smart audiobook playerIt finally dawned on me late last year that Overdrive MP3 audio books are DRM-free. Yes, I’d known that fact on some level, but I still listened to the books in the Overdrive app, which is okay but not great. Plus it often takes me longer than three weeks to finish an audiobook, so I was only checking out short ones (less than 10 hours).

Once I processed the implications of DRM-free audio books (Hooray! I can check out long books!), I started looking for an audiobook player app and found Smart AudioBook Player. It has great reviews and offers a 30 day trial of the full version (which costs $1.99 as an in-app purchase).

I probably haven’t taxed the app to its fullest, but I liked it enough to upgrade. One of the features I really like (and required the upgrade) was the percentage finished of the book. Since I like to track my reading status on Goodreads, that’s a handy feature. With Overdrive, I had to actually do math. The horrors!

You load the books into a dedicated folder, so they aren’t mixed in with your songs. You can have multiple books at various stages, and the app keeps track of each book separately. I don’t usually listen to multiple books at once, but it’s a nice feature.

The app automatically rewinds 30-60 seconds when you start a new listening session, which I like. I usually need a few seconds to remember where I left off. You can rewind manually in 10 second or 1 minute intervals.

Although I’ve never used it, you can speed up playback. I like the unhurried aspect of audiobooks, so I’ve never used that feature, but I know other people who like to speed things up.

It does have a widget, and it appears in the Notifications area for easy starting and stopping. I’ve been using the app for about 2 months now, and I’ve found it to be stable.

In many ways, I like it better than the Audible app, which has badges and other stat tracking features I don’t care about. Smart AudioBook Player just plays audiobooks and does it well. I plan to seek out other sources of DRM-free audiobooks to supplement those I listen to in Scribd.

If you listen to DRM-free audiobooks and have an Android device, check out the app. Sorry, Apple users. There isn’t a version for you.


    • @Marilyn, are you having trouble converting WMA for your iPod? I tried to convert a WMA a few months back to listen to on my iPad, and the conversion kept crashing. There’s several books from my library I’d really like to listen to, but I don’t have anything which will play WMA with DRM.

  1. By an odd coincidence, I just started using this program myself. I really like the way it automatically jumps back a few seconds if you pause it for just a bit, or if an alert sound interrupts you (like the GPS speaking up to give instructions), then if you pause it for longer it jumps back longer, figuring you’ll need more time to pick up where you left off.

    • @Marilyn, thanks. I’ve gone over the help file and even contacted Overdrive. Apparently, it’s a problem that’s cropped up recently with iTunes, and I don’t know if it’s a new “feature” that won’t be fixed or an actual bug that will be. Just seeing if it’s working for someone else.

  2. iTunes cannot and will not play WMA. iTunes can and will convert unprotected WMA files to AAC or your default iTunes format for playback. If it’s DRM-protected, you’ll need to use a WMA DRM-supported device.

    That you have files that are WMA with DRM suggests that they are several years old. Playsforsure and use of WMA DRM has pretty much been dead for years.

    There are options available to strip the DRM and convert the file to something that people actually use these days.

    • @Tim, I know that iTunes won’t play WMA. However, the Overdrive program used to link to iTunes to convert them. However, lately, every time I try to convert the audiobook, the conversion crashes. All new books at my library are MP3, but they still have older books available in WMA, and it frustrates me that I can’t listen to them.

      @Frank, that won’t work for me since the files have DRM, and I don’t own a Mac. 🙁

  3. If you don’t have a Mac, and you know that they are DRM encumbered, why are you blaming the crashing on iTunes? iTunes would never convert DRMed WMA files?

    You’ll need a WMA DRM removal tool first. Try any of these:

    Seriously, if you “know” this stuff, it’s unclear to me why these DRMed WMA files weren’t converted 2-4 years ago when it was apparent that Microsoft had completely failed in pushing its formats and DRM on the market.

  4. Apologies Juli, I didn’t see that these WMA DRM files were and still are being provided by the library. My advice still holds above. But I would also … I don’t know, discuss it with your librarian…

    My local libraries had the foresight never to get stuck with WMA DRM. Anyone should be able to rationally explain that WMA completely failed and that instead of continuing to provide them, can the library either do a conversion (likely not, likely illegal) and/or make plans to phase them out and replace them in the future while asking them if they also have any suggestions that you can do to actually make them personally usable to you (again, the above advice should work but maybe you’ll feel more comfortable if the same or similar comes from a librarian in person).

  5. “@Frank, that won’t work for me since the files have DRM, and I don’t own a Mac. :(”
    Owning a Mac won’t help if the *.wma files are DRM’d. The Telestream product I mentioned (Flip4Mac) will only work with non-DRM’d *.wmv and *.wma files.
    The DRM has to go before one can escape the shackles of the original, designated playback system.

    • @Frank and Tim, thanks for trying to help, but I guess I’m going to just have to accept that those particular library books are unavailable to me. I’ve contacted my library, who sent me to Overdrive who basically said, “yes, the Overdrive conversion which used to work doesn’t anymore. Sorry, nothing we can do.” What irks me is that my library still says on their Help page that iDevices can play the WMA files after conversion. You’d think if they knew it was a problem that they’d change their Help page. I can’t be the only person experiencing this. Hmm. Article fodder, perhaps.

  6. Juli, sorry to hear your giving up. As stated, removing the DRM will work… but we seem to be talking at cross purposes. Overdrive never worked with WMA DRMed files on iOS/iPods/Macs. OverDrive could convert non-protected WMA files for iOS/iPods/Macs to MP3/AAC or, as Frank mentioned, Flip4Mac would play back unprotected WMA in QT. Likewise, it was back in January, 2014 that OverDrive began abandoning DRMed WMA files for all new audio book content. As I stated, the library is not going to authorize you to remove the DRM, but it can be done and will work.

    • @Tim, yes I used to be able to play DRMed WMA files from Overdrive. I listened to several books that way. You downloaded the file into Overdrive for Windows, opened iTunes and selected Manual management of music and then started the process. Overdrive clunked along for about 3 minutes per downloaded part and then transferred the file to the iDevice. It was clunky and slow, but it worked. That’s the process that Overdrive admits isn’t working anymore. Apparently something changed in iTunes, and you can’t select the proper AAC encoder settings.

      Yes, I know I can strip the DRM, but I prefer not to strip it on library books. While I’m anti-DRM in general, it doesn’t bother me on loaned content.

  7. No, again, nothing changed. That “slow” transfer was re-encoding the WMA to AAC (or MP3). When it worked in the past, those files likely did not have DRM.

    I just grabbed an un-DRMed WMA file and it still works fine. It has absolutely nothing to do with iTunes or any changes in iTunes or Overdrive.

    • @Tim, perhaps we’re talking past each other. All WMA audiobooks through Overdrive are DRMed (or at least the ones from big publishers, which are usually the ones I check out). Assuming publishers grant permission, those books are supposed to be transferrable to Apple devices. The book I tried recently specified that transfer to Apple was permitted. However, the transfer failed. The last time I tried such a transfer (more than a year ago or so), it worked. Something has changed. The rep from Overdrive admitted it when I emailed them. What the change is, they didn’t say, but there has been a change, per tech support from Overdrive.

  8. No, they aren’t. They’ve had MP3 audio books all along (none of those are DRM protected because there is no universal, non-proprietary MP3 DRM). And there’s never been anything formatted in WMA DRM with rights granting playback on Macs or other Apple devices that actually directly played without conversion or stripping of the DRM, because it has never been supported on Macs and other Apple devices. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t say it’s permissible (because, of course, legally it is), but it’s never been a feature and explicitly supported. That is, the WMA DRM protected audiobooks via Overdrive that provide for the publisher to transfer them to an Apple (not Mac) device are specifically granting permission to strip the DRM.

    Again, people should have and have been abandoning WMA (with or without DRM) years ago.

    Overdrive made it officially almost exactly one year ago that they would no longer support WMA with DRM. So, no, again, not all Overdrive books are WMA with DRM.

    See this support file:

    See how it says transfers to Apple devices with pub permission but this is separate from DRM-protected WMA compatible devices? Because Apple devices have never met that qualification.

    It’s not uncommon for tech support to not have an answer and to basically say, “Something’s changed” — it’s an easy way to get someone off your back, as it seems to have worked in your case.

    Trust me, I do this thing for a living, supporting hundreds of users. I’ve known the limits, circumvented the limits, advise innumerable people on them, and have never needed to call Overdrive tech support or pondered some change in iTunes that didn’t happen because I keep up with, know, and make my living doing this stuff.

  9. Apologies, Juli… I realized I was a bit “emphatic” and I always had it in mine that you were possibly correct so I reached out to a librarian friend who also worked closely on a number of technical issues with Overdrive (unrelated to this, but he still has lots of inside knowledge. Here is his response:

    “It was there. Only briefly. It was always borked, failed most of the time, and was always questionable legally. Unsure if it was removed because of the technical problems, the shift away from wma DRM, or if they had complaints from the publishers or Apple, but most likely the publishers complained. Overdrive claimed the conversion process stripped the wma DRM after checking if the publisher granted permission for transfer to Apple devices in the license and that it also added “aac DRM” to continue to protect the files once on a Mac or iPod — but of course, Macs/iPods do not support any DRM but FairPlay and Apple never licensed FairPlay to Overdrive. No one seemed to notice or cared about this for about a year or two, I would need to review version numbers and release dates…”

    He then goes into a number of technical details about the DRM stripping tool he suspects they were using (based on its success or failure, various glitches, and what he knows from inside Overdrive)… But I begged him off doing the research to learn which versions contained the DRM stripping tool and for how long. He points out that the stripping of DRM occurred within the OverDrive Transfer tool but it was iTunes then converting the WMA files to AAC. He then goes on to say:

    “Overdrive is a clusterfck! You won’t get any of this information from them directly and they are happy to leave lots of inconsistencies and flat out lies in their support documents. I’d bet there are still tons of references to “aac DRM” throughout their support files but you’ll also see notices that you should manually delete these books yourself when the lending period has expired. Lots of other stuff that you’d never be able to make sense of or reconcile. They persist on the hope that it’s a dead issue at this point, people will simply give up, or they will come across methods to do it themselves quicker…”

    So… I humbly apologize, but as myself, others in this thread, and my friend suggest: just remove the WMA DRM yourself using a tool designed for the job. Hope you didn’t taken offense at my tone or my error. I thought I had known the full history but I guess this period had slipped under my radar because it never came up.

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