. Now more titles will become available to a whole new group of listeners who were previously excluded because of the DRM. The press release isn’t particularly clear about how much of their back catalog will be available (in May) for purchase without DRM. I did find this statement rather speaking about availability to libraries though: “Following the Borders.com retail launch in May, a limited selection of OverDrive MP3 Audiobooks will be added to OverDrive’s extensive library network.” So I don’t think that DRM catalog is going anywhere anytime soon and libraries are going to have the joys of trying to explain why some of the materials can be downloaded to a patrons Ipod and other’s cannot.

Removal of DRM is a growing trend, which I think it a good thing for audiobooks. We’re an increasingly wired and plugged in society and it’s a pretty decent model for libraries and shoppers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my ears are going back to Persuasion.

1. My boss got very adept at getting my attention when I had those headphones in: she threw small soft things acquired from conference exhibits at me. A foam heart bounced off me about once a week.
2. Waited in line to get an Iphone