To end off a series of library-related posts, let me introduce you to Hoopla Digital, the mother-of-all free streaming service for music, movies, TV shows, documentaries and audiobooks that you could access and indulge in with a public library card. More iTunes-y than Netflix or Spotify, Hoopla is a cloud-based digital media platform that enables users to instantly borrow entertainment and educational material off the website or through the Hoopla app on a tablet or smartphone. It sprung up in Canada last July and is currently available in Edmonton, Hamilton, Guelph, Richmond, Victoria, B.C. and a few other Canadian cities, as well as many more in the U.S. (Check the map to see if your town has it.)
The Toronto Public Library will be launching Hoopla soon, and while I haven’t had the privilege to test it out yet, here are some interesting bits about this underground world of legal downloading:
1. The catalogue is huge.
There’s reportedly more than 250,000 albums and 10,000 movies, TV shows and audiobooks in the digital library and growing. Not bad for a starter collection. What drew me in personally was the wide selection of popular music, including top artists like Ellie Goulding, Drake, The Weeknd and Katy Perry, as well as EPs and remix albums. Full records can be downloaded from the app to listen to on a mobile device during long commutes, and new releases are added at the same time they come out on iTunes. Movies and TV shows aren’t as current or extensive as Netflix, but there are more educational and instructional videos, which can be borrowed for three days without having to put anything on a wait list. Albums are automatically returned after seven days and audiobooks after three weeks. One thing I noticed was that there could be variations of the Hoopla catalogue that differ between library systems. For instance, TPL’s might exclude audiobooks because of the overlap with OverDrive.
2. It is exclusive to public libraries.
Zinio and IndieFlix, two other digital content providers available at some libraries, were consumer products first before entering the education sector. Hoopla, on the other hand, was developed and designed by a library vendor. They don’t sell individual subscriptions.
3. It’s pay-per-use, not subscription-based.
Hoopla is free to public library users in cities that sign up for it, but do come at a cost to the libraries that adopt it. When a user borrows an item, libraries pay between $0.99 to $2.99 per title. Each library system sets limits as to the number of items a patron can borrow each month. For example, Hamilton Public Library caps users at 10 titles per month. (So, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be binge-watching on Hoopla insomuch as enjoying the freedom to stream.) The math is complicated when you compare it to the cost of circulating physical material, which may be why small towns have beta tested it first. At this point in time, many are still experimenting with whether there is public demand and how to budget for it.
4. It won’t replace what is currently available.
At least not for a while. Entertainment content, along with educational material, have always been available at public libraries. This is just new technology, an alternative to DVDs and CDs, for folks who want digital content and enjoy the convenience of accessing it off an online platform. There are some obvious limitations, though. As is the problem with ebooks and digital magazines, not everyone owns compatible devices (iOS 6, Android 4.0+) or can meet the technical requirements (uncapped bandwidth, 3G, 4G connection) to stream and download material. In a city like Toronto, multilingual content and independent releases are a big part of the physical collection and harder to acquire from one single source.
5. It’s part Canadian.
While Hoopla is an Ohio-based company, in Canada it’s run by CVS Midwest Tape, a media distributor in Toronto known for providing media content of the physical variety to public libraries since 1988. The fact that neither a big media corp or hot new startup is behind it all is actually refreshing. Hooray for evolving technology!