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.