Should You List Your Books on Google Play?

And then there were fewer. . .

Sony is closing the Reader store.  Nook has been such a drain on Barnes & Noble that when an erroneous report made it sound like Nook was going away, B&N’s stock rose 9%.  The number of major outlets selling eBooks is starting to shrink and this consolidation is unlikely to be good for publishers.  Which makes it tougher to simply choose not to sell through any particular market, even if you question the value of the market.  Example in point:  Google Play.

To Google Play or Not to Play . . .

As a small publisher or self-publisher, you have to wonder if listing your books on Google Play makes good economic sense.

About a year ago, I didn’t think it did, and I actually took all of my titles off Google Play US and Canada.  My reasons were simple:  Google pays you a royalty based on retail price, but it’s 52% of retail.  Amazon pays you a royalty based on net, but it’s 70%.  If Google discounts your eBook, Amazon may match that discount.  So, if you have a book that is priced at $4.99, what may happen is that Google may discount it to $3.82 (not quite a 25% discount) and will pay you $2.59 per sale.  Amazon would normally pay $3.49 if the sale is at $4.99, but if it sees the book discounted on Google, it may cut the price to match (it may first email you and ask that you lower the price).  So now you get 70% of $3.82 or $2.67.  That’s a loss per copy to you of 82 cents.  Given that Amazon probably sells 1,000 copies of a title to every ten that Google sells, you could forfeit $811.80 in income from Amazon just because you are on Google Play.  You, the publisher, become collateral damage in the Google Play vs Amazon KDP battle.

So what’s the solution?  Google Play will not agree to not discount (I’ve asked) and argues that it pays on retail anyway.  Of course, it is conveniently ignoring that it is far from being the biggest market.  And since Google Play sells ePub editions and Amazon sells .mobi (Kindle) editions, the reality is that the two aren’t really in competition.  I would argue that Amazon is being somewhat petulant in its demands that no one publishing via KDP sell their books for a lower price than Amazon does given that the two versions are so different.  But Amazon is the bigger market and therefore has the leverage, so publishers—traditional or self—are at its mercy.

So why are my titles back on Google Play?  Mostly because I literally couldn’t see my titles and how they were appearing on Google Play without having them be live on the US site.  (I tried to figure out how to access Google Play for other countries and could not.  Perhaps because I have a US IP address?)  When I did make them live in the US, I found that a number of items needed updating.  Plus, frankly, keeping them off sale in the US and Canada made me feel like I was letting Amazon “win.”

I must digress . . .

All this leads me to another deficiency of the Google Play store:  the interface.  While the interface has gotten a little better, it has not gotten a lot better.  The payment report that lets you know exactly for what sales you got paid is practically hidden.  Sure, there’s a prominently labeled “Payment Center,” but if you aren’t looking for the report, you will likely miss it.

Google Play Payment Center Image

Google Play Payment Center

Seriously?  Who has time to hunt for this information?

Honestly, none of these online booksellers is doing a great job of communicating sales information.  If you have more than one title as a self-publisher or you are a small publisher using these sources for distribution, keeping the accounting straight is a true exercise in frustration.  No one really gives you all the data in a nice compact report.  Amazon gives you the sales reports covering various months, but then may not pay you for months (recent changes in payment thresholds will likely help with that).  And it did just add a payment report that is helpful, though it only offers conversion rates (something it previously never did) out to two decimals, which results in inaccurate calculations (so you still have to manually calculate the true, five-decimal conversion rate).

Even using Dashbook, a dedicated royalty accounting system that can import the sales reports from ebooksellers, it still took me roughly a full week to get the quarterly statements prepared for our Endpapers Press authors.  And that’s just for 24 titles.

But I digress.  The question is, should we bother with Google Play.  It remains a tough call for me.  Google Play has a presence internationally that other ebooksellers do not.  And with the loss of the Sony Reader store, more readers may find their way to Google for ePub editions, though most will likely follow  Sony’s instructions to go to the Kobo store (missed an opportunity there, didn’t you, GP?).  (Ironically, my Sony Reader is too old and will not work with the Kobo store.  I can still use it for reading manuscripts, fortunately, which has always been my primary use for it.)

Oh, Google Play, how embarrassing . . .

Google Play also has issues in the display department.  Descriptive text appears strange, with words breaking randomly. (This is not just on my titles; I’ve checked.) And sometimes entire terms get moved around, e.g., the sentence, “Stingray is the definitive history of these units and missions, available now for the first time in eBook format” appears as “is the definitive history of these units and missions, available now for the first time in eBook format. Stingray“.  I kid you not.  It’s stunning to me that Google cannot seem to get the HTML code to show correctly and that I was advised by their Support team via email to use plain text, despite the fact that the forms now clearly accommodate formatting in bold and italics.  Honestly, I think Google should be mortified.

Is Amazon really the enemy . . .

Google Play, I would argue, seems determined to screw itself and, in the process, publishers.  It already cast independent booksellers adrift (where they floated into Kobo’s arms) and it insists on discounting in a manner that has a negative impact on publishers’ income from Amazon, even though one can see that Amazon is not its biggest threat.  So it alienated traditional booksellers.  It costs traditional publishers money.  It makes it difficult to work with it.  One wonder if anyone there has read How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Plus, is Amazon really the biggest threat to Google?

If you buy a tablet that is not an iPad or Kindle variety, then you’re going to be reading ePub editions on that tablet, unless you decide to use the Kindle app to read books from Amazon.  But then why wouldn’t you buy a Kindle Fire or other Kindle using Android?  I tend to think if you are buying a Samsung tablet or Google tablet, you’re going to be buying your books from the Google Play store.  So why is Google discounting to a nearly captive audience?

The war to win readers doesn’t start with the individual prices of eBooks; it starts with the cost of the tablet on which you will read those eBooks.  And eBooks are such a small part of the tablet experience that I don’t think anyone is sitting around thinking of the cost of eBooks in the calculation (feel free to comment and disagree).

So I would argue that Google needs to reexamine its priorities.  Stop discounting eBooks at the expense of its publisher partners who then take a hit from Amazon.  Work on making its interface more user friendly.  And add live support, by phone and chat.  As I was working through my multiple updates on Google Play, I was dumbfounded by the lack of clarity and the inability to get live support.  And fix the damn display issues (for the record, Amazon has some issues in that department, also).

Amazon is crushing other online booksellers because it makes it so easy to publish with them and to buy from them.  Nook and Kobo have stepped up and vastly simplified their publishing processes (though I have run into errors working with Nook and it also has no live support).  But Google is still a headache.  It needs to fix that.

The kludge . . .

In the meantime, my solution has been to make the list price for my titles more expensive on Google Play than they are on Amazon.  This offsets the discounting and, since Google Play pays on retail, gives me a bit of a premium on every sale for dealing with the headaches.

But, frankly, I’d rather they just addressed and eliminated the headaches.


This entry was posted in Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Endpapers Press, Google Play, Kobo, Self-publishing, The Business of Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

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