The Verdict on Google Play

There’s a bakery/coffee shop not far from my house that offers a decaf, nonfat, sugar-free vanilla latte. They call it, “Why Bother?”

I’m coming to the same conclusion about whether to put my books up for sale at Google Play.

First off, this is not Google Books. I mention that because I kept getting them confused. Google Books is the name of the project in which Google was going to digitize and make available on the Internet every book in every library – a noble goal that almost immediately ran into a storm of protests from individuals and organizations worried about copyright violations. Just this week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s certification of the case as a class action, and told the district court judge he needs to decide whether Google’s snippets of text could be considered “fair use.” This lawsuit began in 2005, mind you, and is still going on.

No, Google Play is not Google Books – although a large portion of the five million books available for download via Google Play are out-of-copyright titles obtained from Google Books. Google Play actually is the former Android Market – the place where people who own Android phones and tablets can go to buy apps and content for their devices. It’s what iTunes is to Apple devices.

So you’d think Google Play would be a decent marketplace for indies. And it is actually possible to upload your books to Google Play and have them available for sale there. So why isn’t everybody doing it?

It appears there are several reasons. First, the uploading process is nowhere near as easy as on KDP or Smashwords. In order to get your books onto Google Play, you must first join the Google Books Partner Program. It’s free, but it requires that you allow Google access to the full text of your book for Google Books previews. (And if that makes you nervous, now you get why the Authors Guild sued Google in the first place.)

Once you’re in the Partner Program, then you can upload your book to Google Play. But wait! You can’t upload a .doc file – only .epub or .pdf files are accepted. And a quick check of author blogs and Goodreads posts shows that Google has the same customer service issue KDP does: when there’s a problem with an upload (or pretty much anything else), getting hold of a person is somewhere between very difficult and impossible.

Well, but maybe the royalty rate makes up for it? Sadly, it does not. I couldn’t find the Google Play royalty rate anywhere that wasn’t behind the Partner Program wall. But Noah Beck posted on his blog this spring that the rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent – lower by far than Amazon or Smashwords.

And that same check of author blogs and Goodreads indicated to me that indies who have managed to get their books up on Google Play aren’t seeing much in the way of sales.

So let’s tote it up, shall we? Arcane upload process, insistence upon participation in Google Books, nearly nonexistent customer service, terrible royalty rates and lousy sales. Verdict, at least as far as I can tell: why bother?

Now I’m fully aware that people with bad experiences complain the loudest, and that could explain what I’ve been reading online. So if you’ve had a positive experience with Google Play, please let us know in the comments.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

7 thoughts on “The Verdict on Google Play”

  1. A couple of friends of mine uploaded their books to Google Play, but haven’t had many (if any) sales compared to BN and Amazon. I doubt I’ll be placing mine there unless something changes. Thanks for the head’s up, Lynne!

  2. I’ve had my books on Google eBooks since it was in Beta. Many of the problems have been cleared up and things are going much better. I recently had a small issue with one on Google Play and Google eBooks and I emailed back and forth every day until it got fixed, so they are responding and in a timely manner. I don’t sell much, but it takes so little to upload a .pdf file that I load them anyway and take what $$ I get. I really can’t say that I’ve promo’d them much, so I’m not at all certain that the lack of sales is not my own fault. As to the royalties, since I get 35%-40% elsewhere, I have no complaints. I use a USD conversion table from the website to set my prices in markets not available to me elsewhere. All in all, it is MUCH easier to get my books on there than when it was still in beta, so I’m happy with the process now. Cover and contents can be uploaded in one action via the Uploader program which is VERY easy to use.

    1. I’m glad to hear it’s out of beta, LRB, and that it’s not as frustrating a process to navigate as I had read. Every time I pulled up a webpage to find info about Google Play, they all still said “beta.”

  3. I’ve had my books on Google Play for years and have sold only 2 or 3 copies there in all that time. I’ve had no trouble uploading them, and I think the exposure on Google Books is a good thing because the books show up in regular Google keyword searches and may attract readers who buy elsewhere. But be warned, Google Play automatically discounts all prices by about 23%, so you have to figure out how much higher to set your prices to make their stated price come out no less than Amazon’s, so as to stay within the rules for getting 70% at Amazon.

  4. My initial reaction was that an additional distribution channel would be a benefit, if it reaches readers who would not have bought via Amazon or Smashwords.

    However, if sales numbers are as low as Sylvia experienced, then it’s not worth the effort.

    I would suggest that the profile of Google readers is different to/from/than the others’ and that is why they buy from Google rather than Amazon, et al. So some authors could benefit from a new market, while others would not. It’s hard to tell without much more information about the profile of Google readers.

    However, it seems there are so many obstacles and issues that an author’s time could be better spent actually writing new works or promoting their existing books. Perhaps Google is something to struggle with when writer’s block sets in really hard 😉

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