Playaway if you want to survive… (it’s time to break free…woooooaohh…)

Due to a little extra end of the year money in the audiobook budget (betcha I’ll never say that phrase again)–I was given the opportunity to develop a starter Playaway collection for the children and young adult portions of the library. For anyone not familiar– a Playaway is a small media player (deck of card size) that contains an audiobook on it in entirety. It requires only headphones and a AAA battery to operate.

I compiled my initial shopping list based on the titles available in comparison with our audiobook catalog. What did we already have? What did we not have? What could I buy that would supplement popular titles such as Golden Compass and where demand might be high? The Rowling books aren’t yet available but if they release those, I would be highly interested in getting all of those to replace dying cd copies.

The primary vendors are
Playaway/Findaway sells the P/F catalog a little more cheaply.
Follett Library Resources
Recorded Books Inc.
They can also be purchased through

Because RB alone publishes their stuff–you won’t see too much crossover between the two primary catalogs of available materials. Both Playaway and Recorded Books have audio versions of Bridge to Terabithia (RB) (P/F) but that’s a rare example. The catalogs aren’t enormous and one issue that may arise is that included series are not complete yet–the Redwall Series was an example of this, though they did have the most recent: Eulalia!. That being said, the publishers/vendors are rolling out a lot of new titles and adding to the list of things available.

Customer service contact at Playaway comes in the form of a seemingly lone agent, who appears to be best reached by phone. Be prepared to explain that yes, you have already read the FAQ page but that you still have questions about things which may not be clear or aren’t covered despite his assurances that they are (e.g. warranty). I had to explain that twice in a ten minute phone call. However, said agent was very forthcoming with information about discounts for my library system and helpful in setting up our shopping account.

Once my teen librarian had blessed the titles, and pointed out which titles were in the wrong section (it’s hard because we may put something in teen that the vendors put in childrens)– I ordered around 95 titles. The playaways are averaging around $50 a title–which isn’t too far off buying them on CD and just think–no missing pieces! The highest price I saw was $65 and that was for a Christopher Paolini. Highest library discount for Playaway I’ve heard of was 20%, 10-15% seems average. Not sure with RB, we already had an account so I didn’t follow up.

But what about batteries and headphones?

This question has been the one most oft repeated when I’ve seen it up for discussions on PubLib and the like. The almost overwhelming response: library provides the first battery and patrons provide the headphones–with cheap headphones for sale at the circulation desk. Sharing earbuds, while all romantic with your significant other on the train–is not something I’d want to do with library materials. We will be checking the battery level when each one is returned and changing out batteries accordingly. My library is not using rechargeable batteries–some are going this route–but I do expect we’ll recycle. Most children’s books are 3-5 hours, so we have potential to get two circulations out of an item before replacing the batteries.

All responses I have received from other libraries using them is that patrons really enjoy them and would like more titles. I’m not sure if I’m only hearing from adult librarians/patrons. I’ve not heard huge response to teen/childrens. PubLib archives shows some enthusiasm from School media specialists. My adult audiobook selector will be developing an adult playaway collection for the new year–I just happened to have the money now.

So that’s Playaways for me.

Further information about Playaways can be found via:
PubLib Archives
The Intuitive Life Business Blog (see comments for an interesting response from President of Findaway)
Library Technology Reports January/February 2007 (available in EBSCO and ProQuest)