An exercise in frustration

When I was training for the 2 marathons I ran, I listened to audiobooks to pass the time as training runs could last for hours (it takes awhile to run 20+ miles on the long runs). I bought a number of books from Once I stopped training, I couldn’t justify the monthly cost for audible, so I switched to listening to podcasts on my runs. The other day, my dad showed me how he checked out an audio book from the library to listen on his iPod Touch. It looked promising, so when I got home, I went to the San Diego Public Library Web site and browsed to the eCollections link. I found a book that said it could be played on the iPod, so I checked it out and installed the OverDrive software on my iPhone.


Unfortunately that’s where the easy part ended. After a bunch of frustrating tries and re-reading the help information, I realized that the OverDrive software only played MP3 files. Well, I can use iTunes on my iPhone to do that, so what good was the software? There is a button on there labeled “Add Website” which implies it would make it easier to download directly on the device. I tapped on it and it launched Safari on the iPhone. Lovely. After more searching and reading reviews about the software, I came to the conclusion that the software was almost useless. I would have expected that I could enter my library card number and PIN, browse for books on the device and listen to any available audiobook. That’s not what happens; the OverDrive folks didn’t implement a WMA player that handles the DRM used on the books, so it would only play unprotected MP3 files.

I almost gave up on the concept of listening to checked out audiobooks on my iPod that I use for running or iPhone when I decided to install the OverDrive software in Windows 7 in VMWare (remember I’m a Mac user). The software offers an option to transfer the audiobook to an iPod. Hmmm…my iPod is Mac formatted and the documentation said it had to be Windows formatted. I didn’t want to do this and dug into my box of cables and stuff and found an old iPod Nano. I plugged it in, grabbed iTunes for Windows, reformatted the iPod and started the process to transfer the audiobooks to the iPod.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of what is going on, but using the software in the manner it was intended, I was able to transfer unprotected audiobooks to my iPod and iPhone. Wow, this is a huge hole that isn’t the same as the analog hole. Either this is a significant oversight or a deliberate choice that the audiobook publishers have decided to accept.

The process of checking out these audiobooks was quite painful despite reading all the FAQs and me being a software engineer. My dad figured it out much faster than I did, so maybe I over analyzed it or my dad wasn’t as discriminating in his choice of books. Our library offers 100 audiobooks in MP3 format which I could have used with much less frustration while it offers 1784 books in WMA format (most of it protected so that it expires after the lending period). I’m not sure how OverDrive has convinced over 13,000 libraries to adopt their system, but the system is almost unusable.

Has anyone found the process of checking out audiobooks easy? It’s almost worth buying them from to avoid the dealing with this.

2 Replies to “An exercise in frustration”

  1. I found a similar problem with getting ePub books from our library to read on my iPad. They are locked into Adobe Digital Editions format that cannot be read on the iPad. It’s all about DRM. Really annoying.

    1. I can understand the need for DRM, but without readers/players on the most popular devices, people either look elsewhere for content or find creative ways to get it on devices.

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