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Is OverDrive The Answer
For Audio, Ebook Lovers?

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Image by Jeff Golden and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
OverDrive Partners With Libraries all Around the Country, Making it Easy to Get Audiobooks and Ebooks for Free to Anyone With a Library Card


By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

March 20, 2018 — For those who love to read or listen to books in ebook or audiobook form, it’s now easier than ever to do so. Products like Amazon’s Kindle and smartphones with big, high-resolution screens, as well as apps that make it incredibly easy to obtain and listen to audiobooks have made things beyond convenient. That said, things can get costly for those who like to consume books digitally on a regular basis. Sure, there are plenty of free, public domain books out there and there are ways to save money, but on average, it can be a costly endeavor.

But it doesn’t have to be.

How does free sound? Well, that’s not only possible, it’s a reality, via OverDrive. And it’s not one of those too good to be true things with some massive catch. This really is a very convenient, free service provided to anyone with a valid library card. All one has to do is actually go get a library card and just like that, free access to thousands of ebooks and audiobooks, all from the comfort of their smartphone, tablet, or supported device of choice. What’s more is the company even offers Kindle support now. And there are even digital comics available, for those comic book readers out there.

So how does this all work? OverDrive works with and supplies digital books to 40,000 libraries and schools around the world. Those libraries and schools actually pay OverDrive to supply the digital copies of the books, be it in ebook or audiobook form. This is a service that comes from the tax dollars already being allocated to libraries and schools. So, in a sense, it’s not technically “free,” but certainly at no additional cost to anyone who uses the service. Libraries are the biggest market, but schools are increasingly starting utilize OverDrive as well.

“We serve libraries and we are always advocating for libraries to make digital content available, Said David Burleigh, Director of Brand and Marketing Communication for OverDrive. Burleigh adds that the company advocates “for reading in all forms.” That said, OverDrive was founded in 1986 and they have always been a digital company. So their focus really has been on making digital books easier to access. In fact, they were focusing on the conversion of print books to ebooks long before there was even really a market for ebooks.

The company broke into the retail market around 2000, working with several publishers and mostly working with law books, attempting to streamline that process for those in the legal field, as it’s much more convenient to weed through dense legal texts in a digital format, as it allows for searching and makes the process much faster. In 2003 they began providing ebooks for libraries and, as Burleigh says they, “met a market need.”

“It was literally at a trade show where some librarians came up and said, ‘Can you provide a service where we can lend ebooks?’ We had done a lot of things up to that point and built the system to the specification of the librarians. Quickly, it sort of caught on and we added audiobooks. In fact, audiobooks really was the bulk of the circulation for many years, up until about 2010 when ebooks finally passed them in popularity.”

That had a lot to do with technology. Listening to an audiobook was and still is really just listening to a book. The only real difference now is the ability to stream audio as opposed to having to download it, but the process remains the same and we’ve had efficient delivery systems in place for audio on the consumer market for years. The core technology and mode of consumption hasn’t changed much. However, things like Amazon’s Kindle and the creation of the ePUB industry standard format helped make ebooks more accessible to many.

OverDrive’s partnership with libraries around the country really came as a result of libraries trying to find a way to reach their customer base in the technology age. Burleigh says libraries actually refer to their users as customers. “It was a market that was looking to serve their community in new ways,” Burleigh said. It was about reaching the community where people actually are spending their time. Which, these days, isn’t actually at the library; it’s at home on their phones, computers and tablets.

So, practically speaking, how does OverDrive work? Once a person has a library card, downloads the OverDrive app, which is available on Android and Apple devices. The user can then add their local library to the app and, at that point, they can access that location’s digital library of content. At that point, ebooks and audiobooks can be checked out and downloaded to the user’s device. Then read and/or listen away.

There are a few differences between OverDrive and using a service like Audible or Kindle. The library only has so many copies of each book available. So, even though these books are digital, if they’re all checked out, the user will have to wait until it’s available. However, the libraries offer a waitlist option and once the book is available, the user is notified and at that time it can be checked out. The books also expire after 21 days if they aren’t renewed, so users don’t necessarily have an unlimited amount of time to read/listen to the books they’ve checked out. Similar to how it works if someone actually checks out a physical book at a library.l But a title can be checked out multiple times, so it’s not a terribly major issue. Once the user is finished with the book, return it and that’s pretty much it.

Any small inconveniences such as these aren’t enough to make this service any less impressive to readers. OverDrive’s app is easy to use and the savings are well worth it. An Audible subscription, for example, at the base level is $14.95 per month, which gives subscribers one credit that allows them to download one free book a month, in addition to offering discounts on further purchases. For ebooks, there’s services like Kindle Unlimited, which offers access to thousands of ebooks for $9.99 per month. That represents a better value, in terms of quantity of content for dollars spent, but zero dollars is, inarguably, the best value, economically speaking. This is a resource many more people can be taking advantage of.

For more information, or to find an OverDrive supported library near you, visit
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