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

by | May 21, 2014


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

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

144 Comments

  1. Ellen Baker

    Hey Jason

    Great job done on this piece of content! Very informative, thanks for the nudge.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Peterson

    When I tried to sign up they were closed but accepting applications that might be reviewed. They put my book in the store 2 months later.

    Since then (about a year ago) I have had exactly 1 sale. I allow 10% content online for free, and I have ha a total of about 200 free pages read (the book is 120).

    I have never expected my book to fly off the shelves, as it is niche non-fiction and if you don’t need it you don’t want to read it. However, I do have some data points for comparison.
    Year to date:
    Kindle: 8 ebook sold
    Kindle free pages read: ~250
    Amazon paperback sold: 30 units (4 countries)

    Again, to be clear, 18+ months with google: 1

    I have no idea of my experience is unique or not but just putting it out there.

    Reply
  3. Frank Parker

    Following the link provided in the article reveal they are still closed for new business.

    Reply
    • Melody

      July 2017, still says the same thing.
      I wonder (reading all these comments that date back to 2015) if it is closed permanently?

      Reply
  4. Frank Parker

    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. If this is so, how is Google Play able to offer so many (5 million?) books? There must be a distribution deal with one of the common platforms, surely.

    Reply
  5. Carolyn Donnell

    Can one use the epub from Smashwords to upload to GP?

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Carolyn, you could though it would read “Smashwords Edition” on the copyright page. I don’t think Smashwords or Google Play would really care, though they’d probably prefer you to upload your own ePub. There’s free software for making ePubs from MS Word docx and many other input formats at https://calibre-ebook.com/, which is a really useful tool for any self-publishing author.

      Reply
      • Carolyn Donnell

        I got reply from SM and they said not to use their copy. But it sounds like there are some good ways to do it yourself from the advice here. thanks.

        Reply
  6. Leia

    I have had problems for years with Google Play. I uploaded my book back in 2013 and ever since then haven’t been able to withdraw funds. On speaking to the customer service advisors, I need to fill out the US tax form for the IRS as a business, yet I’m English and from the UK, don’t have a business and as far as I’ve read on Google’s help centre, don’t need to fill out this IRS tax form. Yet it still pops up.

    I’ve had to pull off my books and leave my profits with Google Play. I have no idea what else to do as Google aren’t willing to help. Do you know any way around this? It’s got me to the point of tears so many times.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Leia, I’m sorry to hear that. Google is notorious for having the worst customer service because they don’t seem to care. Their business model is not about making people happy, and I’ve encountered my share of tears with them as well. All I can recommend is to continue trying to work with someone there, preferably the same person if possible to try to come to a solution.

      Reply
  7. hardcover book printing

    Sorry to hear about the nose-dive but congrats on the Google sales!I never had a single bit of trouble uploading after converting to EPUB using Calibre.

    Reply
  8. stephen

    Hi,

    is it better to put on google play on PDF format or Epub format?

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Stephen, it’s best to upload both PDF and ePub to Google Play. If you can only do one, make it the ePub.

      Reply
  9. ebooks2go

    Hey Jason,

    Thanks for the great article and the tips about ebook sales on Google Play store. It will we be most useful for the self publishing authors and publishers to assign their desired price.

    Reply
  10. Ever

    Your fears have been realized!

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

    leads to:
    “We are not accepting new sign-ups at this time. We are sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll be back soon.”

    I have been returning to that site monthly over the last year or so, always the same message.
    It seems the “Google Books Partner Program” is dead.

    Reply
    • Joseph Robert

      Yes! I just went to go publish a book that I had written and I got that exact same message

      Reply
      • Jagrit Gupta

        Is there any other way to publish on Google Play Store?

        Reply
        • AC de Fombelle

          Hello there!

          It’s been a while since you put this comment here but since Google Play books still hasn’t opened back to new publishers, may I suggest our multi-channel publishing platform StreetLib.com? You will be able to reach Google Play Books from there, as well as 50 other partner stores (including Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Tolino, Barnes & Nobles, etc.)

          Reply
      • Frida Vi

        8 months have passed. Are there any chance at all that they will reopen for new authors to sign up? Or do you think it will be permanently closed? Many thanks.

        Reply
  11. CR

    Hi Jason,

    could you please help me clarify the following: when it comes to pricing control, can Google change the prices you set or does the author retain control of the pricing?

    many thanks
    CR

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Hi CR,
      All six books I’ve uploaded directly to Google Play have been reduced from the price I set by 23%. The same thing happened with my books that were translated to foreign languages and uploaded by Babelcube. Every self-published author I know has reported the same result there. My advice is to set your price approximately 25% higher and do some math to get the 23% reduction to equate to what you want to sell it for. I don’t know any other way around it.

      Reply
  12. Tim Campbell

    I have a little group of ebooks up on Google Play; for a little while I had an occasional sale (maybe a little more frequent than I did on Nook). It’s been awhile now, though (for Nook it’s worse!), and really Kindle seems to be the only place I can look to see at least a couple few sales every month. I honestly don’t know who the market is for people buying ebooks on Google Play. Amazon has Kindle readers, B&N has Nook, Apple (also dismal sales) has iPad, etc., for people to read on, but who in the world is reading on their phone?

    Reply
    • Andy Farman

      It all comes down to the effort put into marketing.
      Apple, Nook, Smashwords, et al, expend very little time and energy in advertising and Apple’s cataloguing is pathetic. They are happy for you to come and browse but they will not encourage it.

      Certainly, in my part of the world the books I cannot even buy a book from Apple, which has no global market just fifty little ones sprinkled hither and there.

      Apples offering are all listed alphabetically with no author details or book covers to attract a buyer. If you write books in the military genre, you get zero mention owing to Apples anti-militaristic stance. The ‘Military & Warfare’ section is unpopulated.

      I sell more books on Amazon in a single day than I do on Apple, Nook, et al, in a whole month. Obviously, my books are not in Kindle Select or I could not do that, but the benefits of ‘Select’ are very limited, and limiting, anyway.

      Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Tim, you mentioned “who in the world is reading on their phone?” Lots of people. I occasionally do although though I shop at Amazon. But I know people who read on their phones before bed or on a bus, a plane, subway, etc. It’s easier to hold a phone than a tablet. I believe iPhones are probably the worst for reading since they’re so small. I like my large, android, HTC phone.

      Reply
      • Andy Farman

        I managed it twice a day on a second generation iPhone, Jason. Anything to escape the real world of commuting on the Northern Line in London!

        At the risk of going slightly off-topic re Google Books, this is my article on Linkedin based on my earlier comment. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/hyperbole-does-cut-andy-farman

        I do find it bizarre that during a recession the rivals of Amazon are not making every effort to make money.

        Reply
    • Heather Carman

      A lot of the world doesn’t have Amazon or Apple products.

      I sell a lot in countries with high amounts of English speakers, especially ones without an Amazon for that country.

      Example, South Africa.

      Interestingly, I also sell quite a few in the US, Canada, India, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brazil (which also doesn’t have an Amazon).

      It took a few months to show profit, but it’s there. I put my first book in my 4 book series for free, and get about 30% of the readers of book 1 to purchase book 2, etc.

      Reply
    • Anma Natsu

      Don’t forget, Android (and thus Google Play) is also an OS for tablets and it’s widely used on the more affordable tablets you see being sold at Walmart and BestBuy in the $100-200 range. :-)

      Android has a near 50% market share in both the phone and tablet markets, so the people are there. I think as Andy noted, it’s as much marketing as anything and thus far, Google has done little to even push the idea of getting books from Google Play (heck, even I didn’t realize they had them until last year LOL).

      Reply
  13. Rohit

    Thanks Jason for your assistance. Now I have updated my tax info and payment withhold has been removed.

    Reply
  14. Rohit

    Hello Jason, thanks for your great article and advice to readers. I am from India. I sold 2 books on Google Play last month in US market. Now Google has withhold my payment just because I have not updated my tax info. Do non US publishers need a SSN or EIN number(tax info) in order to get paid. Is it compulsory. Pls clear my doubts.

    Reply
  15. carol

    Great article and tips about how to use Google Books, I actually just found it and being a new author, its like I’ve found a whole new world to immerse myself into.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Thank you, Carol. Best wished for your sales!

      Reply
  16. Anma Natsu

    I have to admit, when I read this article, it made me nervous about releasing my book to Google Play, but I found the process very simple and easy to follow. Took me less than than any of the other sites except maybe KDP.

    I already did have an ePub version since I made it for other platforms, which made that part easier. For the formatting of the bio, thanks to your heads up I made sure to just right click and select Paste as Text (an option in Chrome; don’t know if it’s in other browsers).

    The only thing I found mildly aggravating was that some options didn’t appear until after I put the book up, so it was released early but then I was able to pull it back for pre-order, and the remove the PDF option and DRM that was auto added.

    One really nice things is that it’s the only platform where the changes were like instant!

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      That’s true about the near-instant thing for changes, Anma. Another author in this thread changed her keywords and experienced fairly immediate results in searches, which really surprised me.

      Reply
  17. Heather Carman

    Since the appearance of KU, Kindle Unlimited, my income at Amazon has nose-dived drastically.
    I opted out of KU, uploaded my books to Google Play, and have seen brisk sales around the world. I now make as much (sometimes more) at Google Play as at Amazon.
    I never had a single bit of trouble uploading after converting to EPUB using Calibre.
    I’m very happy with Google Play’s book selling.

    Reply
    • Jason Matthews

      Sorry to hear about the nose-dive but congrats on the Google sales!

      Reply

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