Friday, November 2, 2012

OverDrive is terrible and discriminatory

So I've got a sick kid, and he wanted to listen to Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. I pop over to the Boston Public Library which has an extensive collection of audio books, and ho! I'm in luck. They have it and it's available. I check it out, click the Download button, it downloads, and then I get this:

OverDrive Media Console

Yeah, I had seen that the file was a WMA file but since it said iPod as well, I thought I might be able to do it, oh my gosh, FROM MY MAC. But no. Turns out Overdrive discriminates against you if you have a Mac. I love libraries, but BPL: this is terrible.

Frustrated, but as yet undaunted, I fire up Parallels, so I can run Windows, download a brand new version of the Overdrive Media Console for Windows, which presumably supports said file type. Sign into BPL again, and download the book again. I struggle for a bit because it wants to open it up in the Mac version of the console, even though we have already seen that that won't work.

Finally, I get it to open up in the Windows version of the Overdrive Media Console, and I get this:

OverDrive Media Console

Yeah, I couldn't read it either. All I can think is, boy, it's a good thing I have a kind of wide screen monitor. Can you believe that?

With some trepidation, I click OK. I go back to the Overdrive Media Console on Windows and, as instructed, click Tools > Windows > Windows Media Player Security Upgrade. I get another big, wide error:

OverDrive Media Console

I say OK again, even though it's practically impossible to read.

Yet another window pops up and tells me that more DRM security files are going to be sent to who knows where to keep track of this audio file. For pity's sake.

Security Upgrade Required

I say OK again. In for an inch, in for a mile. And get this for my troubles:

Windows Media Player

Now, if you believe there's a server somewhere handling this that has ever been available, I've got a bridge to sell you. It's ridiculous. Ridiculous that Overdrive and the BPL treat me like a thief, ridiculous that I can't borrow books from the library as a Mac user, ridiculous that Overdrive makes me update a program I downloaded today, makes me jump through various incomprehensible hoops to do so, wastes an hour of my time, and at the very end says, "Oh, too bad, we don't care enough to make the process actually work."

Overdrive, you do a terrible disservice to libraries and book lovers. BPL, I love you, and I have continually advocated paying more taxes that should go to support what you do, but Overdrive does not serve me and it makes you look terrible.


  1. Lord and butter! Yes!

    I had a totally different experience with Overdrive, but identical in the convoluted hoops that landed me back at my starting point. It may be overdrive, but it's on a Moebius strip.

  2. I suspect that public libraries have grown too dependent on commercial vendors like OverDrive.

    Vendors like OverDrive have divided loyalties. One of those they need to make happy are the major publishers who supply what they rent. The other is libraries. It seems clear that the publishers, obsessed with copy protection, are the ones calling the tune here. The result is the dreadful mess you describe.

    Living only a couple of miles from Adobe's development center in Seattle, I once asked one of their programers why Adobe's own ebook distribution/reader scheme was so awful. He said that Adobe would love to make it much less of a hassle for users, but that they had to make DRM-obsessed publishers happy. Since their reader is distributed for free, Adobe makes their money providing servers for publishers.

    Libraries, public, educational and private, need their own equivalent of open source software like Linux. They need ebook and audio book distribution schemes that they control, that they can adopt, and that they can tell publishers, if you want us to buy from you, you've got to run on our public-friendly platform.

    And if they did this, they could also adopt a pay-per-use scheme. Every library, no matter how small, would have the entire collection. Authors and publishers would be paid a use fee for every checkout rather than libraries forced to triage which ebooks and audio books they can afford.

  3. As a librarian who works at a public library using Overdrive, I completely understand your frustration. Unfortunately, they are the biggest game in town (the vendor with the largest selection of eBooks and audiobooks). The process for installing the Overdrive media console on a Windows machine is pretty clunky, and would be daunting to all but tech-savvy users. It's pretty embarrassing, really.

    The Boston Public Library is really not the bad guy here (no, I don't work for them), though to some degree they are complicit by offering the product for use at the Library. Some sort of open source initiative would be great which offered DRM free audiobooks for patrons to download, but when you try to offer that service, the big six publishers wouldn't participate. If patrons don't see the big-name authors in their audiobook/ebook holdings, people won't use the service.

    Libraries don't have a great deal of leverage to induce publishers to offer eBooks in certain formats. The American Library Association has tried to reason with the publishers with heretofore limited success.

    I would love for there to be stronger competition for Overdrive which would induce them to make a more user-friendly (and Mac-compatible) product. So far this hasn't really happened.

    1. Honestly, my wife was almost in tears trying to download and listen to an audio book. I think libraries are completely complicit in supporting this garbage software. It's really embarrassing how ridiculously complicated it is to install and use Overdrive. Here's a shocker: you can't currently RETURN books in WMA format from the PC client! How did this even get past their QA department? Probably because one doesn't exist. Ugh. DRM is the devil.

  4. Publishers set the DRM on audiobooks. WMA DRM protection has been around forever, and it's what they like. WMA, which stands for WINDOWS Media Audio has never run on a Mac because Apple doesn't ant to pay for the licensing that allows their media player to use the files.

    You're also not using even close to the latest version of Windows Media Player in Parallels, and that's one reason the WMA won't work there. DRM keys get updated regularly.

    I'm sure OverDrive has some help files somewhere on it, but in any case, I agree with you about one thing. WMA's suck (even though it's likely OverDrive didn't pick that format). That's why I always look for MP3s from my library. It's depressing because Ender's Game is an awesome book.

  5. Hmm.. I don't have a problem with Overdrive, other than it not being Mac friendly. I fire up Parallels, download, then strip the DRM and bring it over to iTunes on my Mac. Not that I support stripping DRM off library loans, but they won't support Mac I have no other choice. It does help that I can check out dozens of titles at once and convert without worrying about the 14-day checkout limit. I simply return them the same day so others can enjoy them.

  6. Have you tries Telestream's free WMV player? See:
    There's also Microsoft Silverlight for Mac (required for Netflix)

  7. DRM needs to go away. This shield that is supposed to protect copyrights is the same tech that stops ebooks from being functional. I applaud the few publishers moving forward without DRM. Ever wonder why they don't ban scanners and xerox?

    The big six still don't get it. They learned nothing from the music industry's mistakes. Looks at what Apple has done with music and now, what Pandora and Spotify is doing with streaming music. There are ways to deal with changing technology without running on fail business models of yesterday. I think publishing is in for a world of hurt because those top execs don't get the changing technologies and how fast the changes are coming.

  8. Overdrive's submission process is much worse. They generally force you to perfect your EPUB for ADE. Which is nearly impossible if you plan to release the same EPUB to other devices.

  9. I can't tell you how much I hate Overdrive right now, I think I finally found something I actually hate more than Lotus Notes (and that's saying something)!!!!

  10. Overdrive is literally stuck in the 1990's dial up modem age. If you have anything to say about who your library chooses to supply audio ebooks do your patrons a favor. Please avoid this horrible company like the plague.

    One example: James Bond Quantum of Solace. It just took 15 minutes on my iphone to download one part (18MB) out of 9 parts. Audioebooks are for people like me who are out of the office and have long drives between clients and do not have a WIFI connection available to log into. I do have a hotspot on my phone but overdrive is incapable of figuring out how to connect to it. So it downloads at an average of 1MB per minute. It reminds me of AOL in 1994.

  11. I changed my mind about checking out my first digital audiobook when I found out it required proprietary software to run. Libraries should always looks for open source options first (heck, commission one).

    The library should own the digital content the same way they own and lend out physical books. I don't need to interface with some shady private company when I check out a physical book.

    The more we bend to these corporate brats, the more they'll take from us.

  12. I agree that Overdrive is awful in more time wasting ways. It does not support libraries. The developers do not work for the users. It's a piece of crap. I hope someday the libraries will be free of this poor attempt to sell books for Amazon. Don't use it if you don't have to.


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