Is Google finally coming out to Play in the ebook market?

One year after Google took on staff from the Oyster ebook subscription service which was shutting down there are signs of life coming to Google Play Books.

Despite its mammoth status in search and internet advertising, Google has struggled to have any sort of presence in the ebook market and its ebook site has generally been pretty awful.

Last year, Google shut the GPB site to new books for a couple of months in a bid to improve its content management and admin capability.

Now, however, Google Play Books has gone live with a ‘new look’ that includes a Discovery feature which features books Recommended for You. The new layout bears all the hallmarks of the expertise acquired in the Oyster deal as it looks remarkably similar to Oyster’s set-up.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction and although the Recommended for You selection didn’t exactly cater to my tastes, there were a few books there that caught my interest. That’s not bad considering I’ve never actually bought an ebook on the site.

Google Play Books offers a very lengthy sample of some books online. Most Kindle ebooks stick very much to 10% or less of a book when viewing a sample but I found Google Play offers, for example, 85 pages of a 412-page novel, which is about 20%, and 45 pages of a 165-page graphic novel, which is over a quarter of the book.

It’s not the same for all ebboks though as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins offers a sample of 44 pages out of a total of 415, which is much closer to 10%.

For indie writers and publishers, there are only a couple of aggregators that distribute through Google Play Books — ebookpartnership and Vearsa.

For distribution, ebookpartnership has a flat fee of $50 a year for up to 9 books and does not charge any commission.

Vearsa has some of the bigger publishers signed up for its distribution and excellent analytics packages.

It is perfectly possible for indies to publish direct with Google Play Books through the Partner Book Centre and it is much easier than it used to be. It’s really a question of whether you think the time and effort will be repaid as GPB still has a very low share of the ebook market.

Nevertheless, the fact that a company with the resources of Google is making some investment into ebooks is encouraging.

There have been previous sporadic investments made towards improving Google Play Books, notably with the introduction of a specially designed typeface, Literata, in July last year aimed at (and largely succeeding) providing ‘an outstanding reading experience’, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on further developments to see if the site can make any headway

Oyster shutting in subscription shake-out and staff go to Play for Google