Looking at Formats for Mobile Devices
I’ve been busy preparing my talk for a conference on mobile technology to be held on Thursday. My portion of the program deals with how patrons are using OverDrive audio e-books, e-videos and e-books on mobile devices. To say that this service is popular is an understatement! Yet, when our library first offered downloadable materials in digital format in 2004, our statistics looked dismal. We circulated a grand total of 44 e-books in six months…not an auspicious start, to be sure. When the audio e-books came on the scene the following year, things started to look up a bit. However, patrons were restricted to listening to their books on devices compatible with Windows Media Player. This left out the growing market of those owning one or more varieties of the Apple iPod. E-videos became part of our digital offerings from OverDrive a year later. Again, in order to view one of these movies, users had to have a Windows compatible device! Usage statistics were climbing into the hundreds by this time, but still the format restrictions were a problem. The big change came when OverDrive released audio e-books that could be used on iPods as well as other MP3 players. It took some file conversion and worked through iTunes, but this really gave a huge boost to our circulation. In addition, the MP3 format was released that made it much easier to transfer files to iPods, iPhones or iPads. Now, there are mobile apps for OverDrive designed to work with phones including Blackberry, Droid and iPhone. Users can directly download audio e-books without going through their computers.
As these improvements were being made in the audio e-book formats, a similar trend was taking place with the e-book market. Although the Amazon Kindle e-book reader was not able to be used with OverDrive products, several Sony E-Readers worked very well with our Library’s OverDrive offerings. Adobe released a new format called EPUB that worked amazingly well with mobile e-readers and the popularity of e-book titles started to rise. This past December, Barnes and Noble released their Nook, another mobile e-reader that could be used with OverDrive e-books and our monthly statistics really took off. I can now happily report that since 2004, our library has circulated a combination of e-books, audio e-books and e-videos totaling more than 10,000.
While we, as librarians, love the success of OverDrive products, the multitude of formats necessary to accommodate the variety of mobile devices on the market today stretches our limited budgets. With three formats for e-books (PDF, MobiPocket & EPUB) and two for audio e-books (WMA & MP3), with each new book title released, a decision must made as to how many copies in each format. Thankfully, we are a member of a 25 member consortium where group purchases are made by talented selectors. Working on a one book per license model, it still requires skill to choose the most popular formats for a given title. In an ideal world, developers will eventually come up with one format for audio that will work on all mobile devices and another for e-book display that will work with all e-readers. In the meantime, we’re left to explain to our patrons why they can listen to a book on their new iPad, but can’t read the same book on their screen!