Ben writes, "Overdrive, which is one of the main suppliers of downloadable audiobooks to public libraries, announced that it is retiring its DRM-encrusted .WMA formats and pushing everything to DRM-free .mp3s."
This is a big deal. Audiobooks are the last holdouts for DRM in audio, and one company, Audible, controls the vast majority of the market and insists upon DRM in all of its catalog (even when authors and publishers object). Itunes, Audible's major sales channel, also insists on DRM in audiobooks (even where Audible can be convinced to drop it). Audiobooks can cost a lot of money, and are very cumbersome to convert to free/open formats without using illegal circumvention tools. To stay on the right side of the law, you have to burn your audiobooks to many discs (sometimes dozens), then re-rip them, enduring breaks that come mid-word; or you have to play the audio out of your computer's analog audio outputs and redigitize them, which can take days (literally) and results in sound-quality loss.
Overdrive going DRM-free for libraries is a massive shift in this market, and marks a turning point in the relationship between the publishers/creators and the technology companies that act as conduits and retail channels for their work. It's especially great that libraries are getting a break, as they have been royally screwed on electronic books and audiobooks up until now.
This is in response to user preferences, widespread compatibility of MP3 across all listening devices and the fact that the vast majority of our extensive audiobook collection is already in MP3 format. This includes the audiobook collections from Hachette, Penguin Group, Random House (Books on Tape and Listening Library), HarperCollins, AudioGo, Blackstone, Tantor Media and dozens of others. Our publisher relations team is working closely with the very few remaining publishers who require WMA to seek permission to sell their titles in MP3 for library and school lending.
We will soon be communicating the discontinuance of WMA sales, and then at a future date, we will announce when MP3 files will be the only supported format through OverDrive platforms. For libraries and schools that currently have WMA audiobook files in their collection, we will be working with the publishers of those titles to gain permissions to update your inventory to MP3. In the event that some titles are unavailable, an alternate solution will be offered to make up for the lost titles. Be on the lookout for announcements on our blog and from your Collection Development Specialist for a timeline of this process.
OverDrive announces plan for audiobooks to be solely available in MP3 format [Heather Tunstall/Overdrive]