Google executives believe the company’s e-book program is on the right course, after some early missteps, as it enters its fifth year. “We’re certainly experiencing a lot of growth, and revenues are going up,” said Tom Turvey, Google’s director of strategic partnerships, adding that “our business is certainly up with all the publishers.”
As part of the original launch of Google’s e-book program in the U.S., the company partnered with the ABA and independent bookstores, starting in December 2010, to provide a platform that allowed them to sell e-books. The program garnered a lot of attention, but sales were slow, and a year and a half later the company announced that it would end the partnership. In March 2012, the e-book program was relaunched as part of Google Play, which combined the company’s book business with its music and app stores.
In the intervening years, Google Play has emerged as a much more significant e-book force, particularly for Android, the operating system developed by Google. And it continues to gain traction. Of the 65 countries where Google Play Books is available, close to a third, or 21, were added in the past year, according to spokeswoman Gina Johnson. The U.S. continues to be Google Play Books’s biggest market, but the e-book program has an “especially good footprint” in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Canada, and Australia as well, Johnson said.
One of the company’s e-book strategies has been to go local with each country it enters, by working with publishers based in that country. “Books, like news, are potent only if they really speak to the local audience,” said Turvey. He noted that this is not only hard to do, but it can be expensive. Still, he believes that it makes Google Play Books more integral to each place where its platform is introduced. In Japan, for example, the top-selling presses are also the country’s best known: Kodansha and Kadokawa.
Google has also looked to distinguish its e-book platform by focusing on segments that haven’t typically worked for e-books to date: nonfiction and books that fall outside of the trade market. “We’d like to see the e-book business look like print,” with strong sales in lots of subject areas besides trade, said Turvey. Google has had “a legacy of nonfiction doing well,” Turvey said, something he attributed to Google Play’s broad audience. In the past few months, Google has upgraded its e-book program to make it more appealing to readers of nonfiction, particularly travelers and cooks. The introduction of a new app makes it easier for readers to skim a Google e-book, place a quick bookmark, and go back and forth between different places in the text.
Google Play Books also did a refresh for iOS at the beginning of December. But its goal, according to Turvey, remains convincing those with an Android device that they have an e-book reader in their pocket and making Google the premiere destination for digital content. To drive that point home, Google has had an 18-month print, TV, and radio ad campaign and is planning a Google Play ad for Times Square. “Looking at our numbers,” said Turvey, “I’d say we’re doing well at making sure that those numbers are going up.”
Five Most Popular Google Play Books in 2014
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Insurgent by Veronica Roth