Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WMA versus MP3: Another Tech Turf War

Last month, I finally reacted to the newsletter from my library that encourages downloading audio books and decided to put an audio book on my iPod.

Some of the local libraries have offered downloads of audio books for some time but since the library had loads of books on CD, I never investigated using my iPod for this purpose.  Recent family events have found me sitting in hospital waiting rooms so I decided it was time to make better use of technology.

The library newsletter has often reported that a majority of acquisition funds are allocated to digital material.  I assumed that included audio books.  It does – sort of. 

People over the age of 30 will remember the first format war of Beta vs. VHS.  Apparently there is another – WMA vs. MP3 – also known as Microsoft vs. Apple. 

What does this have to do with my library?  It means that, contrary to what is touted in the newsletter, I am not able to easily download audio books.  I scroll through the titles and find several that look interesting.  Then I read the fine print and see that the format is WMA and WMA (Microsoft) does not play on iPods (Apple).  Of the approximately 1,000 titles available in MP3, nearly all are always checked out and there are waiting lists.  Apparently my library is licensing more WMA books than MP3 books.

I don’t know about the rest of the world but in my library district almost everyone owns an iPod.  So why would the library invest in books that we can’t listen to?  Are the licenses less expensive?  I don’t know but I intend to find out.

I the meantime, I am listening to the only book available – The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob.  It’s not a bad book but it isn’t what I would have selected had I the option of listening to all those WMA titles.