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What To Do With MP3-CDs

   September 25th, 2008

Tantor Media logoWhen 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.

The Call of the Wild cover, with eBookI 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.

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10 Responses to “What To Do With MP3-CDs”

  1. Chris Says:

    I agree that this might be confusing for patrons, however, my new car came standard with a CD player that plays MP3s burned to a CD. The head unit we just bought for The Wife’s car plays MP3s and WMAs and AAC/M4A (iTunes files) on CD or DVD. So this is new, but I’d bet in a few years people will get used to this. After all it’s a lot easier to listen to books on CD without switching CDs every 74-80 minutes.

  2. Chris Says:

    Meant to add BooksInMotion.com has been allowing people to rent MP3 CDs for a while. I got a couple from them just over a year ago.

  3. Stephanie Says:

    So let me get this straight: Tantor said it was okay for you to upload their mp3 cds into your OverDrive library? Wow.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Stephanie: I know, right? It’s not exactly an ideal system, but as far as electronic media and digital rights is concerned, it is definitely a situation we can work it.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chris: Hopefully, yeah, in a few years this won’t be an issue. But by then, some new formats will come out and we’ll be struggling with those. After all, we still circulate VHS and audio cassettes, so we support formats long after the rest of the world has moved on. But thank goodness we have no laser disks or vinyl albums anymore.

    And thanks for the BooksInMotion.com tip. I’d never heard of them, and we do have a few patrons willing to pay for titles that the library doesn’t offer, so I’ll pass it along the next time I’m asked.

  6. Cari Says:

    We have collected them since before I started working here. They don’t circ well at all. I have a MP3/CD player in my car, so I did try one out, and it was wonderful–but only if you have that type of player. My car is a 2007, so that’s only three years’ worth of car owners who *might* be able to play them without an adapter. Lately we haven’t been buying them as much, spending the money on Playaways instead (and don’t get me started on downloadables).

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Cari: I’m going to the NELA Conference next week, and am going to ask lots of questions at the Overdrive booth. But I agree with you on the car radio thing – it just doesn’t seem common enough yet.

  8. Thomas Bailey Says:

    I have a number of MP3-CDs, obtained by burning files from the Sony ICD-UX70. These are mostly the audio portion of TV programs. My favorite bitrate is 8 kbps, the LP mode on the digital voice recorder. The other is 192 kbps, ST mode.

  9. Edward Elsner Says:

    One, this site needs better math problems.

    Two, the library I used to run purchased MP3 CDs of books we didn’t have on CD that were already bestsellers or similar. Very popular titles we wanted to have, but didn’t have the money for. Many of them were purchased used from tapededitions.com. We put a large, flourescent paper insert in the cover stating they are MP3 CDs and may not play on all CD players.

    Three, patrons really enjoyed them, especially people who had MP3 players of various types. It’s a lot quicker to transfer MP3 files than to convert a dozen regular CDs into MP3 files!

  10. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Edward: thanks for the input – I patrons probably are savvy enough to know what to do with these as long as they are clearly marked. And you’re right about fewer cds = better.