…libraries from New York City to Alameda, California, are letting patrons download Tom Clancy techno-thrillers, Arabic tutorials and other titles to which they can listen on their computers or portable music players — all without leaving home.
There’s still one big hitch, though: The leading library services offer Windows-friendly audiobook files that can’t be played on Apple Computer Inc.’s massively popular iPod player.
Vendors such as OverDrive Inc. and OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc.’s NetLibrary have licensing deals with publishers and provide digital books using Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media Audio format, which includes copyright protections designed to help audiobooks stand apart from the often lawless world of song swapping.
A patron with a valid library card visits a library Web site to borrow a title for, say, three weeks. When the audiobook is due, the patron must renew it or find it automatically “returned” in a virtual sense: The file still sits on the patron’s computer, but encryption makes it unplayable beyond the borrowing period.