Playing with Google eBooks

This week saw the launch of Google Play, a new platform for selling books, movies, music, games and apps to Google users. Techcrunch reports that Google appears to have plans to include audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers in its offerings at some point down the road. It is a rebranding of the Android Marketplace, and it is the new home of services such as Google eBooks.

There was not a lot of fanfare when the site launched on Tuesday. It was Wednedsday’s announcement that Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was on sale for $0.25 that caught many people’s attention. It’s what caught mine. It was the first of the “25¢ Play of the Day” promotions planned for launch week, followed on Thursday by Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. But these are not the only discounts available. The site will regularly offer a wide selection of texts for $3.99 or less (of the current selections, I recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Princess Bride).

Google Play offers a storefront that is similar to the iTunes store in terms of organization and ease of use – as far as the purchasing goes. When it comes to the actual reading, things get a bit more complicated. I’m going to walk you through the process.

Once your purchase is complete, this window will be hovering in the middle of your screen.  It only gives two options for how to read the book. Clicking the Android link will take you to a screen where you can download the Google Play app. This app is new and still has a lot of problems. The reviews suggest staying away. 

The other option is to click the Google Chrome icon, which will open a copy of the book in your browser for online reading. Neither option is ideal. I say click “OK.” You will now see the book’s information screen, where you’ll have access to publication information, the book description, reader reviews, and recommendations of other books that you might like.  There is even a tab for reviews from the critics. 

Logically, the tab that you will want to take a look at is “How to Read.”  This gives  you increased reading options (including a link to the iPhone/iPad app), but none of them are formats that will work on e-reading devices. If that’s the route you want to take, you’ll need to click the “My Books” tab, found just below the search bar. From there, click on the book’s cover (clicking “READ” will allow you to read in your browser window).  You will arrive back at the book’s information screen, but this time, clicking the “How to Read” tab will offer you more options. From here, you can download the book in either ePub or PDF format.  

This is how it is supposed to work. The book that I downloaded following these instructions turned out to be the sample version and not the full text. Some might think that, for a quarter, that is all that I should have expected, but Amazon would not have jumped to price-match so quickly if the special price were just for a sample. I used Google’s Click-2-Call feature and got help.

It turns out that this is a bug, and the customer service rep was armed with a work-around.  By accessing your library through http://books.google.com/books you can download the full book, just like you would have before. Just click on the book you want to download, and click on the red “READ EBOOK” button on the left side of the screen. From there, you can download the FULL book in all its available formats.

I am not sure what to make of Google’s decision to make an e-reader friendly version of the these books so difficult to find, and that is exactly the question I asked of the tech who helped me. After speaking with him, it seems that these are just bugs that still need to be worked out. Perhaps that is also the case when it comes to trying to purchase these sale titles through indie bookstores.

When I tried to purchase Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close from one of my local indies, it was only available at full price. I checked with another local store, and I found the same thing. Powell’s offered the book for a very slight discount. Google says that over time the prices on the ebooks for sale at indies will start to default to the current Google Play pricing.  There does not seem to be a time frame for when that will happen, however.

I like having an alternative to iTunes and Amazon, and I guess that I should expect a few hiccups with something like this. Hopefully, these fixes will be made sooner rather than later.

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