Scott Hanselman

Playaway - Preloaded Portable Digital Audiobooks

May 11, 2006 Comment on this post [10] Posted in Reviews
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I've talked before about what a fan of Audible I am. Once you incorporate it in to your life by making it easy to listen in your car and you've got a nice rhythm for how many times you sync your iPod or MP3 player, it really enriches your life. I've even got my wife hooked on it. She walks three miles a day with the baby and has been listening to The Time Traveler's Wife (a fantastic book, highly recommended.)

I'm in Charlotte transferring planes to Dallas right now and just noticed a very clever digital device that I hadn't seen before. It's such a clever and totally obvious idea. Portable Audio Books with the audio pre-loaded on a "disposable" player.

They are called Playaway. Apparently they launched a year ago. They're attractively packaged and include everything you need. The book, pre-loaded batteries and headphones. The audio books are tiny, about the size of a micro-cassette with controls on the back for controlling the speed of the reader's voice, fast forwarding, etc.

Fantastic idea, brilliantly executed, save one thing. $39.95 for a book? Oy. I was a biscuit away from buying one, was drawn to the retail point of sale, picked it up, looked at the box, all the things one is supposed to do if the marketers got it right.

However, in this case, I turned the package over and blanched at $39.95. Some are even more. Yikes. If it were $19.95, sold, without even a thought. $24.95, maybe. $30, eh. $40? Hell no.

Back to audible again. For half the Playaway's cost per month I get two books. Sure I have to have an audio player, so I'm comparing apples to carburetors, but you get the idea. If a first class recent paperback is <$10, I expect a device like this to be under $25, IMHO. I'm sure the price will come down, but at this pricing it kind of squashed the whole impulse buy thing. Still a rockin' sweet idea though. Maybe I'll give some of these for Christmas to some of my Luddite relatives. :)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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May 11, 2006 4:40
I had the same reaction. I think these things will fail miserably. The price is just way off - like you said, double what it should cost.

I think they could improve things with a deposit or trade-in model to cover their hardware costs. Return it and get $20 back, or trade it in for $25 off another book.

Realistically, though, I think this will soon be a solution looking for a problem soon. MP3 players keep getting cheaper, and pretty soon everyone's going to have one.
May 11, 2006 5:16
Totally agree with you on the price. I was in the airport last week and was going to pick one up, thinking that I really didn't have the time to read a book but wouldn't mind listening to one on the plane and down times at the hotel. Maybe an email to these guys to them we're not buying their capitalistic venture until it comes to real prices.
May 11, 2006 16:30
Where do you get your recent audio books <10$. Unfortunately, I've been paying around 30. thanks.
May 11, 2006 16:31
sorry, should read closer....
May 11, 2006 16:43
And what about environmental considerations?

IMHO, disposable electronic devices is something that should be avoided. With that kind of usage, the likelyhood that it'll end in the trash instead of being properly elimiated are pretty high (thrown away at the hotel for instance). This contributes to environment degradation and resource shortage.
May 11, 2006 18:40
I agree with Fabrice. As convenient as they are, I think that products such as disposable audio books, disposable dvds, etc just increase the volume of non-biodegradable junk that ends up in our our dumps and landfills. And since the audio book has batteries, we are also talking about adding to the volume of acids and reactive metals in our trash.
May 11, 2006 20:48
$39 is about what you'd pay for the unabridged book on CD or cassette. I too am a big Audible fan, so I understand the sticker shock, but for people who might otherwise pick up audio books at Barnes & Noble, it isn't much more, and you get the player. I do agree about the waste issue though. Seems like a lot to throw away. It seems perfect for rentals in airports, like the DVD players.
May 12, 2006 1:47
Yup, I'm with Fabrice too. In a recent trip to the US, I couldn't beleive the level of throw-away culture. Actually, the whole of LA looked as if it should be thrown away, but thats another story ;-)

Why not return it to the manifacturer for a credit, so you can buy another one.... or get audiable to have a kiosk, so you can just download stuff onto an ipod, pay by CC, and walk :)
May 12, 2006 4:19

I don't see the benefit of audio books unless it's used for learning with concentration when one doesn't have the time to read.

When I read for pleasure, I like to actually hold the book, feel it and read words with my eyes. Audio books as a
replacement for pleasure reading doesn't make sense to me, specially when the book has illustrations, photos.. etc.

.. and yes.. enough with the disposable stuff.
May 23, 2006 19:08
I like hearing audio book while driving, where holding a book might not be such a good idea.
But I can't believe that someone could really think of buying this!
Terrible enough that this is offered, but to promote producing more trash?!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.