There’s been a ton of discussion around the web about the Kindle/Overdrive library deal over the last week, but this thread over at Librarything is full of some real gems. If you haven’t read it, go there and take a look.
The online library world is abuzz today with the announcement of Kindle Library Lending, which promises to finally bring the ability for libraries to check ebooks out to patron’s Kindle (or Kindle software-driven devices). The announcement itself is full of promise and light on details, including such gems as:
Customers will be able to check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone. If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.
Translation: Amazon will be maintaining notes and details of the book you read on their servers, and providing a way to purchase said book as a part of the library experience.
Amazon is working with OverDrive, the leading provider of digital content solutions for over 11,000 public and educational libraries in the United States, to bring a seamless library borrowing experience to Kindle customers. “We are excited to be working with Amazon to offer Kindle Library Lending to the millions of customers who read on Kindle and Kindle apps,” said Steve Potash, CEO, OverDrive. “We hear librarians and patrons rave about Kindle, so we are thrilled that we can be part of bringing library books to the unparalleled experience of reading on Kindle.”
This appears to mean that Overdrive will be the library-facing partner in this enterprise, and I’m guessing that the checkout experience and user interface will be Overdrive driven. This is (IMNSHO) a disappointment, as I’d much rather deal with Amazon directly (even though I’m sure they would not rather deal with libraries…thus, Overdrive).
Bobbi Newman, as always, has a thoughtful post up about this, and asks a couple of questions for which I’m going to guess the answers. She asks:
Will libraries be forced to add a third ebook format (which will only spread their already thin money thinner?)
- Will I be allowed to borrow library ebooks in epub and pdf format on my Kindle?
- Will owners of other devices (such as the Nook or Sony) be allowed to read Kindle books on their device? (the press release reads as “no”)
I would find it VERY hard to believe that Amazon is going to convert all of their proprietary files into a new format just for libraries…so yes, I believe strongly that there will be yet another format. I also find it hard to believe that Amazon will suddenly decide to embrace Adobe DRM…which means that there is little chance that library books via Overdrive or another vendor that are in the epub or pdf format will start working on the Kindle.
As to the last question…I believe very strongly that if Barnes & Noble and Sony decided to allow Amazon DRM/filetypes on the nook or Sony reader, Amazon would be thrilled to provide them with books. But that’s probably not going to happen either. For a reminder of all the intricacies of the filetype/DRM issues here, see my post on eBook Filetypes and DRM.
I have requests out currently for answers from Overdrive and Amazon on the following questions…if either of them get back to me, I’ll make sure to post it here.
Will the Kindle Library Lending functionality require the use of the Overdrive Media
Will the functionality require a “buy this book” link in the Overdrive catalog?
Will the KLL functionality require the library patron to be physically in the library, or authenticated via IP address, or will they be able to access this remotely? Or some combination of the two?
The press release mentions that Whispersync will be enabled to remember page numbers, which implies that patrons will be able to load Kindle books that they check out onto multiple devices…what will the mechanism for this be? If I check out a book, and then load it onto my Kindle, my Kindle DX, my iPod Touch, and my iPad, will that count as 4 checkouts, or one?
Currently, the Overdrive ebook model works with Adobe Digital Editions and ePub…I am assuming that the Kindle books will remain in the standard .azw format, and use Amazon DRM. Can you confirm this assumption? If so, can you describe the process by which patrons will check out a book using this service?
What will the limitations on the KLL catalog be? How does it compare to the overall Kindle ebook catalog?
Will publishers be able to opt-out of allowing Library lending in the same way that they can currently opt-out of other features of the Kindle?
What is Amazon doing to ensure the privacy/confidentiality of library patrons?
Overdrive finally posted to their blog about the issue, and I just received a callback from Overdrive marketing. While they weren’t able to comment a large number of things, I did get confirmations on a few details. On the Overdrive blog post, they say:
A user will be able to browse for titles on any desktop or mobile operating system, check out a title with a library card, and then select Kindle as the delivery destination.
The exact quote that I got from the Overdrive marketing department was that the books would be “deliverable to Kindle” and that did include any Kindle and Kindle app.
The blog post also says:
Your existing collection of downloadable eBooks will be available to Kindle customers. As you add new eBooks to your collection, those titles will also be available in Kindle format for lending to Kindle and Kindle reading apps. Your library will not need to purchase any additional units to have Kindle compatibility. This will work for your existing copies and units.
When asked about the potential catalog non-overlap (what happens when a book available via Overdrive isn’t available on Amazon), the answer from Overdrive was that they hadn’t looked fully at the catalog overlap yet. But it sounds like the Kindle compatibility is simply going to be there for your existing books as an additional option…well done!
MASSIVE SPECULATION AHEAD:It sounds to me like Overdrive will be providing the ability to checkout a book and click “deliver to Kindle”, much in the same way that Amazon currently does when you purchase a book. If I’d been thinking for half a second, I’d have realized that’s the ONLY way they can do it and support Kindle Apps.
None of the Kindle apps that I’m aware of allows for any sort of side-loading of content…all the content that is in them can ONLY come from Amazon directly. CORRECTION: Kindle App for iOS does allow side-loading via emailed or web-linked files of the appropriate filetype (mobi, azw)…but no tethered side-loading. You can obviously plug your Kindle directly into your computer and throw a random PDF on it, but you can’t do that with Kindle Apps. They have to deliver these to you via Whispernet…there’s no other choice.
Back to the blog post!
The Kindle eBook titles borrowed from a library will carry the same rules and policies as all our other eBooks.
One answer that I’d really like from Overdrive is relating to this piece. On the phone call, I asked if a publisher limited the number of times that a book could be downloaded (which some do), whether this would effect the number of devices that I could have said book delivered to. The official statement was that they didn’t have that information right now, but that whatever the solution it would “support publisher’s existing models”.
Last bit of news for now: I tried to get Overdrive to give me anything on a timeframe, and they weren’t even willing to promise/commit to a quarter of the year…all they would say was “in 2011”. So we could have some time to wait for this.
Aside from the fact that I think I’ll use The Harper Collins Incident as a band name in a novel that I’m hoping to write someday, there’s a lot to say about the whole eBook limited circulation thing. I decided to put on my Library Renewal hat and say something about it over there. I may have more to say about it here, but not right now.
So if you’re interested, head on over and read: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, part two in the “pithy sci-fi reference blog posts” at Library Renewal today. I’m just sad I didn’t get to the Vader quote first.
This morning I got a tweet from Bobbi Newman that said:
Can someone explain to me the tech reasons Kindle doesn’t work with library ebooks, know its DRM, want more specific plz & thnx @griffey
More than you ever wanted to know about filetypes, DRM, and eBooks…here we go.
There are two different things going on when someone tries to open an eBook file on an eReader. One is filetype…how the file itself is organized internally, how the information contained within is encoded. This is analogous to the difference between a Word file saved as a .doc file, a Word file saved as a .docx file, and an Powerpoint file (.ppt). All are different filetypes…the program involved in the creation, editing, and display of those files describes the information contained inside. Right now, there are two main filetypes being used to describe eBook files: the Amazon eBook standard, or .amz file, and the ePub file (.epub) that is used by just about every other eBook vendor.
Amazon purchased Mobipocket (an early ebook vendor/distributor) way back in 2005, and used their format as the basis for their current proprietary .amz filetype. ePub, on the other hand, is an open, XML based eBook standard, and is used by a huge number of eBook vendors…indeed, it’s easily the standard for current ebook publishing.
But filetype is only half the battle. In addition to the way the file is organized/structured internally, there is also Digital Rights Management to deal with. Think of DRM on an eBook as a lock, with your eReader having the key to open the lock and display the file. Without the lock, the eReader can’t open the file at all…can’t even see what it is. And if it has the key, but can’t read the filetype, that’s no good either…in that case, you can view the contents of the file, but will have no idea how to render it on the screen properly.
Amazon, in addition to using a proprietary filetype, also uses a proprietary DRM mechanism. This means in order to read an Amazon-purchased eBook, you have to have an eReader with the right key, as well as the right interpreter for the file. So far, that means that you have to be using a Kindle, or alternatively, using the Kindle software provided for any number of other devices (Windows, Mac, iOS devices, Android devices). This doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. Amazon could choose, tomorrow, to remove all DRM from their files. This would mean that you’d still need a program to interpret the .amz, but you wouldn’t need the key anymore. Conversely, Amazon could license their DRM to other eReaders, in effect handing them the key…but it would still be up to the eReader itself to be able to display the .amz file.
Vendors that use the ePub format have chosen different sorts of DRM to lock up their content. Apple and their iBook app use the ePub format, but wrap it up with their Apple-specific Fairplay DRM. This means that while the file itself would be readable by any device that can interpret an .epub file, without that particular key on their keyring, the eReader can’t do anything. Sony, Barnes & Noble, Overdrive, and other eBook vendors have chosen a shared DRM solution. They license their DRM from Adobe, and run Adobe Content servers that provide the keys to epub files that they sell. This means that if an eReader has the key to one of those stores, it has the key to all of them…think of it as a shared master key for any Adobe DRM’d file.
This illustrates why, although both Apple and B&N use epub as their filetype, you can’t buy a book from the B&N store and then move it over to your iBook app on your iPad. Conversely, you can’t buy something on the iBook store, and then move it to your Nook. Same filetype, different lock.
Overdrive, in supporting Adobe DRM’d epub files, work with Sony eReaders as well as the B&N Nook…same filetype, same DRM key to unlock them.
With all that said: any eReader that will read a given filetype will read said filetype if the file doesn’t have any DRM. So if you convert an existing document to an epub using software like Calibre, Sigil, or InDesign, that file will able to be read on a Nook, Sony Reader, AND the Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. If you have some text and you convert it to, say, a Mobipocket file (.mobi or .pdb) then it would be readable on the Kindle AND the Apple iBooks app…but not on the Nook. For a complete list of eReaders and their corresponding filetypes, there is no better place than Wikipedia’s Comparison of eBook Formats article.
While a DRM free eBook ecosystem would clearly be the best for the consumer (choice of device, free movement of files from device to device, etc), the second best option is an ecosystem where the DRM is ubiquitous and the patron doesn’t even realize it’s there. This was the case with Apple and the early battles for music sales on the ‘net…they had the store and the distribution network (iTunes) as well as the device used to access the content (iPod). All of the content was, originally, DRM’d, but largely no one noticed since it was completely invisible for the average user.
The biggest issue with eReaders and library patrons is that this chain isn’t seamless. The content providers and their DRM servers are huge headaches for the average eReader user. My hope is that publishing goes the same way that music did, we we find both a common filetype and lose the DRM. But it took digital music years and years to get there…so I’m not holding my breath.
I hope that helped, but if it didn’t and you still have specific questions about your situation with eReaders/eBooks, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.