Sunday, January 20, 2008

Playaways and Libraries

Until last year I was not really much of a fan or user of audio books. I was lucky enough to have a short drive to the office and, when at home, I used my down-time to read text rather than drag out a CD or tape player to listen to books. The experiences are so different, and I love reading so much, that I was just not tempted at all by the "convenience" of recorded books.

But something changed in 2007 and I found myself with an audio book "in progress" just about all the time. In fact, I finished 18 audio books last year, some of them as long as twenty CDs and requiring well over twenty listening hours. My current drive to work is about twice as long as last year's (30 minutes now) and audio books continue to ease the boredom associated with that kind of repetitive driving.

This article from the Albany Times Union discusses an audience for audio books that I hadn't much considered: kids, kids who are learning to read, kids who are reluctant readers at best, and kids who are turned on by modern technology and feel that it's cool to use an audio book, especially one of the new Playaways that are becoming more and more common in public libraries.
At the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library in Clifton Park, librarians recently purchased 55 audio book players, known by the name brand Playaway, to keep up with growing demand by kids to listen to their favorite authors.

The Playaways look and function like a digital music player similar to an iPod. Only, instead of hundreds of songs, each device holds just one book, like the latest in the Harry Potter series or Phillip Pullman's "The Golden Compass." Listeners can skip through chapters by hitting a button in the same way that one might advance to the next track on a CD.

The circulation desk sells ear buds for $1, or patrons can use their own headphones.
Another benefit to the audio books is that they have become another product libraries can shelve that will draw in young people, increasing the chance that they will grow to value and use libraries as adults.
And for readers who might not be as enthusiastic about books as some of their peers, audio books can often spark interest for an exciting story that will lead to a love of books, said Cathy O'Connor, a librarian at the Schenectady County Public Library.

In Schenectady, popular audio titles include Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series, Christopher Paolini's sword-and-dragon fantasies, and action titles by Anthony Horowitz.

"We'll see kids check out the audio books and the print version at the same time, and listen to them and read them together," O'Connor said. "It's especially good to have for reluctant readers, readers that may not be as facile with the written word."
Personally, I think that the Playaways are a bit overpriced for personal users but they make sense for public libraries where they will be listened to by dozens of different people. Hey, whatever helps make children enthusiastic about books and reading is great as for as I'm concerned, regardless of the expense.


  1. What a great idea. More Playaways, less video games!

  2. This is a great idea! I checked out the site and found that they are more expensive than a text book, but really not that much more expensive for the convenience. I've never really gotten into audio books, but I like the fact that there is no extra player necessary. As I was browsing the site, I noticed quite a few titles for learning foreign languages and walking tours, which is really cool.

  3. My library has quite an extensive list of playaways. They are pretty cool and convenient since loading large CD books onto iPod can be a pain. I am looking into getting some for my husband for his commute.

  4. Absolutely, Sylvia...they are extremely portable, to boot. I'm hoping to use them when I resume hiking this spring. They are so small and unobtrusive that they should work even better than an iPod.

  5. Lisa, they are doing a great job marketing the little gizmos and providing meaningful content for them.

    I can understand the price since each little box includes a built-in player but they do tend to add up if you want to own a few of them. I would imagine that eBay would be a good source for them.

  6. Amy, let me know what your husband thinks of them. I take it that he doesn't drive to work...I don't mind books on CD while driving but wouldn't try that on public transportation.

  7. At ALA Midwinter this past week, this approach to audio-books was the one big deal for a librarian friend. When I asked her what technology she'd seen that she was most excited over, this was the one she mentioned.

  8. Jill, I can certainly understand your friend's reaction. They are really nicely packaged and must have a great marketing team behind them. The price may make them a hard-sell in bookstores but I imagine that most library systems will love them.

  9. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the great mention! We are excited that you found us and like the concept. The simplicity and portability of Playaways have made the format extremely popular in schools and libraries, and also with travelers, commuters, busy multi-taskers, children, older adults, and also with fitness enthusiasts. As for the price, we are in line with audiobooks on CD - but of course with Playaway you get an all-in-one device, without the need for a separate piece of technology. We also have a RePlay program for our B to C channel, which allows our customers to reuse their player for the next audiobook of their choice, and at 50% off and free shipping.

    Also worth noting - Playaway has a universal headphone jack so you can replace the earbuds with an adapter to listen through your car stereo or through speakers.

    Thanks again for the great mention - and happy listening!
    -Your friends at Playaway

  10. Thanks for stopping by, "Playaway." Your comments are appreciated.

    I keep wondering when, or if, used Playaways will start showing up on the market. I'm more and more into audio books, especially while commuting, and love the idea that Playaways provides a way to listen on other devices.

    Your comments about the pricing are well-taken ones, thanks. The "reusable" aspect of the devices is the 50% discount allowed for recycling the little player.

    Best of luck to you guys.

  11. I am personally a little sad that they are offering these at my daughters school library. I think they are allowing kids to listen to books who could otherwise read the text. The more reading you do the faster you are at it and it helps you in high school and then college. What are they going to do, have audio text books and our kids will not know how to read at all? I am disappointed that my tax dollars went to this product.

  12. I agree, Anonymous, that audio books are not right for children still learning to read well and with a degree of speed. Maybe every so often, but not as a regular thing.