DRM you will not win

It was with much excitement that I received a shiny, new iPod nano for Mother’s Day. If there was ever a year I deserved an extravagant celebration of being a mom, this would be the year. (I may argue this point in about 16 years.)

Having developed the training for our staff and patrons on using NetLibrary I was well aware of the fact that downloadable audiobooks will not play on an ipod. NetLibrary and OverDrive both use a specific format that is not readable by iPods. I am totally clear on this and understand the rationale behind it.

I was still excited about my gift, and I was sure there would be a way to crack the DRM so I can listen to audiobooks.

Disclaimer: Can I just say that I am not a criminal. I am not going to distribute copies of audiobooks. I simply want to listen to them on my shiny, new iPod. The same device that the majority of consumers use for listening to digital audio. Between my husband and I we have three other MP3 players that will play these same audiobooks. Why don’t I use one of those? Because they do not allow you to bookmark your place in a book. So if you stop in the middle of an 8-hour book you have to fast forward to your place each time you go back to the book. The other morning it took me 30-minutes to find my place in Tipping Point. By that time I was at work and had to turn the system off. The publishers are not losing money from sales to me. iTunes is not losing money from me. I am legally checking out items through my library account. Why oh why do they need to be locked down.

From the OCLC site:

Attention iPod and Zune users:
NetLibrary eAudiobooks cannot be played on the Apple iPod or Microsoft Zune at this time. Those players use technology that is incompatible with the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that protects the eAudiobook content and allows it to expire on the due date.

Ironically I have never had a NetLibrary audiobook expire on my old MP3 player. I’ve had one book on it for a few years now.

I was excited to learn that OverDrive will soon be offering MP3 downloads to iPod users. However if you research this further it will only be 15% of their collection and it will only be a select group of new items. Existing items will not be converted to MP3. The MP3 titles will only allow one copy – one user which means that you may have to wait a while, a long while, to listen to a book. No word yet from NetLibrary on whether they will follow suit.

So what does this leave one to do?

  • Return the iPod? Can’t do that as the box has been opened. Besides it is much better than the other MP3 players I’ve used!
  • Buy software that will strip the DRM and convert the NetLibrary/OverDrive files to MP3? I’ve tested this and it works. It’s an option, but I’m hesitant for pay for software to fix a problem that should not exist in the first place.
  • Install freeware that plays the NetLibrary/OverDrive files and rerecords them as an MP3? I can’t even believe that such a thing exists! I’ve tried it and it works. It takes a long time, but you can schedule it to run over night. You lose a little sound quality, but it’s not even noticeable for an audiobook.

Regardless of whether we personally use iPods or not we need to be activists for our patrons customers. The iPod has 70% of the market share for MP3 players. There is a campaign encouraging libraries to embargo companies that distribute media with DRM. While I personally don’t think we need to go as far as an all out embargo, we do need to let our vendors know that our customers want to listen to downloadable audio on the devices that they own–not just on a few select devices. Along with that iPod and Zune users need to contact Apple and Microsoft and demand that each device stop limiting the file formats they can play.

Random House wised up and dropped DRM on their audiobooks after they found that no one was pirating DRM protected downloads. Hopefully the other companies will wise up too!

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. Nice post. Amazon has also said that, now that they own Audible, they’re willing to drop DRM on their audiobooks if customers ask them to. Amazon has had great success with their DRM-free music store, so hopefully the same can happen with audiobooks.

  2. Lynette says:

    Lori, I have been assured by Overdrive that in June (very soon now) Overdrive are bringing their audio books out in an ipod compatable format. This format will take up more space (and that seems to be one of the major issues) but at leat vendors are beginning to realise that if they are to survive they need to keep up with what people are buying (ie: ipods)

    Let’s hpe Overdrive keeps to their word and this happens in June

  3. Yipes, not only is Overdrive only offering 15% of the collection but it’s bigger? The files are already too big. I wish Amazon would offer rentals of the Audible format. The files are much smaller work on iPods and other players and they have a huge collection. I do subscribe and “buy” 2 books a month. So far I’ve seen no change in anything with my books, after 6 years that adds up to a huge collection.

    What gets me here is that NetLibrary and OverDrive don’t work on the Zune. Now the DRM that those services use is a Microsoft product. Why did Microsoft make a player that wouldn’t play their own DRM but uses a different one altogether? That’s just plain shooting yourself in the foot. No wonder the Zune has been a bit of a flop.

  4. Inquiring person says:

    What sort of freeware re-records audiofiles like this? I’d like to try it out. Thanks!

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