One of the great things about being in Indianapolis is having the Indianapolis Public Library’s main branch just a few blocks away. It’s a gorgeous place, with plenty of books and excellent facilities. One of those facilities I like the most is an extensive OverDrive e-book collection.
The library back in Springfield only had a few thousand titles, and not many I actually wanted. But the Indianapolis library has almost 35,000 fiction titles alone, including all three Hugo nominees Orbit decided not to provide to the Hugo voter packet. This morning I’ve been checking out and downloading a number of them, and placing holds on others.
The last major experience I had with e-book libraries was back in 2008, when I compared Fictionwise’s and OverDrive’s libraries. At the time they were using Mobi format, now it’s EPUB with Adobe Digital Editions or Kindle format, but apart from that, things haven’t changed much. The library allows you to choose to check out a book for 1, 2, or 3 weeks, and you can have up to 25 out at a time. You find the book you want, hit the checkout button, then choose the format and hit “download.” (I went with EPUB rather than Kindle.)
Your browser downloads an ACSM file that triggers Adobe Digital Editions to get the book, and boom, there it is on your computer. You can read it in ADE, or (I believe, didn’t try it) use ADE to sync it to any e-readers you have that are compatible with ADE. It shows up right there in your “My Digital Editions” folder in Documents, if you’re using Windows.
There’s also an OverDrive mobile app, but I haven’t played with that. I do a lot of my e-reading on my computer these days. Anyway, overall it’s a great system, and they have a lot of books I want.
My one concern about it is something that hasn’t changed since the last time I took a close look at e-book library systems. The library e-book DRM is still exactly as easy to crack as regular purchased-book DRM—because it’s the exact same DRM. If you have a certain popular plug-in for Calibre, all you have to do is drag and drop.
How can publishers still believe DRM is even remotely effective if you don’t even have to buy the book to crack it? And honestly, I would be inclined to believe that libraries are costing publishers some e-book sales; the same people who crack e-books they buy to back them up could just as easily crack e-books they check out to own them.
And honestly, I don’t know if there’s any solution to that. It’s been years and years since the first e-book DRM systems were developed and they’re still laughably ineffective. If you’re going to provide e-books to libraries at all, you’re going to have to accept that some of them are going to stay in patrons’ own personal libraries even after they’re “checked back in.” (And this has been noticed before. In 2010, UK libraries imposed strict limits on remote lending of e-books because Chinese readers were “joining British libraries and plundering their virtual collections for free.”)
But maybe that’s not really so many books overall, in the grand scheme of things. There really can’t be all that many people who even care about cracking e-book DRM, let alone know how to, in this era when so many people prefer the one-click convenience of buying through their Kindles that Baen changed the whole way it did business to get its e-books in that store.
Tech-savvy people tend to overestimate the numbers of people who are also as savvy as they, and I’m sure I’m no exception. Calibre isn’t terribly user-friendly at the best of times, and getting it set up to crack DRM is even worse. And of all those who are even capable of doing it, not all will want to. In the end, maybe a few thousand people might be inclined to crack and save library e-books; that’s probably a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of thousands or millions who are happy just to check them out or buy them.
Anyway, for all that publishers have an uneasy relationship with library e-book programs, they do still see fit to make them available, so I guess that’s something. Whether a few people will be inclined to crack them or not, I believe the benefits from having them available to everyone outweigh those risks.