playaways hit the market 11.13.2005, 2:55 PM
posted by lisa lynch
Over the next few weeks, shoppers at Borders and Barnes and Noble will get a first look at a new form of audiobook, one that seems halfway between an ipod and those greeting cards that play a tune when opened. Playaways are digitized audio books that come embedded in their own playing device; they sell, for the most part, for only slightly more than audio books on cassette or CD. Each Playaway is also wrapped in a replica of the book jacket of the original printed volume: the idea is that users are supposed to walk around with these deck-of-card-sized players dangling around their necks advertising exactly what it is they're listening to (If you're the type who always tries to sneak a glance at the book jacket of the person who's sitting next to you on the bus or subway, the Playaway will make your life much easier). Findaway has about 40 titles ready for release, including Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner, Doris Kearns Goodwin's American Colossus: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and language training in French, German, Spanish and Italian.
I'm a bit puzzled by the Playaways. I can understand why publishing industry executives would be excited about them, but I'm not so about consumers. The self-contained players are being marketed to an audience that wants an audiobook but doesn't want to be bothered with CD or MP3 players. The happy customers pictured on the Playaway website are both young and middle aged, but I suspect the real audience for these players would be older Americans who have sworn off computer literacy, and I don't know that these folks are listening to audio books through headphones.
Speaking of older Americans, if you go down into my parent's basement, you'll see a few big shopping bags of books-on-tape that they bought, listened to once, and then found too expensive to throw out yet impossible to give away. This seems clearly to be the future of the Playaways, which can be listened to repeatedly (if you keep changing the batteries) but can't play anything else than the book they were intended to play. The throwaway nature of the Playaway (suggested, of course, by the very name of the device) is addressed on the company's website, which provides helpful suggestions on how to get rid of the things once you don't want 'em anymore. According to the website, you can even ask the Playaway people to send you a stamped envelope addressed to a charitable organization that would be happy to take your Playaway.
This begs the obvious question: what if that organization wants to get rid of the Playway? And so on?
How many times will Playaway shell out a stamp to keep their players out of the landfill?
Mathieu Tozer on November 14, 2005 8:06 AM:
What a silly device!
I expect there'll be plenty of them available on eBay. Too expensive to throw or give away, so people will probably sell them right?
Aileen on November 15, 2005 10:13 AM:
Industry people are theorizing there'll be lots of trading-- perhaps hoping Playaways will be like baseball cards for the 50+ crowd. What really seems peculiar about the somewhat-touted Playaway is that a very significant chunk of audio book listeners enjoy their stories in the car, which is not conducive to using a Playaway.
Jesse Wilbur on November 15, 2005 3:01 PM:
Sell on eBay or trade. Or rent. Cracker Barrel, that well-loved road-trip stop, has a revolving books-on-tape rack, where you can drop off something you've finished and take anything that's there for a small rental fee (assessed when you return it). I wonder if something like this could work for those less interested in pursuing the hassles of eBay.
Emilio on January 3, 2006 2:15 PM:
The playaway is designed so that unsold copies can be sent back to the factory reloaded and repackaged with new titles. I assume that they can do the same with used ones. I also guess that hackers will find a way to reload them with any audio.
ChiLibrarian on March 27, 2007 3:25 PM:
These are being heavily marketed to libraries. They're a pretty good fit as they can be used again and again and unlike other digital content, don't require lots of troubleshooting and explanation for non-tech savvy patrons. Believe me, if you've ever tried to explain to someone over the phone how to download audio to their computer and then upload to their player, these look like a great idea. Our vision impaired patrons like them better than CD audiobooks (no CDs to change) and the buttons on the players are larger than on most MP3 players, too.
Mike on March 27, 2007 3:38 PM:
To the person thinking that the Playaway is not of use in the car. Many auto sound systems now have line inputs for those wishing to hook up their MP3 devices and listen through the car speakers. The Playaway may be used by connecting its headphone output to the line input on the car stereo, if you have one.
Sam Sharin on May 4, 2007 6:37 PM:
I borrow playaways from the library to use while I am working out in the Gym. I tried radios but the reception was bad or non-existant. I slip the device in my pocket and I'm all set. An arm band accessory would be most helpful.
Kathy on May 9, 2007 11:06 AM:
Our local library has a fabulous and well used collection of Books on Tape and CD. Anyone who has become frustrated with the Books on CD that become scratched & Books on tape that get snagged and break will love Playaways. No more repair problems that come with multiple users.
Gwen on May 23, 2007 4:12 PM:
I just checked a playaway out from my local library. I liked it. Not sure I would purchase one and I am hoping our libraries will get more titles. A good idea for rentals in airports instead of Cracker Barrel. Easier to carry on a plane than a CD player and all the CD's or cassettes required for other audio tapes. My son struggles with reading but I think he would listen to playaways geered for his age group.
bob martinengo on May 24, 2007 8:36 AM:
the thread that wouldnt die! the original playaway post was from 2005, but managed to pick up comments the last few weeks. seems like playaway fits some kind of niche after all. there was even an announcement that pearson education is putting some grade school textbooks out on playaways. who woulda thunk?
justin on May 24, 2007 4:16 PM:
our library just got some copies of the language training playaways. not sure how they'll do, but it may turn out to be good for older patrons. i can't see younger folks wanting a version that can't be put on their mp3 players or computers, and people who drive frequently or are travelling in a group won't find them very useful. who knows, though. these could be great, especially if they got smaller.
B Lindner on August 9, 2008 11:36 AM:
Thid device would be great IF you could keep the device player, and swap out different book chips in and out of it. Doesn't make sense to have to buy a player device that is exactly the same from book to book. This cmpany could probably get tons more money just selling the device ONCE, then selling different book chips that could be switched out. And, it is so environmentally irresponsible to sell a device for EACH book; you would have a collection of plastic gizmos, each exactly the same that would end up being tossed. Looks like marketing and research didn't do their job effectively. There has to be a higher profit margin in selling ONE device and then offering all the different book chips.
Laura on August 12, 2008 9:37 AM:
I can understand how playaways might be a positive addition to a library audio book collection but are battery operated items the way to go? I love the thought of reuse but I find it hard to believe that replacing batteries can be very cost effective for a library, a customer, or for our environment. This doesn't seem like a step forward to me.