Google Play Books is a cross-platform application which allows users to both download and upload books in PDF and ePub formats. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks, Google Play Books is an open publishing and sales platform which allows readers to easily move e-book across devices (phones, e-readers, desktops and tablets) and apps that support Adobe software and DRM. However, Google Play Books does not support Amazon’s mobi format. Pre 2013, Google did allow the upload of book files in doc, mobi and html formats.
Google Play Books was launched in 2010 as Google eBooks and initially partnered with 7,000 publishers. The platform has now become very popular with self-published authors who prefer to deal directly with e-book distribution platforms rather than go through a digital distribution aggregator.
Self-published authors can submit books through Play Books Partner Center which allows books to be previewed on Google Books (authors can set the percentage viewed) and for free or purchase on Google Play store in 65 countries. The Google Play store features in excess of 5 million books. Publishers can also avail of a book rental feature for academic books and a pre-order facility.
The Publishing Process
Firstly, I want to stress to authors that Google Play Books is a facility for uploading completed books (cover and interior files) for general download and sales. It is not a DIY self-publishing platform with any online creation tools like Blurb or Lulu.
There are some basic requirements before you can use Google Play Books:
- A completed book file
- A Google email account
- A bank account (for sales payments)
While text and illustrated books can be uploaded, some additional enhanced features like audio and video embedded in e-books may not work properly after uploading. Once you have created your account and signed in to Google Play Books, you can begin the upload process. It is possible to do all this using a smartphone or tablet but it’s really not something I would advise. Carry out the process using a desktop or laptop computer.
Make sure you go to the Google Play Books ‘publish’ web page not the Play Store! I initially found this confusing and could not find a direct button link to the Partner Center from the Play Store. From there you can click the ‘Continue to Partner Center’ or the ‘Get Started Now’ buttons and access your main dashboard screen.
I’m not going to go through all the technical and navigational aspects of the interface, but where appropriate, I will mention some pointers. The interface is reasonable easy to use, though I still think it could do with some refinements when it comes to navigation. Over the past year, authors have told me that they find it tricky and time-consuming.
You can go right ahead and begin the upload process, but I would suggest you complete the payment details first and check the tutorial support pages. If you don’t complete the payments detail it can cause some confusion when you try to release your e-book for sale in the Google Play store. Payment details must be verified by Google and this is done when it sends a small amount of money to your bank account overnight ($0.01- 0.99) and you must then verify the exact amount on the payments part of your dashboard. Otherwise, you can’t fully complete the release and receive revenue from the sale of your book.
You upload your cover and interior files (PDF and/or ePub) separately and it’s important to name the files as per Google’s requirements (1234567890_frontcover.pdf, 1234567890_interior.pdf). Cover images need to be uploaded as PDF, TIFF, PNG or JPEG. If you choose only to upload PDF files of your books, then you are limiting your sales to readers looking for fixed-flow e-books, so it’s important to ensure you also upload an ePub version as well.
There are various areas (via menu tags) to fill in details about your book such as Author, Title, Sub-Title, Description, ISBN, Biblio Notes etc. You can set the price for your book as low as $0.00 and specify the currency you want to be paid in. Google Play Books, by default, will automatically convert this price to other currencies wherever you book is available for purchase. You can set different prices for various countries and you can also set up a promotional start and end date. The country default is set at ‘world.’
Google Support also provides a detailed guide to the whole process here.
One of the biggest frustrations I encountered was a time lag with updates to your book’s details, particularly when loading PDFs. Books also have to be first reviewed by Google before they can be made available in the Play Store. In this regard it doesn’t work nearly as smoothly as other publishing and distribution platforms. I found myself countless times (from step to step) having to return to the main dashboard screen and wait for the time counter to indicate my updates and changes were made. This really was a turnoff and makes what should be a reasonably straightforward process seem slow and awkward.
Google also doesn’t provide a preview of your uploaded book during the process so you have to ensure your book looks right on an Android device and then make any necessary changes.
Google will allow the upload and sale of books without an ISBN but you must tick a box during the set-up of the book so Google can assign its own unique identifier (a GGKEY). Books generally go live into the Play Store with 24 hours. You can update the content of your book by uploading a new cover or internal file. You can also remove it completely from the Play Store if you wish.
Readers can preview books before buying them and unfortunately Google has set a minimum percentage of 20% of the whole book, compared to 15% on Amazon Kindle. This could put some authors off using Google Play Books.
Sales Reports, Pricing & Revenue
As I indicated above, you need to supply a bank account to receive payments from Google for revenue earned from book sales. Under Analytics & Reports, authors can run a report on sales and extract the data based on book, date and country parameters. Reports can be run as a basic summary or a more detailed transaction (per sale) report.
I couldn’t find any detail on what percentage revenue Google pays authors when I searched through their support help pages. In the end I emailed them for the information. Google pays revenue of 52% of the author’s listed price. However, it discounts many listed books and that discount can vary between 16-24% off the listed price for the reader. So the 52% may seem a lot less than Amazon’s 70% but in reality it is actually a lot closer to it for many book sales. This can make it tricky to set your actual selling price to the reader. In other words, to sell a book to a reader at $2.99, you would need to set your dashboard list price at about $3.90. Your author revenue is 52% of the $3.90! Exactly; it’s another unnecessary and frustrating aspect of using Google Play Books.
Revenue is paid to authors on a monthly basis direct to verified bank accounts (yes, not just USA authors, UK and Euro authors).
Not all self-publishing e-book platforms include Google Play in their various distribution channels. Draft2Digital and Smashwords are two examples; so I can see how some authors might want to upload their books directly to Google. Because Google scans the whole of a book when uploaded, it can really harness the power of its search engine to help readers discover those books. That said, an interface which appears relatively easy to use sometimes reveals a frustrating and time-consuming process.
I suspect a lot of readers who buy books using Google do so with a tablet or smartphone and it really comes down to whether an author wants to take the time to upload books directly to Google Play using their Partner Center facility and have the few additional benefits that come with it.
Google Play Books is a long way from the ease of Amazon KDP, and I actually expected better. Like a lot of Google developments (Buzz, Google Reader…), I sometimes wonder how committed the company is in fine-tuning applications like this in the long term. For me, the benefits just didn’t offset the frustrations.
- Great for discoverability of books on Google search engine
- Free to use
- Book pre-order option
- Price promotion campaign option
- Easy-to-use interface
- ePub & PDF file upload
- Monthly revenue payments
- No book preview feature on dashboard
- Time lag on book updates process
- Bank account required
- Revenue details not easily available
- Convoluted pricing structure
- Revenue slightly lower than other platforms
- Adobe only (no mobi/Amazon)
- Strictly a file load and sales platform (no creation tools)
RATING: 6.8/10 (PROVISIONAL)