Public Domain Day 2019

For the last few years, I have written posts on January 1st talking about art, books, films and music that would have entered the public domain if those copyright terms had not been extended. Mainly due a corporation trying to protect the rights to a cartoon mouse, for an entire generation in the United States, no new material has fallen into the public domain. The fact that new material is FINALLY entering the public domain this year is a big deal and from here on out, every year, new works will fall into the public domain on a yearly basis.

The Public Domain belongs to the the people. The works contained within it are a part of our history and culture. When works fall into the public domain, many of these works suddenly reappear or are transformed into new art forms. So dig in; let’s see what’s in there, shall we? This is truly something to celebrate.

From Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain:

January 1, 2019 is (finally) Public Domain Day: Works from 1923 are open to all!

For the first time in over 20 years, on January 1, 2019, published works will enter the US public domain.1 Works from 1923 will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee. They include dramatic films such as The Ten Commandments, and comedies featuring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. There are literary works by Robert Frost, Aldous Huxley, and Edith Wharton, the “Charleston” song, and more. And remember, this has not happened for over 20 years. Why? Works from 1923 were set to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term. But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 1923 and 1977 an expanded term of 95 years.2

But now the drought is over. How will people celebrate this trove of cultural material? Google Books will offer the full text of books from that year, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. The Internet Archive will add books, movies, music, and more to its online library. Community theaters are planning screenings of the films. Students will be free to adapt and publicly perform the music. Because these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available, where you can rediscover and enjoy them. (Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see herehere, and here.) In addition, the expiration of copyright means that you’re free to use these materials, for education, for research, or for creative endeavors—whether it’s translating the books, making your own versions of the films, or building new music based on old classics.

Here are some of the works that will be entering the public domain in 2019. A fuller (but still partial) listing of over a thousand works that we have researched can be found here.

Films

  • Safety Last!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, featuring Harold Lloyd
  • The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille
  • The Pilgrim, directed by Charlie Chaplin
  • Our Hospitality, directed by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
  • The Covered Wagon, directed by James Cruze
  • Scaramouche, directed by Rex Ingram

Books

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Golden Lion
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links
  • Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis
  • e.e. cummings, Tulips and Chimneys
  • Robert Frost, New Hampshire
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  • Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay
  • D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
  • Bertrand and Dora Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
  • Carl Sandberg, Rootabaga Pigeons
  • Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front
  • P.G. Wodehouse, works including The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith
  • Viginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

Music

  • Yes! We Have No Bananas, w.&m. Frank Silver & Irving Cohn
  • Charleston, w.&m. Cecil Mack & James P. Johnson
  • London Calling! (musical), by Noel Coward
  • Who’s Sorry Now, w. Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby, m. Ted Snyder
  • Songs by “Jelly Roll” Morton including Grandpa’s SpellsThe Pearls, and Wolverine Blues (w. Benjamin F. Spikes & John C. Spikes; m. Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton)
  • Works by Bela Bartok including the Violin Sonata No. 1 and the Violin Sonata No. 2
  • Tin Roof Blues, m. Leon Roppolo, Paul Mares, George Brunies, Mel Stitzel, & Benny Pollack
(There were also compositions from 1923 by other well-known artists including Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, WC Handy, Oscar Hammerstein, Gustav Holst, Al Jolson, Jerome Kern, and John Phillip Sousa; though their most famous works were from other years.)

Of course, 1923 was a long time ago. (Under the 56-year copyright term that existed until 1978, we could be seeing works from 1962 enter the public domain in 2019.) Unfortunately, the fact that works from 1923 are legally available does not mean they are actually available. Many of these works are lost entirely or literally disintegrating (as with old films and recordings), evidence of what long copyright terms do to the conservation of cultural artifacts. For the works that have survived, however, their long-awaited entry into the public domain is still something to celebrate.

Technically, many works from 1923 may already have entered the public domain decades ago because the copyright owners did not comply with the “formalities” that used to be necessary for copyright protection. Back then, your work went into the public domain if you did not include a copyright notice—e.g. “Copyright 1923 Charlie Chaplin”—when publishing it, or if you did not renew the copyright after 28 years. Current copyright law no longer has these requirements. But, even though those works might technically be in the public domain, as a practical matter the public often has to assume they’re still copyrighted (or risk a lawsuit) because the relevant copyright information is difficult or impossible to find—older records can be fragmentary, confused, or lost. That’s why January 1, 2019 is so significant. On that date, the public will know that works published in 1923 are free for public use without tedious or inconclusive research.

For example, in 2019, we will know that Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is in the public domain because copyright over the collection containing the poem, New Hampshire, will lapse. (It’s possible that the poem might have entered the public domain earlier because it was first published in a magazine and that earlier copyright was not renewed on time—see discussion thread here—but we can be confident that its copyright has expired in 2019.) Frost’s estate has used copyright law to strictly control uses of his works. Eric Whitacre, who composed the incredible Virtual Choir works, discovered this the hard way when he wrote a piece in memory of a couple who had died within weeks of each other after being married over fifty years. The piece was commissioned by the couple’s daughter, whose favorite poem was “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Whitacre wrote a choral work based on the poem, and it was so well-received that other conductors began asking him for the work. He writes:

After a LONG legal battle (many letters, many representatives), the estate of Robert Frost and their publisher, Henry Holt Inc., sternly and formally forbid me from using the poem for publication or performance… I was crushed. The piece was dead, and would sit under my bed for the next 37 years because of some ridiculous ruling by heirs and lawyers.

(Eventually he asked the poet Charles Anthony Silvestri to write new words for the music that had been set to Frost’s poem, you can see the Virtual Choir performance of that composition here and read his full story here; note that Frost’s lawyers were mistaken about when the copyright ends, as indicated above, it lapses in 2019, if it hasn’t already.) Beginning in 2019, the next Whitacre won’t face this frustration, and anyone may use this powerful poem in their own creations.

Note that copyright law has a way of introducing complexities into any analysis. There are some familiar works that appear to be from 1923, but are not in fact entering the public domain in 2019 because of publication details. One is Felix Salten’s Bambi, A Life in the Woods, the basis for Disney’s famous movie. Salten first published it in Germany without a copyright notice in 1923, then republished it with a compliant copyright notice in 1926. When Disney (of all companies) claimed that Bambi was in the public domain, a court disagreed, holding that because the initial 1923 publication was in Germany, the failure to include a copyright notice did not put the book into the US public domain. The 1926 publication was valid, so the book’s copyright expires after 95 years in 2022.3 (The court’s full opinion is here.) Also, while the copyrights in several Jelly Roll Morton songs lapse in 2019, his famous “King Porter Stomp” was not copyrighted until 1924 (even though it was recorded in 1923), so it is not entering the public domain until 2020.

In an abundance of caution, our list above only includes works where we were actually able to track down the notice and renewal data suggesting that they are indeed still in-copyright until 2019. We’ve also compiled—to the best of our research capabilities—a fuller spreadsheet showing other renewed works from 1923. You can find it here. But we want to emphasize that this is only a partial collection; many more works are entering the public domain as well, but we could not find the legal minutia to confirm their copyright status.

It’s a Wonderful Public Domain. . . . What happens when works enter the public domain? Sometimes, wonderful things. The 1947 film It’s A Wonderful Life entered the public domain in 1975 because its copyright was not properly renewed after the first 28-year term. The film had been a flop on release, but thanks to its public domain status, it became a holiday classic. Why? Because TV networks were free to show it over and over again during the holidays, making the film immensely popular. But then copyright law reentered the picture. . . . In 1993, the film’s original copyright holder, capitalizing on a recent Supreme Court case, reasserted copyright based on its ownership of the film’s musical score and the short story on which the film was based (the film itself is still in the public domain). Ironically, a film that only became a success because of its public domain status was pulled back into copyright.

What Could Have Been

Works from 1923 are finally entering the public domain, after a 95-year copyright term. However, under the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1962 would be entering the public domain this year. They range from the books A Wrinkle in Time and The Guns of August, to the film Lawrence of Arabia and the song Blowin’ in the Wind, and much more. Have a look at some of the others. In fact, since copyright used to come in renewable terms of 28 years, and 85% of authors did not renew, 85% of the works from 1990 might be entering the public domain! Imagine what the great libraries of the world—or just internet hobbyists—could do: digitizing those holdings, making them available for education and research, for pleasure and for creative reuse.

Want to learn more about the public domain? Here is the legal background on how we got our current copyright terms (including summaries of recent court cases), why the public domain matters, and answers to Frequently Asked Questions. You can also read James Boyle’s book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008)—naturally, you can read the full text of The Public Domain online at no cost and you are free to copy and redistribute it for non-commercial purposes. You can also read “In Ambiguous Battle: The Promise (and Pathos) of Public Domain Day,” an article by Center Director Jennifer Jenkins revealing the promise and the limits of various attempts to reverse the erosion of the public domain, and a short article in the Huffington Post celebrating a previous Public Domain Day.


1 No published works have entered our public domain since 1998. However, a small subset of works—unpublished works that were not registered with the Copyright Office before 1978—have been entering the public domain after a life plus 70 copyright term. But, because these works were never published, potential users are much less likely to encounter them. In addition, it is difficult to determine whether works were “published” for copyright purposes. Therefore, this site focuses on the thousands of published works that are finally entering the public domain.

2 Works published between 1923 and 1977 had to meet certain requirements to be eligible for the 95-year term—they all had to be published with a copyright notice, and works from 1923–1963 also had to have their copyrights renewed after the initial 28-year term.

3 Foreign works from 1923 are still copyrighted in the US until 2019 if 1) they complied with US notice and renewal formalities, 2) they were published in the US within 30 days of publication abroad, or 3) if neither of these are true, they were still copyrighted in their home country as of 1/1/96. Note that the copyright term for older works is different in other countries: in the EU, works from authors who died in 1948 will go into the public domain in 2019 after a life plus 70 year term, and in Canada, works of authors who died in 1968 will enter the public domain after a life plus 50 year term.


Special thanks to our tireless and talented research maven and website guru Balfour Smith for building this site and compiling the list of works from 1923.

Ebook Evangelist’s note: This article reprinted from Public Domain Day 2019 by Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. This article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Happy Holidays

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season!

I will be posting here and there over the next week and back to the regular daily posting schedule after the first of the year.

As some of my regular readers know, my husband is a musician. Usually, I spend one day during the season promoting his holiday jazz CD. I was so busy I didn’t make it this year. So today, I will leave you with a video for the most popular song from his album, Tidings Comfort & Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas:

Daily Links and Deals: Paying to Have and Not to Hold

daily_links_1Today. a look at why we pay more to access content we don’t own (and, no, its not all about inconvenience).  Also, Spotify refused to give up its free tier, Microsoft revamps Paint, how to fix the glitches in your Moto G phone and news about the Wayback Machine. In deals, fashion watches, cookware and vacuums.

Daily Links for Wednesday, October 26,  2016:

Spotify: You’d have to pry free tier from our cold, dead hands (CNET) Totally agree with this. As the wife of a musician, I’ve seen how important these services are in preventing piracy and helping discoverability.

Paying to Have and Not to Hold (Slate) A fascinating look at why we pay more to less rights to digital goods like movies, books and other content. And surprisingly, corporate greed didn’t even make the list.

Microsoft’s Paint brings 3D creation to all, even in VR (CNET) What an update! It has 3D images and the ability to import scans. I can’t wait to try this!

Twenty glitches and bugs with the MOTO G, and how to fix them (Digital Trends) Amazon offering this phone as a Prime exclusive has helped its popularity, but the phone has a few issues this article helps with.

New Beta Releases Allows Users to Keyword Search Some Material Found in The Wayback Machine (Infodocket) Exciting news! This long-awaited feature, while still not perfect, add functionality to the looking at what the web used to be.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes How to Find Fulfilling Work (The School of Life) by Roman Krznaric.

In Today’s Deals, 50% off Fashion watches, including Fossil and Skagen.  Also, deals on Cuisinart cookware and  savings Makita XLC02RB1W 18V Compact Lithium-Ion Cordless Vacuum Kit with 2.0 Amp Battery.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. The Romance Daily Find is Making the Play by T. J. Kline.

Barnes and Noble also has a selection of NOOK Books Under $2.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is The White Tiger A Novel by Aravind Adiga. The Extra Daily Deal is Exit Strategy: A Katerina Carter Fraud Legal Thriller (Book 1) by Colleen Cross.

Also, a selection of titles called Romance On The Ice for $4.99 or Less until October Until October 31st.

There is also a selection of Great Reads Under $5 and Bargain Reads in Fiction, in Mystery and other genres. The Kobo Aura One (and the Aura Edition 2 e-readers are now available for order at the Kobo store. (The Aura One is out of stock until November 1, 2016.)

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes The Broken Ones by Sarah A. Denzil.

Google Books has a selection of Halloween Horror Sale with chills & thrills under $5.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links and Deals: At the library, a cafe and TV studio, and an effort to modernize

daily_links_1Today, story on a library’s attempt to modernize. Also, a story on a new filter that allows you to switch between clean and explicit music and a piece on one amazon scammer and how he got caught. In deals, savings on Logitch PC accessories.

Daily Links for Tuesday, September 27,  2016:

At the library, a cafe and TV studio, and an effort to modernize (Boston Globe) We often hear about cafes in bookstores. This library is getting in on the act and more….

Dash Radio launches a filter that lets you toggle between clean and explicit music (The Verge) I am not a fan of censoring any kind of art, including music,but this might really solve a problem for families with young children.

Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars (ZD Net) Not only were a lot of people tricked into buying bad quality ebooks, innocent authors (real ones) get hurt by these scams.when bots download their books in order to “look legit”.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress.

In Today’s Deals, save up to 50% off select Logitech PC accessories, including webcams Bluetooth keyboards and wireless mice.

Amazon has now released the Echo a second color. You can pre-order the Echo now to get it in white. It will be available on September 28, 2016. There is also an  All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) which will be available in both black and white and retails for $49.99. The Dot is also being offering in a “Buy 5, get 1 free” six-pack and a ““Buy 10, get 2 free” twelve-pack”. The new Echo Dot will be released on October 20, 2016.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is Girls’ Weekend by Cara Sue Achterberg. The Romance Daily Find is The Random Series Boxed Set (Books 1-8 Megabundle) by Julia Kent.

Barnes and Noble also has a selection of NOOK Books Under $2.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad. The Extra Daily Deal is Deep Freeze: West Coast Series (Book 1) by Lisa Jackson

Also, select romance titles at the Kobo store for 99 cents until October 2nd.

There is also a selection of Great Reads Under $5 and Bargain Reads in Fiction, in Mystery and other genres. The Kobo Aura One (and the Aura Edition 2 e-readers are now available for order at the Kobo store. (The Aura One is out of stock until September 23, 2016 – now delayed to September 30, 2016 October 7, 2016.)

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Be Here Now by Ram Dass.

Google Books has a selection of Start a New Series titles, with prices starting at 99 cents.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Playster Subscription Service: A Review

Official_PlaysterTextLogo_lightFor the last few weeks (from 1/23/2016 to 2/18/2016), I have been using the 30 day free trial of the Playster subscription service.  With the current membership changes at Scribd, other options for subscription services become even more important. Here’s my review of the service:

Overview:

Playster is a multimedia subscription service owned by Playster Corporation. The corporation has offices in New York and the UK. The service offers a combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games and calls itself “the Netflix of everything.”

You can access content on up to six devices. There are no usage stipulations per se, although there is a clause in the TOS that states the service can “take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure.” Theoretically, I suppose that could be used to stop someone who was using too much content, but there are no other explicit restrictions.

An Internet connection is required to use the service. It is a streaming service, not a download service. According to TOS, “Playster does use some data, and an Internet connection is required to access and consume our Content.”

You can access the service via a web browser or through the Playster app, which is available for IOS and Android.

Pricing:

The service offers a bundled combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games for $24.95 month. Each of the services are available individually. Books and music subscriptions are $9.95 each monthly. Game subscriptions are $4.95 per month and movies are $3.95. There is a 30 day free trial before you are actually billed for your subscription and a credit card is required at the time of sign up.

In the United States, if you sign up for unlimited books, movies, music and games for 12 months, Playster will include the Playster Combo Box, a branded tablet, with your subscription. The tablet is shipped right away and you pay a $9.95 shipping cost.

Playster’s home page says that each subscription component is available individually  Perhaps because I had signed up for the free trial for the bundle, I could not see any way to change my subscription to only an ebook or movie one, although on the sign up page,  you could sign up for a single component. Originally, I saw advertising stating that the service is capable of multiple logins so that it can be used by an entire family. I could not figure out how to set up multiple logins through my account, although those features may not have been available on the free trial version.

The subscription auto-renews “successive renewal periods of the same duration as the subscription term originally selected starting from the anniversary date.” You can read the whole terms and conditions here.

To use the service, you must consent to automatic upgrading on your mobile device, and agree that the Terms and Conditions will apply to all upgrades.

Playster’s website states that you can cancel your membership at any time either online or via telephone by calling 1-844-825-6276. If you are on the 12 month Playster Combo Box plan that includes the tablet, you must call to cancel membership. The TOS states that any payments already made are non-refundable. (The payment terms are here.)

Sign up:

I had a choice of signing up with Facebook, Google Plus or using an email and password. I chose Google and had a problem because of it. While I had no problem on the Playster website, when I tried to download the android app on my phone, it only gave me the option to login via an email/ password combo. For some reason, it did not recognize me as logged into Google on my phone. The forgot password link took me to the browser which did recognize me as I signed in (meaning the website recognized that my phone was signed into Google services). But I still couldn’t get in to the app. I tried going to the website and changing my password, but found I could not create a new password because it required an old one (which I didn’t have because I signed up with G+). I ultimately had to email customer service to reset the password for me.

Devices Tested:

For the purposes of testing the service, I used the following devices: Win 7 Dell desktop computer with 6GB RAM,  Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet, a Galaxy Note 2 phone,  a first generation  iPad mini ((IOS), a  Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (2012 model with an HDMI port) on the Silk browser) and my Fire HD 6. I used the older 8.9 because I wanted one that I could connect to my TV. I tried the HD 6 because that’s my default device to use for reading Scribd and I wanted to compare the reading experience.

I tested all devices except the Kindle Fires with all types of media on both the app and the web version. Other exceptions are noted in the text below. The Kindle test was browser only (I didn’t want to sideload an old APK version of the app). App versions used were Android 2.0.0.260 (phone), and IOS app version: 2.0.2 (103).

Content:

Playster gives you the opportunity to see some of the available content  at  http://read.playster.com. Whether they actually have that content may be a different story. There were a quite a few titles in the preview section that I was unable to find once I had signed up. I don’t know if this is a geo-blocking issue. I have read a lot of complaints about Playster not having content they advertised as having as part of the service.

Playster’s terms of service does state:

Our library of Content is ever-changing, and we reserve the right to alter the Content available without notice. We do not guarantee that any Contentwill be made available (or continue to be available) on the Site or through the Services. For example, the availability of Content may vary from Device to Device, and may be affected by a number of factors. These factors include (but are not limited to) your location, the bandwidth available through and/or speed of your Internet connection.

Currently, Playster offers books, audiobooks, music, games and movies. Because Playster allows you to subscribe separately to each type of content, I am going to discuss each type of content separately.

There is one caveat to keep in mind as I describe the content in each category:  The search function on the service is terrible. I found a lot more content by browsing than I did by searching, so when I talk about the limitations, it could be that I simply could not find content in a particular category.

Books: 

Selection: There’s a fairly wide variety of books in numerous genres and categories: New York Times Bestsellers, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, business books,  young adult and more. The books are a mixture of both newer and older material. The age of the titles varies with some newer (What the Dog Knows is from 2015), and some a couple of years old (American Sniper, 2012, Veronica Roth’s Four the Transfer,2013  and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, 2013). There are also classics like 12 Years a Slave and Huckleberry Finn.

Currently, Playster has announced licensing deals with Findaway, Harlequin, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins.

None of the subscription services have The Girl on a Train, so I was not surprised to see that ebook missing, although they do have it in audiobook form. I did not see The Hunger Games or Harry Potter as ebooks either.

The sheer numbers of certain kinds of books was interesting. There are lots of books by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), plenty of Star War tie-ins and more Star Trek tie-in books than I have ever seen in one place in my life…. In fact, the science fiction collection was pretty amazing. There were collections of old SF magazines like Amazing Stories, Astounding, Weird Tales, Galaxy, IF – the list goes on and on. There were Best of Year anthologies from the 1970s that I would have loved to read.

There are a lot of books to choose from, depending on what genre you like to read.

Reading experience: I have to say, the e-reading experience with Playster was really awful. I actually did not get to read one book during my trial period. Yes, the experience was that bad!

One of my biggest problems was an inability to dramatically change the font size. I have had two surgeries on my eyes, so I am somewhat visually impaired. I need a large font size to read comfortably. On all devices on the web version, I found that I couldn’t change font size at all. On the android app, there was a limited ability to change the size, but I couldn’t get it large enough to meet my needs. On the Kindle, it changed the font for the introduction but not for the main text of the book.

Another source of frustration was the page turn display itself. While the page turn experience on the web was similar to Amazon’s Cloud reader, on the Android app, every time you turned the page, it would generate a blank page which showed for approximately two seconds. That made the reading experience so choppy, it was miserable and frustrating to try and work with. The iPad experience was better due to the real page turn effect that the iPad uses for books. The Kindle page turns were the best of all of them, but I still could not get the font large enough to be able to read on it.

The search experience on Playster is really bad across the board: bad on the web, on the app, in the category suggestions and so on.  You cannot search by author at all, only by title. The genre and category placements were not well organized. I had a hard time finding specific books, so the browse function was basically the only way to find a title you wanted to read. Definitely disappointing.

I could not recommend this service for anyone who had and kind of vision impairment or special needs. The reading app is just too poorly designed.

Audiobooks: 

Selection:  There seemed to be a fairly nice selection of audiobooks from Blackstone audio and other publishers. They had a lot of the current audiobooks I see on Scribd: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, E.L. James’ Grey, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and Girl on a Train. There we well-represented genre sections that included romance, kid and teens books, even a section for Star Wars audiobooks. There were also audiobooks of some classic radio shows.

I found a number of non-fiction books, many in the history and business categories. The Earworms series of language learning audiobooks were particularly interesting as part of an unlimited listening service – these were premium listens on Scribd (before the new service terms).

Listening experience:  The real problem with the audiobooks is the lack of a player in the app. There is no access at all to audiobooks on either the Android or IOS app. You can only access the catalog and listen to books on a web browser. Even there, the controls are very limited. It does not let you exit and resume at the same spot you stopped reading. Once you close out the web browser, you could only choose a chapter to begin to play a book. You couldn’t resume. Audiobooks also do not seem to sync across devices. Remember, this service is streaming only ( no downloads), so it is impossible to play content on another app.

One thing that is not clear is what category audiobooks books belong in. Are they bundled with the books or as part of the music category? I am assuming books, but don’t know for sure, so I am uncertain how to evaluate it.

Given Scribd’s new pricing structure for books and audiobooks, if Playster had a decent player, it could be a better alternative than Audible or Scribd for audiobooks. As is, the audiobook experience is just not good enough, especially if you have used another audiobook app like Audible’s.

Music:

Selection: Playster has a very odd selection of music.  They do have some newer albums and artists – they had dubstep, hip hop and newer albums.  But a lot of the music offered is quite old. For example, in the Country category, I found a lot of older artists:  Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams. They also had a lot of interesting folk recordings, many of them early recordings of successful artists like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.

There was a lot of classical music to listen to. The majority that I found were recordings of well-known pieces by little-known artists and obscure European symphonies. (If you have ever bought one of those 100 Pieces of Classical Music albums for 99 cents, these are the same kind of recordings. Good, but not necessarily definitive recordings.) Blues and Jazz classics seemed pretty well represented: There were recordings by Etta James, Robert Johnson, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis.

The site offered popular and genre recommendations, but the results were quite strange. An Elvis Presley gospel album was listed in hip hop. Dean Martin listed in pop music might have worked in 1965, but now? And how do you justify putting Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman in the world music category? I really think the algorithms for the service needed a bit of work.

Listening experience: Except for the search and recommendations issues, the music experience was probably one of the best of all the Playster categories that I tried.  The controls were straight forward and there were no volume or streaming issues.  Given the content, I don’t think that I would pay $9.95 a month for it, but it would be okay as a part of a subscription package if your tastes run to older material.

Games:

Selection: The service has games for Android and PC. I was fairly unimpressed with the Android selection. Many of the games that I saw for Android were from a company called Playtouch and, for me at least, they left a lot to be desired. Many of the android games were geared at children, not adults. The Playtouch games also had a lot of misspellings in the descriptions.

For the PC, you can only play games by downloading the Playster game player to your PC. Since I knew by this point I wasn’t going to keep the subscription, I did not bother to download the player.

The game categories available for both Android and PC included action adventure, shooter and RPG/MMO games and classics  like Pong, Millipede, Asteroids, and Super Breakout. There were strategy and war games, sport and racing, as well as Arcade games. They also had puzzle, hidden object and casino games. They do have Duke Nukem 3D if that’s a deal breaker for you. 🙂

On the IOS version on my iPad, there were no games available on either the app or web version for the iPad.

Experience:  I played a couple of Android games on my phone. I thought the card games I tried tended to lag quite a bit. Strangely, many of the games had to be downloaded instead of streamed and the wait time was also a factor, at least for me. On my Android phone and my Kindle, a couple of the games, downloaded directly and still played, even after I deleted the Playster app. I had to uninstall them manually.  I assume that this is a glitch, because the content is supposed to be streaming only.

I think the value of the games portion of this subscription really depends on who this is for and how much of a gamer you are. This might be a great selection for games to amuse a child, depending on age. I am more of a casual card, puzzle and board games type of gamer and in this category, so there wasn’t a lot of substance to interest me, but YMMV.

Movies:

 Selection: Due to the lack of a decent search tool, I really can’t tell you what kind of content is in this category. There are a lot of movies. From what I could tell, the selection is heavy on documentaries and music video compilations. I spot checked some of the films and everything I checked seemed to also be available on Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix.

Experience: I watched three documentaries. The app for my phone updated between the first and the second film. With the first film I watched (with the first phone version of the app), the experience was less than stellar. There was flickering on the playback and the app stalled after about 10 minutes.

The second time (with the updated app) was a smoother experience. There was much less flicker. You cannot Chromecast directly from the app, so in order to watch on my television, I had to watch in the browser and then cast the entire window. This is a less than optimal experience from both the visual and sound points of view. The audio was too quiet and the lips were out of sync with the film.

The third film I watched on the iPad and the video quality was actually much better on this version of the app than anywhere else. On the Safari browser, however, the movie would not load. I also could not get a film to load on the Kindle, although that might have been a problem with the Dolphin browser.

There are no closed captions available that I could find. There also seems to be no way to watch part of a movie and then resume where you left off.  These two factors alone are deal breakers for me. Add in not being integrated with Chromecast and not having a ROKU channel and this is basically way too limited compared to my experience with Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu.

Overall Playster Experience:

The number one problem with this service is that the search function across the board is so poorly designed, it is basically unusable. I couldn’t search for books by author or music by artist at all. I actually searched for specific titles, albums and artists that I had already found in the system, yet they still didn’t come up in the search.

The other feature that was really hard to work with was the sync across devices feature. Like the search function, this one is also practically non-existent. Items added to the MY Library section, never showed up on any version of the app or other browser versions.

It seems apparent that Playster is working on the service as the app actually updated twice during my trial. When using the first version, the app kept crashing on my phone. It did work on my Samsung tablet. The next time the app updated, it did work correctly on my phone.

Playster also really needs to work on the battery issues with its apps. On every device I used it on, the battery drained way too quickly!

Given the recent changes to Scribd’s services, I really, really wanted to like their ebook service. (I am currently a subscriber to Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.) The science fiction collection alone probably could have convinced me to subscribe to the books category. But no matter how great the content, if a customer is unable to use it, it doesn’t matter. The service totally failed to provide a decent ebook reading experience.

There is so much about this service that just isn’t technically “there” yet. Closed captions and resume and play features for video are essential, basic components of streaming video and I am shocked that the service doesn’t have them.

The ads I saw for Playster were promoting it as a family service. If Playster is a family service, it needs to be usable on a television or large screen.  The inability to Chromecast directly from the app or integrate with devices like a ROKU, an Amazon Fire TV or another method of streaming to a bigger screen is definitely a missing component that the service really needs, especially for the premium bundled subscription price.

The member area of Playster’s website still says Beta, but since it hasn’t been updated for a long time, I am not sure if that is accurate or not.  The technical issues on the service are those you would expect to find in the beta version of a service. The $24.95 price tag is a premium price for a service that is definitely not ready for prime time.

Help and Customer Service: As stated above, I had to contact customer service to get my login straightened out. The response from customer service was very prompt, friendly and helpful.

Because the service is fairly new, the help section online is pretty basic. As a person who likes to figure things out for myself, I would have liked to see a lot more information there. The site does have a little-used forum section for the community to ask questions.

Canceling:

On the web, there was a big “Cancel Membership” button at the top of my account page. The first time I tried it on the desktop, it looked like that button just goes to an error page. I had to scroll down further to see the cancel membership button. You must go through several screens in order to cancel. I was asked to take a brief survey to explain why I was canceling.

And in case this was a question, I have not had any additional charges from Playster after canceling.  (I have run across reviews from people saying that Playster continued to charge their credit cards after they had canceled. I have had no problems.)

Have you tried Playster? What did you think of the service?

Forget Books, Barnes and Noble has Vinyl

adeleThere has been a lot of discussion about the shrinking shelf space alloted to books in Barnes and Noble stores.  Articles like Sherry D. Ficklin’s  “The (inevitable) death of Barnes & Noble” and The Digital Reader’s “B&N a Bookseller No Longer?” both bemoan the loss of space for books in the retailer’s stores. It seems pretty apparent that music, particularly vinyl, is a big part of the replacement plan.

Yesterday, Barnes and Noble has announced that they will be celebrating “Vinyl Day” on Saturday. November 21, 2015.  There will be special events in stores and online and you can get more information at www.bn.com/VinylDay. According to the retailer’s press release:

An entire day dedicated to vinyl records and music, Vinyl Day will take place at Barnes & Noble’s nearly 650 stores nationwide just four months after its first vinyl-themed promotion in July as part of the summer program “Get Pop-Cultured with Barnes & Noble.” Now, with Thanksgiving around the corner, the bookseller aims to break consumers out of their usual holiday shopping habits and encourage the “Art of Creative Gift-Giving.”

The chain is offering a selection of vinyl titles exclusive to B & N which includes artist like the Beatles, Tony Bennett, and even an anthology of music from the TV series “Mad Men.” Also featured are color vinyl editions by artists such as Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. And for the consummate collector, there will even be a limited number of Signed Edition LPs from artists Bad Company, Brian Wilson and others.

And, yes, they will have have Adele’s new release, “25,” available for Vinyl day, according to the press release.

As some of you may know, I also work in the music industry,  and there, the statistics are pretty clear:  Vinyl Generates More Revenue Than YouTube Music, VEVO, SoundCloud, and Free Spotify COMBINED. Looks like Barnes and Noble decided that this might be an area worth investing in….