Producing audiobook CDs was proving to be both expensive and time consuming for Vision Australia until it decided to offer blind and vision impaired clients an audio streaming service.
The not-for-profit organisation provides a device known as the Daisy (digital accessible information system) Reader to clients so they can play audiobooks in CD form.
To streamline the process and shorten the request-to-availability timeframe, Vision Australia partnered with Optus Business to upgrade the Daisy Readers with 3G connectivity.
The 3G sim card was fitted to existing readers, meaning Vision Australia did not need to buy new devices. Vision Australia accessible information general manager, Michael Simpson, said staff take the player apart, remove the old CD componentry and insert a new cradle, which includes the 3G connection.
The project began 12 months ago, and approximately 2600 players have been sent out to clients to date. Another 400 are due to be distributed by the end of this year.
"This project was targeted at the top 3000 users of Vision Australia's library because of the 15,500 people we have using our library, the top users were accessing 60 per cent of our titles," Simpson said.
"By targeting the top 3000 users, this will take our CD burn and distribution from 650,000 CDs a year down to 250,000."
Long term, Vision Australia wants to exit the audiobook CD market. Simpson explained that as the CD becomes legacy technology, it has become more expensive to maintain the equipment and purchase blank CDs.
Providing a 3G service also means clients who are unable to use computers can stay connected to what is happening in the world.
"The [player] is very simple to use. They don't need to have an Internet connection of their own or a computer. All they need is reasonable Optus mobile connectivity," said Simpson.
The player connects through the Optus network to Vision Australia's library catalogue. The client selects what they want to hear by using audio prompts and the streaming begins.
As well as books, Vision Australia has had access to News Limited and Fairfax publications for some years, however these were not previously available on the reader. Having 3G embedded on the devices now allows clients to access 450 magazines and newspapers via their device.
"We get automated feeds from those organisations and we've been able to make those newspapers and magazines available through our online catalogue to people who can do their own downloading," he said. The titles are delivered as text files, ensuring the files load quickly.
"This is the first time all of that content is available to our average library user. We can send them audio books, magazines and newspapers via streaming."
Simpson claimed clients using the machines "absolutely love" having access to the organisation's entire content collection, and cited a spike in the usage of newspapers, magazines and audio book titles.
"One of the real benefits of the readers is that when we were sending out CDs, we didn't know if people were reading the entire book or not," he said.
"People might listen for 10 minutes and think `I don't really like that' before sticking the CD back in the post and sending it back to us. This would trigger us to send another CD."
With the new approach, when a person starts to stream the book and they don't like it, they can choose to delete the file. "It's only cost a little bit of data because they've only streamed 10 minutes," Simpson said.
It's already clear clients are quickly embracing digital over CDs. In January, 110,000 items were accessed from the Vision Australia collection, 72 per cent of which were accessed through the 3G player or people downloading files themselves. Only 27.4 per cent of titles were distributed via CDs.
"That is a turnaround from January 2014, where only 15 per cent of the titles were accessed digitally while 85 per cent of titles were sent through the post," Simpson said.
Simpson said it partnered with Optus as the telco was enthusiastic about the project. Several Optus staff volunteered their time to convert the Daisy Readers.
"Optus and M2M [IT partner] provided our staff with training on how to use that platform and activate the SIM cards. By using the platform, we are able to manage the amount of data to each player and each individual," he said.
Each user is provided with 2GB of data per month. If a client hasn't used their data allocation for a while, Vision Australia will make contact and ask if everything is OK.
The not-for-profit can also send short messages about services to clients via the player so the next time the client turns on the player, they will receive the message.
"It could also enable us to send emergency messages to people, things that we couldn't do via the CD circulation," said Simpson.
Vision Australia is planning to introduce a $12 rental fee per month. However, it won't be charging clients for data usage.
Although Optus is busy rolling out a 4G service in Australia, Simpson said it was planning to stick with 3G as more of its clients can access the service around the country. Vision Australia is also looking to develop an iOS app for clients who can download content directly on their own computer.
He hoped this would be available by December.
"We are looking to develop an app in the near future, which will take people directly to the online catalogue rather than having to go through iTunes," Simpson added. "We have been talking with a number of organisations including Optus about it."