Or rather, more like OverDrive fail.
Lately, in advance of the holiday gift-giving season, we’ve been getting a zillion questions at my library’s reference desk about e-readers. Most of these questions come from the market’s biggest user group — Baby Boomers who are thinking about buying e-readers but want to know about library compatibility first. Many libraries now lend e-books via the vendor OverDrive, and we’ve all been told that OverDrive books are not compatible with Kindles. But as a satisfied Kindle user, I’ve been confused by this for awhile since OverDrive offers several titles in Mobipocket format, which is a format supported by Kindle. I personally read Mobipocket books on my Kindle all the time!
And so, one dark and stormy night (i.e. last night), I decided to test this out for myself once and for all. I logged into my library’s OverDrive portal, selected one of the 98 Mobipocket titles, put it in my cart, and proceeded to check-out. So far, so good. Until…
“We’re sorry, but you must register one or more Mobipocket PIDs before you can check out Mobipocket titles.”
WTF?? Turns out, you have to download official Mobipocket Reader software and register its Product ID number with OverDrive before you’re allowed to check out any Mobipocket titles. From there, you can only access the checked out items with the registered software. This means that, although my Kindle is technically compatible with the Mobipocket format, OverDrive has set up barriers to prevent me from using my Kindle with their product. They probably think this is just a little Tit-for-Tat in return for Amazon’s notoriously proprietary practices. As several commenters have pointed out on TeleRead.com, OverDrive’s Mobipocket books can be hacked, stripped of their DRM, and then sideloaded onto a Kindle, but that is not going to cut it for your average Baby Boomer who just wants to check out Debbie Macomber books from her public library.
Readers, this infuriates me! It is completely antithetical to the values of librarianship, which laud access and equality. We’re getting caught up in the publishing industry’s format wars, which are all about controlling the market and restricting access in order to maximize monetary gain. While this might arguably be OK in the free market, it has no place in the public sector.
Why is this happening? Why are public libraries succumbing to aggressive vendor practices? I’m reminded of the workshop I recently attended about librarians’ Personality Assessments: are we just too “Supportive” and not “Dominant” enough to be leaders and entrepreneurs in our own right? Are we letting other industries dictate which tools will be available, and then simply living, passively, with the consequences? I don’t buy it. To my mind, this OverDrive / Kindle fiasco is a perfect example of why we librarians need to be actively involved in building our own tools. We need a new e-book option; one that’s in sync with our values of openness, equality, and access. Who’s with me?