Valerie asked for an update on how Playaways are going.

We’ve now had Playaways in my library for about 18 months. The collections–in adult, children’s and teens are doing quite well. Our adult audio selector had a specific budget line this year for Playaways, which may give you an indication of their rising popularity.

Currently, we have over 350 titles on Playaway. Approximately 160 of those are children/teens, nearly doubling my initial collection purchased in December of 2007.

Fun Facts

* Circulation is good and usage is pretty steady across ages. Our teen collection is seeing the lowest regular use, but even most of those titles are seeing around 5 circulations per year (3 week circ period).

* You do have to replace the entire thing if something breaks, but there are some warranties. Recorded Books gives you a year, which is nice when something goes wrong nine months into owning it. It is occasionally frustrating to not be able to just refinish a disc.

* Now that the initial novelty has passed and purchasing (in youth services) is on a slower trickle, circulation has gone down a little. I anticipated this as I don’t have the funds to buy 100 new titles every six months, so I’m not disappointed that the shelves aren’t totally picked clean. New titles go out very well and, because I bought a number of classics (Charlotte’s Web/Boxcar Children) as well as newer titles, there is usually an audience.

* Picture book authors with multiple titles on one Playaway (Clifford, Doreen Cronin) are VERY popular. I get the impression there are a lot of car rides with those characters in someone’s headphones. Clifford is our most popular title in children’s; Eragon in teens.

* You can’t please all patrons and periodically someone is disappointed that I only have it in one format or the other. It’s a matter of budget, whether or not the title warrants it (I decided the Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series did but not Michael Buckner’s Fairytale Detective series), as well as availability. Neither Harry Potter nor Twilight are currently available on Playaway. Yes, I’m sure. No, I don’t know if the publishers will be permitting release in that format. I’m not really sure why, it seems like it would be another good cash cow.

* It’s an easy sell to most patrons. If patrons want to listen as a group, especially in the car, a convertor that would work with an mp3 player will also work with this format. It’s great for families going on road trips with varied reading interests. It’s good for people who need to move around while listening: you can put it in a pocket or some of them come with lanyards. Either way, it’s smaller and goes through far fewer batteries than a cd player. It is harder to break or scratch or lose–though I don’t recommend patrons try it out on the new puppy. (Harder does not equal impossible.)

* It doesn’t take a long time to explain. Most of the kids here are seeing them in the schools, so the technology is familiar to them. Adults seem relatively comfortable with the new technology–though some have thought we reintroduced VHS because of the shape of the cases.

* We chose not to put the locks on the cases. That works for us and to date we haven’t had a particular problem with them wandering off. That’ll be specific to each library.

* The customer service people at Playaway are nice but occasionally trying. I think they have finally learned that calling me is a sure way to get on my nerves, but in the last email they managed to screw up my adult selector’s email address. Their website still gives me headaches–I have a difficult time finding what’s new except via subscribing to the RSS feed and their tagging is very strange to me. Unless I’m looking for a very specific title, and even sometimes then, I’ve found the site difficult to navigate. (Can you imagine that I don’t want to page through nearly 3K titles 25 at a time?)

* Ipage now carries Playaways with a 25% discount. More audio publishers are coming on board with the format, which allows for more options to purchase with simultaneous (or nearly) publication of the print version. There’s still variance in pricing but in general it’s cheaper to get the Playaway (especially from Recorded Books) than the Book on CD. It’s nice if you use Ipage regularly as you can make a choice to get both print and audio at the same time.

* We continue to supply the first battery and sell headphones. In children’s we do keep a couple of sets of headphones that can be given out as staff warrants necessary. We also chose to purchase a few extra cases, pieces of foam, and battery covers. Particularly with the last, it just seemed prudent and for the I think two that I’ve had to replace, we didn’t charge the patron. I figured a five pack of those every year or so was part of the cost of having them.

Overall the collection is very successful and well used by our patrons. I’m generally hearing only good feedback from the kids and parents in the children’s area, with the occasionally wish that we had more titles or titles on both cd and Playaway format. With more digital players and digital downloads being available from public libraries, I think it’s a format our patrons will grow ever more at ease with.

If there’s a specific question I can answer, please let me know.