December 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog
This is what it looks like when I shoot off my mouth too soon.
My last post was about how DRM downloadable audiobooks drastically limit the audiobook audience, and how an alternative for libraries is not readily available yet. Between then and now, my library's consortium's newsletter [pdf] came out, announcing that MP3 audiobooks are now available for download through our Overdrive subscription.
I know the Boston Public Library has been offering MP3 audiobooks through Overdrive for awhile, and I'm happy that we are now, too. The newsletter article [pdf] is worth reading if you're interested, but here are some highlights:
- These MP3s work with Apple products, so iPod-people can now be like everyone else
- There's a Mac version of the Overdrive Media Console, which is still necessary for checking the books out
- The format is plainly indicated in the search result records, along with the type of media the file is compatible with (either MP3 or WMA):
- This paragraph also gives me hope:
We do have 200 titles in the MP3 format. There are a broad variety of genres and subjects available, and we will continue to build the mp3 collection in each month’s OverDrive purchase. There are more "classics" than "hot titles" available in MP3 at this time; however, as the pop title publishers become more comfortable with mp3 access to more titles in the market should evolve.
Now the real test will be to see how our circulation stats change with this addition. Thanks to everyone who made this happen. If you're a library using Overdrive, I encourage you to contact them to see about offering MP3 audiobooks through your interface.
Yay for taking the boot off the car.
Tags: audio, audiobook, audiobooks, book, Books, download, downloadable, libraries, Library, mp3, mp3s, overdrive, public, wma
September 25th, 2008 Brian Herzog
When it comes to audio books, my library offers traditional books on tape and CD, digital downloads through Overdrive, and also Playaways. But now we're faced with another format/media combination, mp3 files on a CD, or MP3-CD.
Patrons understand books on tape and CD. And after a little explaining, they caught on to (and are enthusiastic users of) digital downloads via Overdrive. Playaways some people still have trouble with ("so the book is on this thing, and I have to download it to what now?"), but they're catching on slowly, too.
So far, "traditional" media (cassette tapes and CDs) have been separate from the "new" formats (mp3, some DRM version of an mp3, or an mp3 on a Playaway). But these MP3-CDs are kind of a crossover, and I honestly don't know how patrons will react to them.
I think as an introduction to the format, Tantor Media sent us two sample MP3-CDs (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Call of the Wild). Both disks included an unabridged DRM-free mp3 copy of the book, and also an eBook version as a pdf file.
I like the idea of multiple formats, but it seems slightly counter-productive to have an electronic format that still requires the patron to physically visit the library. I understand that an mp3 version of the book takes up just one CD whereas the regular wav audio format might be two or three or fifteen, and that is a good savings. But mp3s aren't native to CDs - they're native to computers and mobile devices, so putting mp3s on CDs is kind of confusing.
I'm not sure if patrons will understand that in this case, very likely the CD itself is just a transportation medium, and they still need a computer or mp3 player to play the book. I know lots of CD players are mp3-compatible, but not all. I have two CD players - a stereo at home and one in my car - and neither one plays mp3s.
So, our dilemma is whether or not this is a format we should shelve. And if so, how? With the books on CD? Under an entirely new call number? What I would prefer is to circulate these mp3 files electronically, and not keep them on the shelf at all.
I wasn't sure about the legality of this, so I called Tantor Media directly to see what they thought.
The customer service person I got wasn't completely clear on all of this, so there were a few times she put me on hold to ask someone else for an answer. But what it boiled down to was that, as of right now, they are putting no restrictions on how these mp3 files can be used. When I asked her if it was okay for us to link to this mp3 file for download from our catalog record, she said the company would prefer us to circulate them through Overdrive or NetLibrary or some established interface, rather than on our own. But again, she said they currently aren't placing any limits on simultaneous users or any kind of DRM nonsense.
Which, I think, is just fine. I know Overdrive allows us to upload files to circulate through their system. I'm not sure how much we pay per Overdrive title, but most of them are still single-user, DRM-y, and non iPod-compatible. I keep hearing this is changing, but I haven't see the change yet.
The Tantor website lists their titles at a discounted price of $15.99 - $19.99, which isn't too bad. They also have a nice page devoted to how to move mp3 files from CDs to mp3 players, including iPods.
It will take some discussion before my library does anything with this format, but I am very interested to hear if other libraries have been purchasing MP3-CDs, and what you're doing with them.
Tags: audio, audio books, Books, libraries, Library, mp3, mp3-cd, mp3-cds, mp3s, overdrive, public, tantor, tantor media
April 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog
Hot on the heels of its announcement of mp3-based and iPod-compatible audiobooks, Overdrive is introducing a new product line: Large Print Audiobooks.
Designed to cater to the elderly and vision-impaired library patrons (just like our print large print collections), OverDrive has contracted with various large print book vendors to convert their catalogs into large print audio versions.
I think it is great that vendors aren't always trying to cast wide nets to scoop up as much profit as possible, but instead are providing products based on the needs of our smaller patron groups.
The only catch is that, like large print books, the audiobook files will be larger than their normal versions. Also, larger headphones are required, too, to accommodate the extra sound.
Still, it's great. You can keep up with more announcements on the OverDrive News page.
Tags: audio, audio book, audio books, audiobook, audiobooks, book, Books, large print, large type, libraries, Library, overdrive, public, slooflirpa
March 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog
In the wake of the recent announcements of companies ditching DRM* as a mechanism to control access to audio files, the New York Times is reporting that Sports Illustrated is opening up access to its entire archive.
The Times did this itself not too long ago, as did Atlantic Monthly, but SI's project is supposed to go a step further - not just text, but they're making available their photographs and video and everything. They're also including a handy search interface that lets people search by athlete, team, coach, year, etc.
Hopefully, more and more periodicals will start making their archives available, too (after all, Information Wants To Be Free). This of course would dramatically change the relationships libraries have with long-time vendors like EBSCO, NewsBank and Proquest, but information is information. If all the information is free, then the real value-added piece becomes the interface.
By the way, I found about this through The Huffington Post. I've also read recently about a few more free online resources:
*update: OverDrive just announced (at PLA, anyway) that they, too, are finally moving in the right direction. In June they'll start offering mp3 files - which, best of all, will be iPod-compatible. And they'll finally come out with a Mac interface, too. Read the entire announcement [pdf, 70kb].
Tags: archive, archives, free, ipod, libraries, Library, mp3, overdrive, pluc, research, resource, Resources
April 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog
I don't really like being a repeater for products and advertising, unless I think they are helpful. I've never used WebFeat before, but from what I know about it, I would love to.
I recently received a marketing email from them, offering a free trial, with a pitch that caught my eye:
...The WebFeat Express 2.0 trial isn’t just a canned demo – you’ll be able to...add your own databases and subject categories...
This is of particular interest to me now. My consortium's reference committee met last week, and we were told that the directors are looking to cut our database budget. The consortium itself only pays for three databases (NoveList and History Reference Center [HRC], both from ebsco, and Overdrive), and want to do away with one of them.
These are three very different resources, so this alarmed me. So, too, did the way they were being compared to each other. We were given a sheet with the cost for each database, the number of sessions for the Ebsco databases, and the number of audiobooks downloaded in Overdrive. They then divided the usage by the cost, to come up with a per usage dollar figure, and suggested cutting the most expensive one.
The figures came out like this:
||Cost Per Use
Now, there's all kinds of extra information that goes along with this breakdown. But, based on this comparison, it seems like HRC is the most expensive, so we should get rid of it.
My issue with it, though, is that a session is not the same as a checkout. In the ebsco databases, patrons will access the database (a session), search for their keywords (searches), and then read articles (end product). In Overdrive, patrons will access the catalog (a session), search for audiobooks (searches), and then checkout something (end product).
See that subtle difference? In the comparison above, they are looking at sessions in HRC and NoveList, but the end product in Overdrive - the proverbial apples to oranges comparison. To meaningfully compare these three, I think you have to look at sessions across the board, or searches across the board, or end product across the board.
So, they should compare the audiobook downloads in overdrive to the number of articles viewed in the other two - which I think would significantly bring down that cost per use number. This is my statistics rant. Having an undergrad degree in Market Research, I am sensitive to such things.
But back to WebFeat: regardless of the cost per use breakdowns, I think the real problem is that we generally do a poor job of promoting our databases. Most patrons don't know what "database" means, nor when to use one. And our websites don't help much. This trial lets us see what searching with WebFeat would be like, with the databases we currently subscribe to.
Which is why a product like WebFeat (and SchoolRooms) is great - it incorporates all of these resources into a patron's information search without the patron even realizing it. It gives the patron access to information from resources they didn't know existed, without them having to go out of their way to find it. In the future, I hope library ILS are all designed this way - a single, unified information search.
That should be our bottom line goal, not just bringing down cost per use figures or inflating our database statistics.
database, databases, ebsco, history reference center, libraries, library, novelist, overdrive, public libraries, public library, webfeat, webfeat express, webfeat express trial
Tags: database, databases, ebsco, history reference center, libraries, Library, novelist, overdrive, public libraries, public library, webfeat, webfeat express, webfeat express trial
March 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog
Sometimes, existing knowledge just does not translate well when things change. And, having worked hard to obtain that knowledge, people are sometimes reluctant to let it go.
This seems especially true in libraries. Some of the convoluted procedures and jargon we come up with are not just barriers to entry for new patrons, but also barriers to evolution for experienced patrons who have learned our complex requirements.
This week's reference question was posted to the Maine Libraries Listserv, but I thought it was worth sharing here. I thought it was both funny and sad, but also intriguing:
patron: Is there any way to interlibrary loan a downloadable audiobook?
(I've actually encountered this before myself, with the Boston Public Library's eCard program. My consortium subscribes to Overdrive, and so does the BPL. We have different downloadable audiobooks in our collections, so my patrons (since anyone in Massachusetts can get a BPL card) essentially has two collections to borrow from. It isn't quite interlibrary loaning, but it is worth knowing.)
Why it's funny:
This question makes me laugh just because it's such an unusual idea - right on the border between clever and naively optimistic.
Why it's sad:
As clever as this might be, it also sounds like someone trying to circumvent the system - which always bothers me. But too, it could just as easily be a case of the system failing the needs - if we can freely share books, magazines, videos, CDs, DVDs, and pretty much everything else in the collection, why can't we share digital audiobooks? Such strict copyright laws exist for electronic media (which laws covering other media don't even approach in restrictiveness) that it's frustrating to me to see this shortcoming. What this patron wants is possible with current technology, but is prohibited by the current business plans of corporations.
Why it's intriguing:
But even still, the idea of interlibrary loaning a digital audiobook is interesting. Aside from the file size, why shouldn't libraries be able to loan around their digital audiobook collections? They could be emailed or made available in a password-protected section of our website. This is another case where, if libraries banded together and spoke with one voice, we could possibly force change so we can get the tools we need to best serve patrons, rather than just take the tools that vendors develop.
Like with opacs - as companies like Sirsi/Dynix decide to drop entire product lines [pdf], librarians are developing tools like Evergreen and Scriblio (formerly WPopac) that actually address the needs that exist, not just make sense in a boardroom.
audiobooks, digital audiobooks, downloadable audiobooks, dynix, evergreen, libraries, library, opac, opacs, overdrive, pines, public libraries, public library, reference question, rome, scriblio, sirsi, sirsi/dynix, sirsidynix, wpopac
Tags: audiobooks, digital audiobooks, downloadable audiobooks, dynix, evergreen, libraries, Library, opac, opacs, overdrive, pines, public libraries, public library, Reference Question, rome, scriblio, sirsi, sirsi/dynix, wpopac