Selling Ebooks on Google Play: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Joel Friedlander on May 21, 2014 · 65 comments

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By Jason Matthews

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 searchx530(Click image to enlarge.)

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 presumably 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.

Instead, Google Play requires you to do things that feel odd, like using ISBN-related titles for your files. For example, one of my Google books has a cover image and interior file that are called 9781452402383_frontcover and 9781452402383_content respectively. If I had tried to upload them with the file names I’d used for every other retailer, it wouldn’t have worked.

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.

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

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: https://support.google.com/books/.

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 booksx530(Click image to enlarge.)

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 (3)x530(Click image to enlarge.)

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: https://play.google.com/books/publish/signup.

Have you sold your books on Google Play? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments.

Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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    { 56 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kim Hughes September 25, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Hi,
    Anybody know how many sales of ebooks would get you into the top 10 on Google play? Just how many sales does it take to make it in the top seller lists?
    Thanks!
    Kim

    Reply

    Manik Joshi September 23, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I have published 50 books at Google through ‘Google partner program’. I am perfectly comfortable with the ebook publishing platform of Google.

    You can visit the following link.
    https://play.google.com/store/books/author?id=Manik+Joshi

    Reply

    The Halloween Pickle September 17, 2014 at 7:12 am

    I just published on Google Play. I found most of your comments were dead on. The process is not user friendly. I agree with the biggest problem being editing blindly, because you can not see a preview of your edits. Not sure I will stick with it. This was a request from a faithful facebooker. Selling well on Kindle though. Happy Halloween from the Pickle.

    Reply

    Eric Dailey July 8, 2014 at 12:39 am

    Good article, very helpful. The only problem I had with setup was the description formatting which I found in your article and fixed, Thanks! The main problem I’m having is not being able to find any information on how to get my book to be more visible. It has been “live” for a week and has never been on the “new releases” part nor does it show up in any of the categories even though I set the category info. The only way I know how to get to it is point people to the url or search my name or title which leads me to believe that it will be hidden away from other readers eyes. The name of my book is Essence, by Eric Dailey, it’s a sci-fi action/adventure. If anyone can find it without searching title or author name I will be highly impressed. If anyone knows a way to get your book in the “new releases” or any other category I would be very appreciative of this information.

    Reply

    Eric Dailey July 8, 2014 at 1:50 am

    I just read through every comment on here and noticed your comment with Jessi Cage, very interesting. I didn’t quite understand where you were talking about placing these keywords? It might be due to lack of sleep and the fact that it’s 4am.. I will try to figure this out, hopefully within the next day or 2.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews July 8, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Hey Eric. Thank you for the note. Yes, getting your book more visible on Google Play can be tricky. They don’t do the same kind of up-selling as Amazon like “Customers who bought this book also bought…” which helps a lot.
    I looked at your book description. I think that’s smart to have the subjects included at the bottom as you have. I’d also recommend putting that same line in the text of the book itself in the front matter, perhaps under the copyright info where readers won’t notice it but Google spiders will. That’s what I recommended for Jessi Cage.
    Google also allows many categories (Subjects) to be attached to the book in the set-up. You may have already done this, but in the General Details section of your dashboard there’s a Subject tab that let’s you input all that info again, which would help too.

    Reply

    Andy Farman June 25, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Welcome to the Hotel Google Play!

    I am selling well on Kindle but a couple of my paperback readers who have Google Books, but not Kindle, asked me to publish there too.

    I found the signup up process ill thought out, uninformative and incredibly frustrating. Emails to customer support resulted in referrals to a ‘How To’ video so I bailed, or at least I tried to. There does not seem to be any process in place to enable you to actually leave, and consequently I am receiving daily emails instructing me to complete my signup. (I just patch and paste the same reply, which they ignore.)

    I have been trawling around the web to see if it is just me getting old that is the problem.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 26, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Hey Andy. I agree that it’s not very intuitive compared to most retailers. You may need to try to delete your entry. This link might help: https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/4431248?hl=en
    Good luck.

    Reply

    David Kudler June 2, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Jason, thanks so much for the run-down. I have to say, it’s nice to hear that someone has actually managed to gotten books to go live on Google Play — and that they’ve actually sold. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to set up records, upload files, etc., and have yet to get one to clear Google’s arcane labyrinth; I’ll be honest with you, I gave up. Maybe it’s time to try again!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 2, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    You weren’t the first to give up there, David, not the last either. I remember my own struggles there, far more than with any other retailer.

    Reply

    David Kudler June 3, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks, Jason; nice to know I’m not alone. ;-)

    Funny enough, after reading your write-up, I gave Google Play one last shot — and was actually finally able to get some books live. I hadn’t been able to do that since the days when it was all spreadsheets. So thanks for inspiring that too!

    Reply

    Patty Jansen May 22, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Also, I forgot to say in my reply above that the wonky display of the description is a browser issue. From memory, it’s IE that causes the problem.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 23, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Thank you, Patty. I don’t use IE. I had the wonky display in Firefox and Chrome, but fixed it by using the remove formatting button. I know you don’t need a PDF; the article says “and/or.” Google recommends uploading both an EPUB and PDF but either will work. I did not know they’ve changed their naming system to convert names for us–that’s good news since I’ve been selling there.

    Reply

    Patty Jansen May 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    You say: If I had tried to upload them with the file names I’d used for every other retailer, it wouldn’t have worked.

    This is untrue. I upload the same files I upload everywhere. They go through fine, although Google Play renames them.

    You don’t need an ISBN.

    You don’t need a PDF.

    Find everything you need to know about Google Play as author in this forum thread: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,167655.0.html

    Reply

    Louis Shalako May 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I hated the old Google Books and after a while I took down the four titles I had up. The new interface is much easier to use. Compared to Kobo’s black hole, a kind of informationless system, it seems a little better.

    I was surprised to sell a couple of books on Google, and loading up 78 titles wasn’t all that hard. It’s a must to check the titles to make sure they are presented correctly. Mine seemed okay so that was good.

    Reply

    Carla May 22, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Actually with the new user interface launched in September 2013 you don’t have to give particular strange names to your files, because you upload them within each book setting-up tab.
    Instead, the formatting of the description and author bio is still a big issue. The only way to fix it is asking the support to do it for you. You just have to send them the text in a Word file. The support is very efficient and fast.
    This formatting issue did not exist in September, but was there in December and it’s still there.
    I agree more or less with the rest of the article, but I don’t see an issue in the absence of a preview before publishing. They use the files you give them, without conversion, so if they are okay, there won’t be any problem.
    Amazon, instead, converts all files, even if you are providing them a mobi, so the preview is essential.

    In general, I must say Google Books was awful with the previous UI, but it’s now working great for me.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 22, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Thank you, Carla. I must have missed the update in December.

    Reply

    Robert Nagle May 22, 2014 at 4:18 am

    I investigated Google Play for ebooks a few years ago. I never got to the formatting aspects because I remember that the royalty percentages were among the lowest in the industry.

    Even today, 10 minutes of googling produces absolutely no results about royalty breakdowns. (Don’t believe me? Try https://support.google.com/books/partner/search?q=royalties ).

    The only data I was able to find was:
    http://deirdre.net/writing/ebooks/ebook-notes/

    Also, this rant about the opaqueness of Google Play’s royalties and revenues is insightful. Warning: It’s on a site for SMUT Authors… The post itself is safe but the artwork is a little racy: http://smutwriters.com/2014/01/06/what-readers-and-writers-should-know-about-google-play/

    Until there is more information about royalty rates, I don’t think Google Play is a good choice for authors.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Robert, it is astounding that information is so hard to find. Unfortunately it’s just 52% royalty rate from my experiences, and I had to analyze statements from past payments to get that info. Wow, another paragraph for the Ugly section. I think an email to customer support is warranted. Will let you know if they reply.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 23, 2014 at 7:38 am

    I asked about the royalty rate and this was their reply:

    We believe that the updated standard terms offering 52% of the list price to publishers and authors continue to be a fair deal for content partners while allowing Google to offer a competitive purchasing price to consumers in light of deep discounts across the industry.
    However, I have forwarded your feedback to the broader team for consideration.

    (Sounds like my complaint was placed in the round file under the desk that gets emptied once a week.)

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 23, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Hi Robert,

    While 52% sounds fairly dire, as per my article Google actually five you 52% of your list price, not of the sale price – Google automatically discounts everything that you sell.

    Here’s an example:

    To sell a book for $2.99, your list price must be $3.93.

    You will make 52% of $3.93, not of $2.99 = $2.04.

    $2.04 is 68.22% of $2.99. So your royalty for a $2.99 book on Google Play is only 1.78% lower than on Amazon.com, which is significantly better than other sales channels.

    Thanks to Google’s absurd discounting policy this does not scale as one might think. To show what I mean I’ll go with another example:

    To sell a book for $6.99, your list price must be $8.32.

    You will make 52% of $8.32 = $4.33.

    $4.33 is 61.95% of $6.99. Now we’re more in B&N, Nook and iTunes territory but it’s still not bad at all, and this is me deliberately choosing Google’s least discounted rate (16% discount as opposed to the 24% rate at $3.93).

    I hope that helps :)

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 23, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Good grief. Attack of the sleep deprivation, I think! Sorry, Jason!

    Google actually PAY you. Not five you. Whatever fiving is!

    Jason Matthews May 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Excellent points, Scarlet. The 52% of asking price does keep it more in line (closer anyway) with most other retailers. It is a bummer that Google reduces prices by 23%, creating a need to bump up the price accordingly or risk Amazon price matches that drop to where Google lists a book.
    Sleep deprivation happens :)

    Louise Findlay May 22, 2014 at 2:41 am

    I have tried to publish with Google but it is so hard that I gave up and I even tried again. I’ll have to read Scarlet’s article and see if it helps.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 22, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Scarlet’s tutorial is terrific. Hopefully that will help.

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 23, 2014 at 11:11 am

    If you get stuck on it at all, Louise, let me know and I’ll do what I can to help!

    Reply

    Rosanne Dingli May 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    This is one more to explore. In my diary it goes. Do good intentions count? I am so snowed under.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Rosanne, if you’re feeling even the slightest bit snowed under, I would put this project of the back shelf for a while.

    Reply

    Mercia McMahon May 21, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Uploading a cover without the ISBN will not fail – they convert it to the ISBN that you have assigned to the book. I discovered late in the day that I was supposed to upload with the ISBN rename and when I went to fix it they had already done so.

    Reply

    Jessi Gage May 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Oh, and I just sent a customer service help email and got exactly the message you said I would… in short: We’ll contact you if we think you’re important enough to spend a few minutes on.

    Fabulous.

    Reply

    Jessi Gage May 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Oh my goodness, I am pulling my hair out with Google Play. Seriously. You could not be more right about some of the quirks of publishing there. In fact, in my blog series of self-publishing posts, I’m going to link to your article here for help with Google Play issues.

    Question: Do you have any advice for using key words to improve visibility of your book?

    My time-travel romances have pitiful sales at Google Play, but they’re best sellers at Amazon and Nook. On those sites, I make a consistent $1,000 per month per book! On Google Play, I make $10 per month if I’m lucky.

    Today was the first time I checked to see if I could find my own books in a search, and I was horrified to see that my books don’t appear on pretty standard searches like “Time Travel Romance”, “Scottish Romance” and “Highlander Romance” even though I’ve marked all of these as categories for my books.

    Any advice?

    Thanks for this informative post!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Jessi. I see you’ve also experienced some of the Bad and the Ugly there. One question I have is if you’ve made sure to select your Subjects with your content? They have a few Time Travel categories, which they call Subjects, including one for Romance. They also have a Northern Scotland, Highlands & Islands category. Another idea is to include those words in the front matter of your text (and maybe doubled up in the back matter). Since they scan the entire document and factor that into their equation, you can write something in the copyright page area that won’t interfere with readers like: Subjects include Time Travel Romance, Scottish Romance, Highlander Romance, etc. I do that within the text of my ebooks and also the Google Play description page in addition to finding the Subjects/categories when possible.

    Reply

    Jessi Gage May 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Wow. Your advice totally worked. Um, thanks. Seriously. I added the keywords to the book descriptions like you suggested and now my books come up in searches! It took a few hours to process, but that’s all. I will report back and let you know if this affects my sales…hopefully it will!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Seriously? That’s a lot faster processing time than I would have guessed. Good to know.

    Reply

    Jessi Gage May 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    I know. Color me amazed.

    Scarlet Cox May 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Google Play have another major problem: They will arbitrarily discount your book, thus risking your price points on any other retailers who price match.

    Still, publishing to them is only mildly arcane, and I wrote an article a little while ago detailing the full ins and outs of the process should anyone still be interested in doing it for themselves.

    Reply

    Karen Myers May 21, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Lots of people have brought up the arbitrary discounting policy of Google Play in reference to jealous Amazon, but I have never once heard of anyone actually having an Amazon issue because of it. May be more of a threat than a real problem.

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    I agree, Karen. Still, it just takes one user to report that they have found your book cheaper elsewhere and suddenly you could find yourself knocked down to 35% royalties if Google have decided to drop you below $2.99.

    I had a long email back-and-forth with Google after escalating an enquiry, and they flat-out refused (politely, mind) to outline their discount policy or offer any assurance that they would not exercise their contractual right to discount authors’ works as and when they saw fit to have a sale.

    All in all I think the odds of such a sale occurring and impacting indie authors are small, but not so small as to be of no concern.

    Reply

    Catherine M. Wilson May 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I have had one distributor discount my books (pdf versions I forgot I had up on Lightning Source) and Amazon found it within 48 hours. I lost close to $1000 on my Amazon sales before I got the distributor to take down the pdf. (I removed it from LSI too!)

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Ouch! Thank goodness you got that fixed quickly!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Excellent blog post, Scarlet. I didn’t know they had an Erotica-no-sample policy but will hang onto that nugget if my next book gets a little risque.

    Reply

    Scarlet Cox May 21, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Jason,

    So long as your book isn’t erotica (e.g. erotic romance is totally fine) then they don’t mind you having a sample. It’s only if it’s purely adult material or if the sample would contain erotic content that they take issue :)

    Reply

    Catherine M. Wilson May 21, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I’ve already seen one of my books pirated on Google Docs, so I’d be cautious about Google. I sent a takedown notice last week. Still waiting to hear from them.

    Reply

    Catherine M. Wilson May 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Update: Google just took the pirated content down.

    Reply

    Catherine M. Wilson June 4, 2014 at 10:03 am

    A few days after they took the pirated content down, it was up again, along with a pirated copy of another of my books. So Google doesn’t seem to have a method in place to keep people from reuploading constantly.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Catherine, are you alerting their customer support and including screenshots of the pirated versions? It may be a pain but that should help if you stay diligent. I would think the pirates would move to greener pastures since it takes time and effort to upload books that keep getting removed by Google.

    Reply

    David Kudler June 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Catherine, to echo what Jason said, make sure you’ve contacted their service folks. I haven’t dealt with Google Play on these issues, but I have dealt with YouTube; they’ll take down a pirated title on a DMCA takedown notice, but they also have sophisticated screening capabilities that should allow them to spot someone uploading the same file — you have to ask for it though.

    Reply

    Catherine M. Wilson June 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Google has a fairly straightforward DMCA process. I’ve used it for all three pirated uploads. What disturbed me was that evidently they don’t have any way to prevent folks from uploading the same file again.

    Karen Myers May 21, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Google Play is an absolute nightmare. I finally gave up doing it manually.

    My best solution is via my distributor, EBooksPartnership.com (yes, there is one that distributes to Google Play), and even then, Google Play managed to mismatch 3 (out of 9) covers/content (fixed now).

    Use a distributor. Better them than me.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Good info, Karen. Since I sent this post in I realized BookCountry, a Penguin outfit, also distributes to Google Play. There are probably a few others that I’m not aware of. I should ask Mark Coker of Smashwords what’s the story on that because I assume he has made an effort there.

    Reply

    Steve Bevilacqua May 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Okay, so bottom line – In your opinion, have you sold enough books on Google Play to make the frustration of getting it on there worth it? I’m on the fence as to whether to give Google Play a shot.

    Great article, btw – thanks!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Haha, definitely Steve. And thank you. Once everything’s in place, the hassle is worth it–you know that’s done and the potentials for more global sales, networking, opportunities, etc. are in place. Even if my books don’t sell very well in the future on Google Play, I’ll still like knowing those other potentials are set. Marketing ourselves is a lot like scattering seeds and finding out many months later what grew. Sometimes pleasant surprises happen, especially when we expand our online platform.

    Reply

    Michael W. Perry May 21, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Thanks for the heads up. Trouble with managing uploads and adding metadata it not unique to Google Play. Everyone has their quirks and keeping track of them is a pain, particularly since things change in the months between when I finish one book and when I finish the next.

    The iBookstore is picky about the cover image. It’s iTunes Producer app quirky to say the least. It’s crudely placed on top of the XML data that it sends Apple. It defaults to a 99-cent price, refusing to accept any other. It took me hours to figure out the fix–scroll down and enter the U.S. price. Why can’t it just start by asking a default U.S. pricing? Because XML doesn’t think that way. It’s just regions and pricing and their app is just sitting on top of that data. The 3.0 version may have a better UI, but I can’t tell because it is so buggy it crashes after entering data in two or three fields. Worst of all, Apple has downloads for both 2.9.1 and 3.0 on the same page with no explanation of why users might get one over the other. That problem dates back to February and still isn’t fixed.

    The upside is that Apple staff are very helpful. They know how to explain what iTunes Producer’s obscure error messages mean. And I love how Apple lets me choose what parts of the book are in the sample (Amazon clumsily grabs the first 10%) and encourages me to display sample pages from the book. You can see the marvelous result here:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/lilys-ride/id879515985

    That encourages authors and publishers to create good-looking books. Letting authors control their marketing is where Apple shines. They’re not control freaks like Amazon.

    Smashwords may be fine for those who write in Word for Windows, but it’s a pain for the rest of us, particularly those who want to submit files in their final format. I’ve got top quality PDFs of my books, but it won’t accept them. It insists on generating a PDF from a Word document. I can’t send it an ePub 3.0 that Apple (and presumably others) happily accepts. It will only take ePub 2.0 and often rejects that.

    For instance, InDesign adds a special Apple-only file to its ePubs. Smashwords doesn’t know what to do with that file and rejects the submission with an obscure error message. Only through the kindness of one of its staff did I found out the fix–simply remove one file. Why can’t Smashwords do that itself? I can’t be the only one with that issue.

    And at present, Smashwords error checking is bothered because my latest book has a lot of font size changes (necessary). Apple had no problem when I sent that book directly to it. Why is Smashwords more picky than those it supplies?

    Smashwords chief failing is that it seems to think that publishing means novels written in Word for Windows. For those more tech-saavy, it’s failing in a role that’d be very helpful, serving as a distributor to multiple outlets.

    I’m no great fan of submitting ebooks to Amazon, mostly because their convoluted royalty scheme pays me less per-sale at every price level than anyone else. I also dislike their restrictions of image size, although that seems to be disappearing. Dealing with Amazon is like shopping at Ikea. Their website is one vast warehouse. Once you get where you need to be though, it’s fine. But getting there can be confusing. And my most recent upload to Kindle Direct went so smoothly, I sent an email to Apple’s iBookstore staff telling them, “Why can’t you do ebook uploads like Amazon?” Amazon has got the upload UI right and I rarely find myself confused about what some choice I must make means. If Amazon would only be like Apple and play a flat 70% royalties at all prices and charge no download fee, they’d be the top-rated ebook distributor.
    There there is Google. From what you say, I’m not sure I want to add yet another hassle to my already full plate. If Google wants Google Play to be an industry player, they need to get book feeds from Smashwords. Uploading ebooks is simply too much bother to most authors and small publishers to justify adding yet another minor outlet whose quirks have to be figured out.

    All this makes me long for those long ago days (about four years ago), when publishing meant sending two InDesign-generated PDFs to Lightning Source. Generating the PDFs and uploading them took about an hour. Now I sometimes spend a week or more dealing with all the issues of uploading to two print outlets and three digital ones.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Great points, Michael. I’m impressed. My article took a couple of days to craft, but it looks like yours came together in five minutes. Wish I could do that.

    Reply

    Karl May 21, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Good article! (And no, I’m not a spambot.) There’s remarkably little information online about self-publishing on Google Play, so this piece is a real help. Google seems to be actively working to keep the platform as unfriendly and mysterious as possible, which reinforces Jason’s notion that their commitment to the enterprise is tentative.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews May 21, 2014 at 6:43 am

    I agree, Karl. Kind of weird but Google seems to have this attitude with many programs.

    Reply

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