Some U.S. library audiobooks don’t work on Apple iPods due to proprietary Microsoft WMA format

“It seems you can’t listen to everything on your iPod. The Apple Computer devices account for more than 21 million of the 28 million total portable music systems, and they are finding plenty of other uses beside music. Just not books: many U.S. libraries are now lending audiobooks available only in Bill Gates’ Windows Media Audio format,” Danit Lidor reports for Forbes.

“Many of the library audiobooks are coming from Cleveland, Ohio-based OverDrive, a privately held company that has partnered with both Microsoft and Adobe,” Lidor reports. “But at least one library has chosen not to abandon the potentially huge Apple audience. Librarians at California’s Newport Beach Public Library load audiobooks directly onto 15 iPod Shuffle players and make them available for rental. Apple CEO Steve Jobs can always rely on his fiercely loyal Apple customer base to take niche bites in every market.”

Full article here.
Why would libraries offer audiobooks for devices that so few people have and not offer audiobooks for the iPod, which the majority of people use? Very shortsighted. Or perhaps libraries don’t want people to listen to audiobooks? It sounds like librarians need to get out from the dusty bookshelves more often. Don’t libraries “lend,” not “rent?” If so, why not use good old unprotected MPEG-4 Audio (AAC) or MP3 – those formats will work on most players, including iPods.

As for taking “niche bites,” the reality is that non-iPod device makers are the niche in the market dominated by Apple’s iPod+iTunes+iTunes Music Store.

iPod users, of course, can still download thousands of audiobooks via Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Analyst: Apple will sell 7.1 million iPods this quarter – August 26, 2005
The de facto standard for legal digital online music files: Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p) – December 15, 2004

27 Comments

  1. I don’t agree with Apple licensing FairPlay to companies like Napster, but maybe they could provide it to places like Libraries. The only thing I could think of preventing them from doing this would be a clause in their contract with Audible.

  2. I think the issue of what format Librarians choose, has more to do with what’s available than what they desire.

    Is there an alternative to WMA, that Librarians can order from? Instead of blasting them, I think it would be more appropriate to education them as the the market distribution of WMA vs the world, and where they can get MP3/AAC/MPEG4 versions of the books they desire.

    Librarians live and die by those that use their facility. I’m sure they would be most interested in increasing the number of “customers” they can reach.

  3. Microsoft provides content that doesn’t work on the iPod, as part of a business strategy to make more money.

    Apple provides content that doesn’t work on other players, as part of a business strategy to make more money.

    Apple good, Microsoft baad. Back to sleep.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Audible offer a “universal” protected format as in it will work on iPods and other Audible compatible devices? I am fairly sure that Audible’s format is their own but it works on many platforms… for those who can’t use Apple’s fairplay to protect the audiobooks, Audible seems to know something about protected digital books.

  5. Post the e-mail addresses of all these libraries for us to see! We must crush them with our replies indicating how stupid they are!!!!

    Why not? MDN publishes the e-mail addresses of other folks with which it disagrees…

    I agree with Benjamin the Donkey, back to sleep.

  6. Apple doesn’t provide a DRM format that places like Libraries can use to protect their content according to copyright issues.

    IMO Steve and Bill have a deal worked out to stay out of each others respective territories.

    Just look at OfficeMac, we know damm well that Apple could produce a Office suit that would blow M$ away on both platforms virtually overnight.

    But Apple doesn’t do it, it actually sells OfficeMac with big billboards in their shop windows and in their online store.

    Why doesn’t Apple produce a low grade Mac OS X for generic x86 boxes? With their experience making all other platforms work with theirs, their extensive software knowledge, they could easily blow M$ to hell and back.

    (note I said “low grade”, meaning a OS that lacks all the functionality of a full version, but good enough for servers and dumb terminal uses in industry, like Linux is trying to do)

  7. This is one time where libraries should use an open format. And use one that is unencumbered by patents or licenses. If they choose an open format such as Ogg Vorbis as opposed to a completely closed format (WMA) or a patented format (MP3 & AAC), then there wouldn’t be any problem provided the content was legal.

    Of course, then it would be Apple’s problem to provide support for an open format that is free of patents. But unfortunately, Apple is on Microsoft’s side when it comes to software patents. Which I feel just stinks.

    If its not free from patents or licensing fees, its not free or open regardless of what the corporations want to tell you.

  8. The Libraries can use MP3 for books they record themselves (under legislation for the blind, anyone can record a book or transcribe it to braile for a blind audience). The problem comes with audio book recordings like Steven Fry reading Harry Potter. These are copyright recordings, much like music, and fiercely protected in the same way.

    I presume the DRM is on there to ensure that people are just borrowing from the library rather than copying. (Which is odd, they used to lend out records and CDs in libraries and we used to tape them).

    Now most of those audio books are available through iTMS but iTMS doesn’t support library lending, wheras MS have targetted the market. Wonder how their software works? Probably files that expire with time.

    Note that the Cali. library lends out Shuffle’s with the books on them – presumably they have the books loaded up in iTunes – it gets around the problem because it’s like lending out a book.

    I think in this case the guys who suggested Apple need to support the libraries are correct. Not quite sure how it would work as iPods are tied to specific desktops.

  9. Mr Jobs,
    (Your Steveness)
    The team at Apple has done an incredible job with iTunes & the iPod, but there is still work to be done. Just as people today use their computers for far different things than you and Woz could ever imagine back in the day, the iPod and portable digital audio will expand way beyond it’s current limitations. Don’t miss these markets while chasing the ‘Next Big Thing’ like Podcasting. Partner with Audible or someone else to offer libraries a similar commercial option to that offered by OverDrive.

  10. Mr Jobs,
    (Your Steveness)
    The team at Apple has done an incredible job with iTunes & the iPod, but there is still work to be done. Just as people today use their computers for far different things than you and Woz could ever imagine back in the day, the iPod and portable digital audio will expand way beyond it’s current limitations. Don’t miss these markets while chasing the ‘Next Big Thing’ like Podcasting. Partner with Audible or someone else to offer libraries a similar commercial option to that offered by OverDrive.

  11. Mr Jobs,
    (Your Steveness)
    The team at Apple has done an incredible job with iTunes & the iPod, but there is still work to be done. Just as people today use their computers for far different things than you and Woz could ever imagine back in the day, the iPod and portable digital audio will expand way beyond it’s current limitations. Don’t miss these markets while chasing the ‘Next Big Thing’ like Podcasting. Partner with Audible or someone else to offer libraries a similar commercial option to that offered by OverDrive.

  12. The WMA format is used because it supports the “subscription” model. Apple does not have a subscription DRM model currently released. It is so if someone “borrows” an audiobook for 3 weeks the subscription DRM deactivates it after that point, maintaining all copyright control and not allowing it to be copied and redistributed (I know this can still happen anyways). Apple/iTunes does not have that capability in their DRM scheme at this time.

    It is the libraries looking for a system whereby they can deactivate the audiobook after a certain time period and WMA currently is the only DRM scheme that provides such.

    Maybe Apple should think about building in subscription services into its DRM model, not for mass music subscriptions, but for specific cases like this where it’s actually a sensible and logical idea.

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