Playaway: Preloaded Portable Digital
In August 2009 I corresponded
with one of Playaways Directors via email (they are located in Ohio, USA). To make a long story short, they
shipped two Playaway titles to me. The Playaway is a portable audiobook with audio content pre-loaded on a
"disposable" audio player. It’s such a clever and totally simple idea. Playaways are attractively packaged and
include everything you need, audiobook, pre-loaded batteries, headphones and lanyard. Anything that promotes
literature to an increasingly visual culture is most welcome.
Audiobooks have a curious
history. They appeared in the format of vinyl records, cassettes and then compact disks. With the arrival of
MP3’s we can put a few books on a single player and MP3 players are cheap and plentiful. An audiobook is a
recording of a book being read aloud. There are tens of thousands of audiobooks available in the world, in
various languages, covering topics from education to entertainment.
What is a
Playaways are talking books in a small neat format that looks like an MP3 player. About the size of half a deck of
cards, and weighs only 2 ounces, this player easily fits in your pocket. Each Playaway is a pre-loaded digital
audio player with from six to forty hours of play time. Battery operated and with headphones, it's the talking book
you can literally listen to anywhere. They come ready to listen and are completely portable. The Playaway is
lightweight, compact, and very easy to use - simply plug in the earbuds and press play. Batteries and lanyard is
included. You can find Playaways online from places like Amazon.com, eBay and at Playaways own store.
Close-up view and
diagram of the Playaways controls and what they do:
Pros and Cons of the
There are some things I really like about the Playaway none the less also lots of things not to
like about this product
Simple and immediate listening
Simple and easy to use, all you do is unwrap the thing, plug it in and go. Using a Playaway requires virtually no
technical competency and no other player technology.
It's small and convenient
Size, it can easily slip into your pocket. The controls are also easily managed with the "play" button serving as a
play/pause/on/off switch, all at once. There's also no hassle with charging the device as it operates off a single
AAA battery which is preloaded (and they also include cheap earbuds and lanyard).
It's far easier than ripping audiobooks from
Having the audio content preloaded is more convenient than having the hassle of changing CD’s as with a six-CD
audiobook, you're well aware of what a pain this can be. With the Playaway, there's nothing to do, it's just ready
Universal headphone jack
The Playaway device was designed
with a universal headphone jack to work with almost any type of headphone or speakers.
As mentioned earlier I have received two audiobooks from
Playaway. The title ‘The power of one’ by Bryce Courtenay (A nonfiction book
about a young English boy growing up in a South Africa with racial
discrimination set in the 1930s
and 1940s). I found that the narrator's
voice sounded a bit hollow; however changing the earbuds with a pair of headphones I found that the sound
quality was acceptable. The Playaway FAQ says "Playaway audio is of equal or greater quality to digital
downloads available today, due to proprietary audio processing, production and leading edge codec’s, but my
personal experience is that both my own audio rips and audio downloads from the internet are of noticeably
This is where I really don't
understand the business model behind the Playaway. For half the Playaways cost I could get the book.
If a first class recent paperback is R100, I would expect a device like this to be under R150.00.
Even if I could get past the idea that carrying around a separate player for each book is somehow meant to be more
convenient than carrying an iPod containing 100 books, or a CD player with a few unabridged volumes on discs, I
still can't understand why anyone shopping anywhere but an airport departure lounge would have any interest in one
(or more) of these.
Basic MP3 players are cheap
More importantly, they're one time purchases that can be
reloaded time and again, the Playaway just gets tossed into that box on your shelf. Yes, it also can be said
that, isn't the sign of a good book that it's worth reading more than once, in this case, listening to it
Lack of contemporary titles
Selection of titles is very
limited. The titles list has been fattened up by titles in the ‘public domain’ e.g., Shakespeare, Jane Austen,
Mary Shelley and others. These are, of course, available at such low prices because Austen's work is no longer
covered by copyright nor is it burning up the bestseller lists. But if you want a newer book, a hot bestseller,
the economics change.
Download free audiobooks
There are a great number of
websites offering free audiobooks to download from on the internet. Lots of people are looking for free stuff on
the Internet. Maybe because they don't want to spend money, maybe because they live in a country where online
transactions are known to be not 100% secure. Over the past years, after audiobooks started to become popular,
there is a great demand to download free audiobooks. You may find a great number of titles being offered as a
Playaway for Libraries in South Africa
While there are millions of
people out there with cell phones, MP3 players, computers and other technology. There are even more people who
don't have them. We may live in a world of digital technology but for many out there technology is not available
Many people who listen to
audiobooks do not own MP3 players and are not interested acquiring one. What they are doing is going to their
public libraries and checking out Playaways. Many public libraries have been purchasing them since they became
available (in the USA) and they are in constant circulation.
CDs are predicted to die
out as choice for audiobook format in the next few years as did the audio cassettes books a few years
As mentioned, some public
libraries in South Africa and many overseas libraries have begun stocking Playaways as a part of their media
collection and are enjoying quite a bit of success. Public libraries seem to me to be the logical customers for
Playaways. There are no cassette tapes to tangle, CD's to scratch, downloads to handle and there are few parts
Some library's put a copy of the
book with the Playaway so a student can follow the text. These have been good especially for the struggling
readers. They can enjoy the same books their friends are reading and concentrate on what is happening in the
story instead of spending their time trying to decode the text. After all, reading should be a pleasure, not a
Yes, these Playaways can be
initially more expensive than audiobooks on CD or cassette but the Librarian does not have to have extra
equipment on hand to check out to a user/patron so they can listen to the audio. In the long run, the only
additional costs are extra batteries and extra earbuds or headphones.
Due to sanitary concerns, most libraries request users/patrons to provide their own headphones or earbuds. At
most libraries the headphones or earbuds may be purchased at the ‘Check out desk’. Earbuds and headphones are
pretty cheap for users/patrons to purchase if they do not have their own. The Playaway device was designed with a
universal headphone jack to work with almost any type of headphone or speakers.
Spare batteries need to be
purchased and held at the ‘Check out desk’ of the library for replacement requirements. Logistics of testing and
supplying batteries can be a problem (need to keep a horde of spare batteries). Use rechargeable’s?
units from theft & damage
Each Playaway should
be packaged in a case similar to a video case:
titles within library stacks securely
-Remove tag at
checkout using key and circulate case
foam insert allows safe return in a drop-box
Public libraries most common
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) with regards to Playaway
Is there a charge
to check out a Playaway?
Headphones and a battery are not
included but may be purchased at the ‘Check out desk’, if you should need them.
How does Playaway
compare to audio on cassette or CD?
Playaway is more convenient and
easier to enjoy than juggling multiple CDs, cassettes or a separate player. Playaway also offers various
enhanced digital features, including the ability to control the speed of the narrator's voice and digitally
bookmark up to 50 favorite spots.
Why can't I add,
delete or transfer content to or from a Playaway?
In order to protect the
copyrighted works of authors and publishers as traditional books do, you are unable to make copies of
Once you're done
with the audiobook, what do you do with it?
Playaway offers replay rewards
that allow a consumer to return used Playaways (in good working condition) for discounts up to 50% off their
The Playaways are essentially
MP3 players permanently pre-loaded with an audiobook by embedding a book into an MP3 player, the
manufacturer/publisher can effectively stay on the right side of the copyright laws. The only real benefits I
see to the embedded-book concept are that it protects the rights of the author, publisher and manufacturer, and
it also does not involve downloading files to your computer, then transferring them onto your player. Rights
protection is less important to the buyer than to the maker.
DRM-free audiobooks is on the
rise. With DRM-free audiobooks continuing to make inroads into the retail market and scheduled shortly to
trickle into the library arena. DRM has been the talk of the audiobook industry since late 2007, when eMusic
launched the first-ever audiobook catalog (now offering some 2500 titles) in the universally compatible MP3
Other uses for the
It isn't just about audiobooks, think about curated museum experiences, walking tours, music collectibles at
concerts, health care information for illiterate patients, read-along narrators for kids with dyslexia,
The Playaway is for people who
want to have a small package for listening to an audiobook (as opposed to hauling around multiple CDs/tapes and
player). The target audience would be those that don't want to manage the media and as mentioned earlier. Public
libraries seem to me to be the logical customers for the Playaways.
This audiobook player preloaded
with a single audiobook that's essentially a "play and dispose" device. This, by itself, isn't necessarily a bad
idea (other than environmentally). The price is too high it needs to be down in the same price range as the
hardbound books titles. The trade-in (replay rewards) is a good idea, but will it be worth it, effort and cost
wise? However I am sure that with time they would have a better sounding and less expensive
Suppliers/Distributors of Playaway
supplier/distributor of Playaway in South Africa:
Date: 3 July