Playaway View

Findaway World, the privately-held company based in Cleveland that makes and distributes the surprisingly popular Playaway preloaded audio book devices, is getting ready to launch Playaway View, which they hope will do for portable video viewing what the original Playaway did for digital audio books:  make it dance-a-jig easy to use just about anywhere.

Playaway ViewAt ALA Midwinter in San Diego last weekend, Mike Belsito from Findaway told me that they were focusing on video content for children first.  If the first wave of Views receive high use and user acceptance, Findaway may expand into View devices with content for adults.  Each View device probably will cost libraries about $100.

The sustained success of Playaway audio books has surprised me.  Back in 2003 or 2004, when I heard that Playaway was planning to launch its service, with an initial emphasis on direct-to-end-user sales, I thought the service might have some success as a “pony express” service that gets us to transition quickly from current technologies (CDs and lingering cassette sales of audio books) to the foreseeable future where most listeners of downloadable digital audio books would listen to them on “scrubbable” portable audio playback devices, such as MP3 players, smart phones, portable media players, etc.

Since then, Playaway has grown by leaps and bounds, and their ready to branch out into video.  The View weighs approx. 5.4 ounces and contains several hours of video.  There is a built-in speaker, plus a headphone jack.  It contains a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which may provide up to 8 hours of continuous playback.  According to the website FAQ, it should take approximately 4 hours to fully recharge the battery.  The View has just seven buttons:

  1. Power On/Off
  2. Volume Up
  3. Volume Down
  4. Play/Pause/Select
  5. Forward/Skip
  6. Reverse/Back
  7. HomeAlso, you can lock/unlock the device by pressing the Home and Volume Down buttons simultaneously.  There are three brightness settings to accommodate different ambient lighting situations.
  8. While Playaway preloaded audio books seem to appeal to the broad “middle class” of library users who are neither techno geeks nor ignore-digital luddites, the Playaway View may have a slightly more difficult time finding its core audience, because YouTube and YouTube wannabes already have shown that broad middle class of users how easy it is to access short videos.  The portability and play-anywhere aspects of the View, however, may appeal to users of all ages who want to make every room a room with a View.


Taking a Look at the Vook eBook

Get Naked FastOne of the big questions about the current portable ereading revolution is how all these new devices, distribution systems, and opportunities for eReading will affect the content we read.  How will non-verbal images (static and moving), audio clips, spur of the moment social networking opportunities, and other things be woven into the eReading experience?

The Vook is an interesting initial foray into these uncharted waters.  It’s been around for almost two years, but is still struggling to get some attention.  Tomorrow’s article by Virginia Heffernan in the NY Times Sunday Magazine should help.


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Thinking Beside the Library Media Box

Look, over there!  Library Media BoxIt’s slimmer than a Red Box.  It’s a different color.  It’s able to leap tall library buildings in a single bound.  It’s the new Library Media Box from 3M. 

This daring defender of justice and the library way caught my eye last weekend during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego.  It takes the Red Box idea and applies it to libraries and the library lending model. 

The sales rep I spoke with seemed to be from Public Information Kiosk, Inc.,a 3M strategic partner and evidently the actual designer of this media box.  He said the basic box holds 720 DVDs or CDs, which could contain movies, videos, music, audiobooks, games, or anything else the library lends in this basic physical format.  Users can select and checkout items directly at the box, using a touchscreen interface, or they can go online and place an online hold for an item for later pick-up.  I imagined a library patron browsing online through the available items during lunch break, then swinging by the box on the way home to pick up the item. 

The boxes can be daisy-chained for more capacity, up to a maximum of four boxes, or 2880 items, which would be a veritable wall-o-media.  Patron authentication is via SIP2 integration with the library’s ILS. The box will print a receipt upon checkout, as well as a return receipt.  If patrons return items to a circulation counter or other return box, reloading the Library Media Box is a snap.  Evidently the media item must be placed in a semi-smart, custom, slimline case, which are included with the vending unit.  The librarian can place each item in any order among the available slots.  No sorting or shelf-reading required.

These puppies aren’t cheap.  The base purchase price quoted to me was $25,000, plus delivery and installation.  The purchase price includes one year of service, software support, and licensing (not sure what is being licensed here), but in the second and subsequent years the library will pay $3,900. 

Several libraries, including reportedly the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio, will be installing Library Media Boxes soon.  It will be interesting to see how library patrons respond.  I wonder if libraries eventually will place Library Media Boxes outside the friendly confines of the library in other high-traffic areas of the communities they serve, such as shopping malls, airport terminals, and grocery stores.  Because Red Box has strategic partnerships with retail stores, such as McDonald’s, it would be cool if other retail chains would embrace the placement of Library Media Boxes near their stores.