Indie Author’s Take on Google Play: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This article by Jason Matthews first featured at The Book Designer.

The official name for interested authors is the Google Books Partner Program. It launched in Dec. 2010 as Google Editions, then became Google Ebooks, then got engulfed in the massive Android supermarket known as Google Play. How would I describe the experience of uploading and selling ebooks there? It reminds me of a movie title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

They actually sell ebooks. Over the past two years I’ve sold more with Google than at Barnes & Noble or Kobo. That was a pleasant surprise since Google doesn’t depend on book sales to stay afloat or make a dedicated device for reading as the others do. My prediction is for sales to continue to grow though I’m no Vegas-insider.

Purchases can be made in forty-four countries with ongoing expansion. That’s quite an audience. In thirty-six of those countries, authors (called partners) can upload ebooks. In twenty of the thirty-six, Google will pay partners with direct bank deposits (EFT) as is the case for North America and most of Europe. Otherwise payments are with wire transfers.

Search-ability is Google’s forte. They scan your entire document and factor that into the world’s largest search engine. I’ve tested this by copying random sentences from deep within my books and pasting them into a Google search. For example, try this sentence in a search: Mara reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Rose.

Google text search

Lo and behold, the Google book result appears at the very top of the list, and not one other retailer shows up further down. It also works with character names and subject matter, though for popular search terms you may have to scroll down a few pages. This is especially helpful for authors with rarer subjects or names within their books. Remember that Google searches can be tailored just for book results (though the example above is a general Web search).

EPUB files on Google Play support enhanced ebook features (EEBs) such as embedded audio and video. They also support fixed layouts and give advice on how to implement the HTML code for that.

Perhaps the best reason to publish there: less competition exists from other indie authors at Google Play than at Amazon and other retailers. Smashwords, a distributor that sends ebooks to major retailers and library channels, doesn’t ship to Google Play. Neither does Draft2Digital. The only way I’m aware of is to upload directly. This eliminates a lot of indie authors assumedly for the bad and ugly reasons listed below.

The Bad

Uploading there is challenging. It’s as if the book store engineers decided to reinvent the wheel without taking a peek at how Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords and other retailers handle the art of receiving cover images and interior files.

You’ll need to upload interior documents as EPUB and/or PDF files. Google recommends that you send both types since they offer two display modes: original pages and reflowable text. Providing the PDF will ensure that readers can view the book in its original layout, while the EPUB will allow a more customizable experience. Many authors are unfamiliar with EPUB, working in MS Word and uploading that or saving it as HTML Web Page Filtered. There are free and paid solutions for making EPUB conversions including Calibre, Sigil, 2epub and others. You can even download and save an EPUB file if you’ve uploaded MS Word directly at Kobo or Barnes & Noble, which they convert to EPUB for their devices.

Unfortunately there is no preview mode, which irks me. Amazon has an amazing previewer, and the others have made dramatic improvements in this arena. The only way to preview your book at Google Play is to wait until it has processed and then view the sample.

Price gouging at Google Play is about 23%, which means they’ll reduce whatever price you set it at. Remember to bump up your price by at least 23% or be subject to Amazon price matching to match their lower price.

There is little customer support although it has gotten better. An email to support leads to this automatic reply: Thanks for contacting us. We’ll follow up with you only if we need more information or have additional information to share. (Feels like they’re copping attitude.) In the past I’ve waited a week or more for a response. Recently I tested the service with an email and got a reply within a few hours when I included a screen-share of the problem, which is recommended. Tip: include screen-shares in correspondence to entertain bored Google Books employees.

The Ugly

Royalties are 52%. When comparing that to the industry standard, like 70% at Amazon, it’s a bummer. Of course you could always bump the price just a bit higher to split the difference. Not a great royalty, but still worth doing if more sales platforms are better.

It feels like a wild-goose chase searching for info to accomplish things. I’ve reread tutorial articles many times only to find myself back at the starting point, wishing Google allowed comments following the article that likely would help me solve issues. Instead they just offer a rating system if the article was helpful or not. To understand my frustration, play around at their Help Center for awhile:

Worse than that, it’s a serious chore to get the book’s description and author bio to have proper formatting, even using the simplest formatting. The description may look awful once posted as this one did:

formatting issues Google Play books

It appears the best way to make formatting behave it is to retype it on the editing page, which is annoying if you have multiple books and all that stuff is already written. For the 99% of us who want to copy and paste the info from elsewhere, it’s necessary to hit the remove formatting button in the description box and then manually re-enter the formatting such as for paragraph returns and bold type. The remove formatting button is highlighted in the yellow circle below:

Remove formatting button

I had to play around with multiple formatting changes for the description and author bio boxes, then wait about six hours to see how those changes appeared, then repeat until everything was acceptable. It took five days and over a dozen attempts, which is either embarrassing for me or a sign that Google needs to fix this.

Another ugly aspect, and this may be improbable, is the off-chance Google might dump the whole book program. There’s a trust issue with Google that doesn’t exist at other behemoths like Amazon. Google has scrapped plenty of programs as they did with Reader, Wave, Videos, Buzz and more. These dead programs are referred to as the Google Graveyard, and their numbers rise as Google experiments with software and the convenience of really deep pockets. My concern for selling ebooks is that they don’t make a dedicated e-reading device. In the past they had a partnership with the iRiver Story, but that device didn’t integrate into the formation of Google Play, and the iRiver has since been discontinued. Who buys Google books? My guess is people who read on cell phones and various tablets. Does Google really want to compete with Amazon, Apple and others for the long term? We’ll see. The fact that they are selling ebooks and making money on each sale suggests they won’t dump the program. But if they did, it wouldn’t be a shock.

The Verdict

What kind of author should upload to Google Play? Those willing to go the extra mile, knowing it’s a bit more technical, less intuitive, far more annoying, and the risk/rewards are still embedded in a gray area. Selling ebooks there may turn out to be a prosperous alternative or a total waste of time. (Sadly, I just described myself.) If you’re interested in getting started, visit this link:

And if you have any advice or comments, as always please share them in the comments.

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Google Ebookstore, Bugs a plenty

Google Ebookstore logoIt’s been 6 weeks since I uploaded most of my books to the Google Ebookstore. While it’s nice to have another venue to sell ebooks from, so far this has been the least user-friendly and most bug-filled retailer. Though I still have confidence that the king of search (and just about everything online) will get its act together, here is a list of issues encountered so far:

  • My books don’t come up with an exact title or author search. This is a serious concern. For instance, go to and type into the search box How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free (copy and paste makes that easy) or Jason Matthews. If the experience is the same as mine, you won’t find my books listed. Yep, that’s bad. I know the book truly exists there because one reader fortunately purchased a copy and the link is here –
  • One of my titles has been “processing” for 6 weeks. I’ve given up on it going through and would have deleted it and tried again, but instead would rather watch this spectacle and see how long it continues. The other books “processed” between two days and two weeks. Really? Why so long?
  • Support is virtually non-existent. I’ve sent a few emails explaining the situation without complaining and have only received one quasi-reasonable reply a week later. The others were either not answered or replied in a way that demonstrated they didn’t understand the above two points. Long story short, they don’t appear to care at support.
  • The entire way they handle uploading is about twice as difficult as anywhere else. Why did they make it tricky, especially when others have set examples of how to do it easy? No need to reinvent the wheel, Stanford grads. Go upload your Dilbert collections to Amazon or Smashwords and see how streamlined the experience can be.

So far the Google Ebookstore receives a grade of “D plus,” but I still have hopes they can turn it around. One small thing I really do like is the 2 bucks in ad revenue I’ve made (woo-hoo) even though my books can’t be found. Just imagine the possibilities once the bugs are crushed.

More results in time. Subscribe to this blog for updates on whatever I learn for those who want to sell ebooks.

Update Jan. 20th – some (not all) of my books are showing up with a search now, even though they didn’t for weeks. Okay, that’s a little better.

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Another Google Ebooks Update, Will I Really Sell Ebooks there?

If you sell ebooks, then it makes sense to offer them everywhere including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple, Smashwords, your own website, and most recently open for business, Google Ebooks. Since the last one on that list is the 800 pound newbie, I’m feeling out their service and admit the jury is still deliberating.

What’s odd is that I uploaded 4 books back on Dec 8th. It is now Dec. 27th, and I’m pleased to announce the 3rd of my books just became Live (available for sale) while the final book is still Processing strangely enough. Only one book went live in less than a week. Even more alarming, none of my books appear with a direct title search or a search of my name as an author. That’s pretty concerning not to find your books with exact searches. I doubt there’s a special function for that, since Amazon and others automatically take care of this. An email has been sent to Support for the answer.

While I typically sell several copies everyday from my own sites, from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Apple, I have yet to sell even one copy from Google which begs the question if it needs some time to grow in popularity or if the platform just isn’t that great. Of course the fact that I’m not showing up in searches probably doesn’t help. Google does report that 1,619 pages have been viewed since Dec. 10th, but unfortunately I’ve only banked 23 cents in Ad Earnings. Woo-hoo.

One thought is this; because they don’t have an e-reader that goes with their ebooks, it makes me think, “Wouldn’t a Kindle owner rather buy from Amazon, while an iPad owner would rather buy from Apple, while a Nook owner would rather buy from B&N?” Seems logical anyway.

Ultimately it’s my opinion that Google is king for so many things and I love the many free services it offers that assist my internet experience, so my product will be on its shelf whether sales happen or not. Will I actually move any product with them? Not sure yet.

More results in time.

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Google Books, Google Ebooks Update

I’m excited to sell ebooks through Google’s platform but still scratching my head. 5 days ago I uploaded 4 of my ebooks (in pdf and epub formats) through their partner program. As of today only one is actually live and the rest are still “processing.” Weird, right? With Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc the processing takes just a minute or two.

I emailed support and was told:

It takes around two weeks for us to process and display an uploaded book on Google Books. Note that getting books live requires a number of steps, such as performing optical character recognition (OCR) on pages, as well as analyzing the quality of scans or PDFs.

Two weeks? Sheesh. Talk about anticipation. For the one book of mine that is live, the results remind me of how Scribd displays things, where a viewer can scroll a select percentage and decide whether to purchase. Click on the above links to see the similarities.

There are a couple of nice touches that I haven’t seen before. Google reports if the book has been previewed and how many pages were read. I don’t know if that means actually read or just scrolled all the way to the end at light-speed, but it is a nice stat. Additionally, Google provides the links to buy the book from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, my own websites and more, which is very unique. Makes me think Google cares more about sharing content and less about beating the competition. Impressive.

More results in time.

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Google Editions, Excuse Me, Google Ebooks is Finally Here!

Google Ebooks, Google Ebookstore

and don’t call it Google Editions, it’s Google Ebookstore

Article first published as Google Editions, Excuse Me, Google Ebooks is Finally Here! on Technorati.

We expected it as announced for the summer of 2010. We also expected it to be called Google Editions. Neither of those turned out to be accurate prophesies for the highly anticipated ribbon-cutting ceremony when the world’s largest search engine would open its ebook store for business, but I guess nothing like keeping your word really matters when you’re sitting on a gazillion dollars and have a strangle-hold on the most cherished aspect of the internet.

So, fast forward from summer to the near winter of 2010 and Google Ebooks is actually here and functioning (sort of, see below). It’s good to see they abandoned the original concept of Google Editions, a term that likely would have left a few scratching heads, and went with the impossible-to-misinterpret-but rather-boring-storefront-name of Google Ebooks. Maybe they’ve finally been taking my advice on SEO tips.

A few interesting things to note:

  • Google doesn’t have a dedicated reader, like Amazon’s Kindle for example.
  • Google makes ebook files readable on any electronic reading device, except Amazon’s Kindle.
  • Google is openly against DRM (digital rights management, an encryption code) for the intention of allowing one download to be read on several devices throughout the day. DRM was made famous and still used by, you guessed it, Amazon’s Kindle.

See a theme here? Fortunately for Amazon, it has a loyal customer base, a fine-working and inexpensive product plus a plethora of other ways to make money just in case the combination punch of Apple’s iPad and Google Ebooks eats up too much market share.

One thing that bugs me an as independent author is that Google Ebooks is not anywhere near as user-friendly a place to publish as is Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes&Noble. At those other retailers I can simply fill out the info for my ebook, upload a jpeg cover file, upload a pdf or MS Word doc, review my uploads and presto, it’s done and ready for sales.

Last night I attempted to upload some of my ebooks with Google. I tried and failed with two different methods and currently am waiting on technical support along with several other (from the help forums) independent authors. Surprisingly, Google walked me through a long-winded tutorial on how to rename your cover and content files instead of just loading them up like filling out a form. After I did so, their program had trouble recognizing my user name and password which I painstakingly made sure to type correctly about ten times. Then during an alternative approach the program would not recognize the very file names it asked me to create. And I’m a pro at this! What about all the newbies who’ve never done this before? Those User-Interface guys are mostly Stanford grads, right? You’d think they’d be smart enough to streamline a platform when they have perfectly working examples to go by.

So for now I’m happy that yet another free vendor exists to sell my ebooks, but I’ll look forward to the improvements to their system coming in the winter… maybe spring… hopefully by summer of 2011.

Update – Dec 8th 2010 – To fix the problem with the names of the files, I had to slightly adjust my labels. Google makes it a bit ambiguous saying “call your cover file (the ISBN number) followed by _frontcover.XYZ.” So I created (example numbers) 0123456789_frontcover.XYZ. Well, the XYZ is the  jpg for example for a JPEG file so the cover file automatically calls itself 0123456789_frontcover.XYZ.jpg when all you really have to do is label it 0123456789_frontcover. The other confusion was a similar thing; Google asks you to name your pdf file (the ISBN) 0123456789_content.pdf. Again, when you send the pdf it automatically gets the suffix added to the file, so I was sending 0123456789_content.pdf.pdf. Finally it was confusing because Google is giving examples of 10 digits while ISBNs these days have 13.

Long story short, I’m processing now and soon will sell ebooks on Google, Baby!

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