Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/6/2006
12:07 PM
Jeanette Hafke
Jeanette Hafke
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Summertime DRM Blues

Last week I got around to perusing across my local library's newsletter and read that they would be offering "downloadable eAudiobooks." I was thrilled at the new prospect for doing some summer "reading," or what passes for such in my busy household. At least I was thrilled, until I read the fine print.

Last week I got around to perusing across my local library's newsletter and read that they would be offering "downloadable eAudiobooks." I was thrilled at the new prospect for doing some summer "reading," or what passes for such in my busy household. At least I was thrilled, until I read the fine print.According to the newsletter, the library is offering library patrons digital audiobooks, called eAudiobooks, for an MP3 player courtesy of an outfit called NetLibrary.com, but iPods are not compatible. Obviously, somewhere in this statement there's an inaccuracy: iPods certainly can play MP3 files, but MP3 files don't have any DRM or these files aren't MP3s.

Being an iPod owner, I was dismayed, but decided to test out which of these two theories was incorrect. I set up an account with NetLibrary and gave it a whirl. It's an interesting system--you can listen to a portion of the eAudiobook before you choose to download it. You can "check out" up to 10 at a time, and they "expire" after 21 days, just like having a "due date" at the library. You can choose to renew the eAudiobook, or "return" it at that time. I didn't notice ways to check them back in when you're done, though.

It's an interesting way for the library to stay progressive in today's media landscape and help patrons fit reading into their busy lives. It creates no more materials for library employees to manage, no lost books to bill for, nor damaged books to repair. (Note: I was able to download the eAudiobook to a Mac as well as to a PC, but due to the Mac version of Windows Media Player, I couldn't play the file.)

The library's mantra seems to be: You provide the equipment, we provide the eAudiobook. Everyone's happy...sort of.

I discovered that the files were Windows Media Audio files and not MP3s. In defense of the library, it didn't say the files were MP3s, but that the files were for your MP3 player. IPods do not play WMA files. There are some programs that convert WMA to MP3, but of course they don't work on DRM-protected files such as the e-books offered by NetLibrary.

I wondered why the library would go with a vendor that didn't offer the books in at least M4A format as well (so that DRM rights could be honored for iPods). I mean, let's be honest, the iPod outnumbers other MP3 players by a staggering ratio. If the library wants to stay with the mobile generation, why would it shut out what's probably the largest group of them?

I decided to send the library an e-mail to point out the error in the newsletter and to inquire about its vendor choice and received a response from the library's assistant director.

His response:

...the explanation that our content provider gave as to the reason why they chose the Microsoft Windows Media DRM:
"NetLibrary uses version 2.x licenses for downloadable eAudiobooks in order to maintain a high level of security, and to help ensure that the content of our publishing partners is secure, especially when items are checked out from the library's collection and borrowed by a user rather than purchased. This technology allows checked out items to expire on the due date, a feature that no other technology offers."

Sadly he's correct. Apple's iTunes offers borrowing...you either buy it or you don't. That's it. Granted, that's no different than Amazon. One doesn't borrow a book from Amazon and send it back, so one wouldn't borrow an eAudiobook from the iTunes store (after all, Amazon and iTunes are stores and not libraries).

Who knows what the future holds, though. Apparently, there's buzz that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will unveil a movie rental service through the iTunes Music Store at the company's upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

I would guess that it would be a rental service--maybe something like Netflix, sans shipping and needing to report cracked discs. Maybe someday they'll find a way for this similar technology (conceptually) to work for libraries and eAudiobooks.

But for now, I'm left with listening while at my PC (my poor Macs). I'm at the computer most of the day anyway...and when I'm in the car, the kids take over the video system, so no iPod for me there, either. If I want to be mobile, I'd best take my mobile self to that library and pick up the actual book.Last week I got around to perusing across my local library's newsletter and read that they would be offering "downloadable eAudiobooks." I was thrilled at the new prospect for doing some summer "reading," or what passes for such in my busy household. At least I was thrilled, until I read the fine print.

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