I read a lot, but not at home anymore. I read books on my phone while waiting for the bus, then switch over to a podcast or an audiobook for the actual bus ride–it keeps my eyes from jangling out my head. Over the last few months I’ve read five books and listened to another, and I haven’t spent a dime. I also haven’t transgressed against the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I was able to get all that great stuff from the Seattle Public Library, all for free and all on my iPhone.
This is all possible because the Seattle Public Library (SPL) subscribes to a service by the Overdrive company. Overdrive, in turn, does all the negotiation of IP, maintains the databases, Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other systems that allow the individual audiobook or ebook to get to my phone when the #30 is running another 15 minutes late.
There are definitely some serious advantages to the system: First, I never have to worry about late fees. When my loan period is over, the book simply is erased from my device (I better hurry up and read Vanished before it vanishes), second, I don’t have to carry a large, heavy physical object about with me. Which is a definite help to my lumbago. Third, I don’t have to go downtown to pick up my held items, instead I get an email when the book I’m interested in is available for checkout, and I can download right from my phone.
As to the bad, well, there are some: In order to download the files, you have to navigate to and through SPL’s non-mobile optimized digital downloads web-system. I know that Apple doesn’t let in-app purchases or downloads happen, but sheesh! I actually found the LastPass app of great help in this instance: it remembers my library card number and PIN, so I don’t have to. Also, be careful which version of the content you click on. If you try to download a kindle book into your iPhone, it won’t work, not even if you have the Kindle app. This can be a problem if you’ve been waiting for, say, Tim Power’s On Stranger Tides for three months and you grab the kindle version. It’s checked out to you, and you can’t return it from the website, only from the application which can’t access the material. And if you could return the item, you lose your place in line. Fortunately, in this theoretical case, an audiobook of the same novel was available… which proved to be very well done.
Because of the navigation issues, I definitely suggest spending an hour or so getting very familiar with the system prior to picking up holds on popular materials. Once you are familiar with the system, it works quite well, and the selection is surprisingly good. For example, they have 20 year old Tim Powers books in their catalog! This is especially nice if you are a big audiobook person. At around $30 those things can get expensive, fast, SPL’s OverDrive app is a very affordable alternative to Audible, and you don’t have to haul around 10 CDs!