March 8, 2012

Google re-thinks selling ebooks … again …


We’ve noted many times that Google‘s commitment to selling ebooks has been shaky at best. After launching its ebookstore with great ballyhoo, it then walked away from the program just weeks later … then came back … then walked away again … then said no we did that by accident we meant to not walk away and we’re not changing anything ….

That was just last week. Now, the company has announced, eh, it’s changing the store that it just said it wasn’t. It is, in fact, folding the ebookstore into Google Play, a portal that will also sell movies, music, and Android apps, and maybe audiobooks. As Laura Hazard Owen puts it in a report on PaidContent, “The message is clear: Books are just one type of content that Google sells, and the company wants to offer them as part of an iTunes-like ecosystem rather than as a separate storefront.”

A Wired report says it’s not only about being like iTunes, but being like Apple AND Amazon, and even Microsoft (remember them) in that Google Play is — God, are you sick of this word yet? — cloud-based. (We wrote about the cloud war in a MobyLives report yesterday.)

All of which could mean, oddly enough, and despite the stupid name for the program, that Google is finally, genuinely serious about selling ebooks, if only because the move seems to mark the company’s realization that, well, it has to if it’s going to compete with Apple and — especially — Amazon.

Witness the company’s very first promotional effort — as Owen observes in the PaidContent story,

Google is kicking off the change with a week of content sales: “We’ll be offering a different album, book, video rental and Android app at a special price each day for the next week in our ‘7 Days to Play’ sale.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is on sale for the super-low price of $0.25.

A shifting banner at the top of the page leads to other book promotions that are reminiscent of Amazon’s “100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less” promotion: Google’s own “100 Books for $3.99 or Less,” “Play Detective: Featured Reads in Mystery & Crime” starting at $2.99, and “Play Our Favorites: Staff Picks in Books” starting at $3.99.

Of course, Google also immediately got a taste of what it was in for in this particular war: Owen notes that Amazon immediately “dropped the price of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to $0.25.” (And we all got a taste of what Barnes & Noble might be in for, too — the Nook edition is still $7.03.)

And as to whether this indicates a renewed level of dedication from Google to its altruistic claims of aiming to help indie booksellers — well, try finding any mention of other retailers on the new site’s book page, let alone indies. First, you have to find the help button (small font at the bottom of a long page). Then you have to go to one help screen, click “books,”  then click “finding and buying books,” which takes you to another screen, then select “where to buy books,” which takes you to yet another screen … which after urging you to buy your ebooks from Google Play, finally tells you that, well, yes, there are other places you can buy books, and it gives links to three: Powell’s Books, the American Booksellers Association members, and Alibris — which of course is owned by …

Two steps forward, two steps back.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives