App/Service Review: Hoopla Digital

Hoopla is a service offered in hundreds of libraries across the United States and in Canada. Its coverage map is mostly in the East, Midwest, and on the West Coast. My local library offered it and then discontinued it. I found Hoopla to be such a valuable service, I got a non-resident library card at a library in another part of the state just to be able to access it.

Hoopla is a massive repository of comic books, audiobooks, ebooks, and movies/television series totaling some 500,000 items. When an item is checked out the producer of the item earns a royalty. In general, it has an advantage over the most popular library service Overdrive in the size of variety of offerings. However, unlike Overdrive, there’s a cap on the number of items you can check out in a given month. 

That sheer amount of items is both a blessing and a curse. There’s a lot there but it can be hard to sift through to find what you want.  In this review, I’m going to talk about items that will be interesting to folks whose interest runs along the nostalgia/mystery/detective lines as well as general audio drama. If your local library has Hoopla, it’s a great service to use and even if it doesn’t, you may want to think about getting a non-resident card at a library that will give you access like I have. This is a very good option to consider with the current pandemic.

Audiobooks/Audio Dramas: The biggest portion of Hoopla’s collection is its audiobooks and many of these are audio dramas. You can check out audio dramas for 21 days. There’s a lot to recommend:

Radio Archives LLC: Radio Archives is a company that sells high quality old time radio sets on CDs and downloads, as well as pulp audiobooks. They have a wide variety of different sets. There are a lot of well-known individual shows to listen to including The Great Gildersleeve, Let George Do It (Vol. 4 features two uncirculated episodes we didn’t play on the podcast), and Dragnet. However, they also offer their Radio Archives Treasures and Archive Masters which offers a sampling of a wide variety of old time radio programs which can be great for those curious about what’s out there to listen to. It also gives you a look at the quality of their audio remastering which is a selling point with the company.

The audiobooks are also worth a listen. They offer a lot of well-done readings of pulp fiction books featuring characters such as the Spider and the Black Bat. In addition, there are performances of the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage which are modern books by Will Murray written based on unpublished Doc Savage story ideas. In addition to this, there are two audiobooks with new Box 13 and Night Beat stories that are worth a listen.

The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas: Twenty-nine six-episode, amounting to 174 episodes of the Twilight Zone radio series produced by Carl Amari are available to be checked out on Hoopla with appearance by well-known actors like Adam West, Adam Baldwin, Jason Alexander, Beverly Garland among those who start in the radio version of the classic TV series.

LA Theatre Works: LA Theatre works has been producing classic and contemporary drama for nearly forty years. I’m personally not into much of their contemporary drama, but enjoyed their takes on stories like The Mask of Zorro starring Val Kilmer, The Brothers Karamazov, as well as and two of their Sherlock Holmes adaptations. There’s also a couple of very good historical by legendary radio writer Norman Corwin: The Rivalry (about Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas) and Together Tonight (a Corwin play about Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson that LATW dusted off in light of the success of Hamilton.)

Big Finish: Big Finish Audio dramas are there including their licensed Doctor Who audio dramas and spin-offs as well as licensed audio versions of Dark Shadows and Blake’s 7.  Their Doctor Who range includes their first fifty monthly releases including such acclaimed stories as The Chimes of Midnight, The One Doctor, and Jubilee from 1999 to 2003, along with some more recent releases in their lost stories range as well as for the Fourth and Eighth Doctor Adventures. Among the highlights of the lost stories are the First Doctor Box set with the beloved historical “Farewell, Great Macedon” and the Fourth Doctor lost stories featuring “Foe from the Future.”  They also offer the first eight series of the Victorian spin-off Jago and Litefoot. 

Hoopla also carries Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range which includes David Stuart Davies appearing in audio adaptations of two one-man plays he did both in London and on tour and then Nicholas Briggs taking over as Holmes in a variety of plays and Big Finish’s first Sherlock Holmes box set. 

Graphic Audio: Graphic Audio has a different approach to most audio drama companies. They have full casts with sound effects, but rely on narration and their performances do feel more like performed audiobooks without the constant use of, “Said.” They have a vast catalog they’ve made available for check out through Hoopla with several different series including Westerns, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. Based on the ratings on their website, it seems the majority of their works are made with mature listeners in mind, although they do have a few works that fall into more of a PG-13 rating.

They also produced several adaptations of Marvel Comics including classic comic storylines like Secret Wars, Days of Future’s Past and Kraven’s Last Hunt. They also adapted some Marvel text novels to audio. 

Black Mask Magazine:  Black Mask Magazine was the premiere source for hard-boiled private eye fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. There have been several audiobooks published. Generally, audiobook will collect multiple works. The readers are all talented and do a great job bringing the stories from 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s to life. One volume contains the original serialized version of The Maltese Falcon, which has a few differences from the novels. You can hear forgotten characters or once with more history like Flash Casey. There are also a few Black Mask Audio Dramas that adapt short stories including a Hammett Spade story but most of these are half an hour, so it’s hard to justify using a credit for them.

Colonial Radio Theater…And The Rest: There are a few Colonial Radio Theater releases distributed there. There are Christmas releases like The Holly Tree Inn and Jimmy and the Star Angel. Also, there are a couple Ray Bradbury adaptations: Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Also Tom Swift and His Motorcycle and All Four One. There’s no Powder River or the Historical epics that Colonial Radio Theater is known for doing. There’s also a lot of miscellaneous audio dramas. I stumbled on Sid Guy, Private Eye on Hoopla and also found a BBC audio adaptation of 1984 starring Doctor Who actor Patrick Troughton.

If I have one complaint about Hoopla as well as libraries and booksellers in general, it’s the lack of ease in sorting when something is an audio drama or dramatized audiobook vs. a single reader audiobook. Those who love audio dramas like to find them, and those looking for a single reader audiobook may get annoyed when they get them.

Books:  Books also check out for twenty-one days. Hoopla has a decent library of books with a lot of popular books and recent best-sellers. Perhaps the most interesting selection of books for mystery fans is the significant library of Mysterious Press offerings. These include a lot of older previously out of print series such as Mr. and Mrs. North, Michael Shayne, and Ellery Queen. They also added a few Perry Mason books to their collection to coincide with the recent HBO program. You can also find Robert Goldsborough’s continuation of the Nero Wolfe stories if you so desire. 

Comics: Comics also check out for twenty-one days. Hoopla has a wide variety of Graphic Novel collections from both Marvel and DC, including a lot of older property from a wide variety of different eras. In addition, it also features comics from a lot of smaller presses including a lot of licensed properties including Star Trek, Steed and Mrs. Peel, and Doctor Who.

Music: Music collections check out for seven days. They have a pretty good variety. For nostalgic listeners, there’s plenty of CDs from the old legends like Crosby and Sinatra. In addition, they have a very impressive collection of both Motion Picture and Broadway Soundtracks going back decades. I’m not certain this might compare to a very good music service, but for free, it’s not bad, at least if you don’t mind the seven day limit.

TV/Movies: Television shows and movies check out for three days. This is better than most other library video services I’ve checked out, but it’s still a library video service. There are a few good movies and TV shows on here, but as of this writing the big feature film is the Robin Williams comedy License to Wed which got a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.3 rating on IMDB. So mostly the films tend to be okay to lesser regarded films that are a few years old. Hoopla used to stock a lot of second tier Disney movies, but those have moved to Disney Plus.

The same is true of the television shows, although there are some better ones. There’s Poirot, Foyle’s War, and the Italian version of Nero Wolfe with subtitles. I generally haven’t watched many TV episodes for a couple of reasons. First, many of these are on streaming services I have and each individual TV show like each movie costs a credit and I just haven’t been able to bring myself to spend a lot of credits that might be better spent in other areas of Hoopla.

The main reason to get Hoopla would be for its top tier audiobook/audio drama collections, as well as its comics, and a few of its books. The music is pretty good, but I probably wouldn’t get Hoopla just to listen to the music. And the TV and movie selection is definitely not a selling point.

You can get Hoopla from your local library or from an out-of-area library that offers non-resident cards. Once you have it, you can download the app for your mobile device through your app store and if you are interested in the videos, you can get the Hoopla app on Roku.

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