Google Play Books

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Google Play Books
Google Play Books icon.png
Google Play Books.png
Google Play Books on Android Nougat
Developer(s) Google
Initial release December 6, 2010; 6 years ago (2010-12-06) (as Google eBooks)
Stable release(s) [±]
Android 3.12.13 / February 16, 2017; 3 days ago (2017-02-16)[1]
iOS 3.0.2 / November 4, 2016; 3 months ago (2016-11-04)[2]
Development status Active
Platform Android, iOS, Chrome, web
Size 11.19 MB (Android)
22.4 MB (iOS)
Type Digital distribution

Google Play Books (formerly Google eBooks) is an ebook distributor service offered by Google. Users can purchase and download ebooks from Google Play, which offers over five million ebooks and Google claims it is the world's largest e-book store. The user may also upload up to 1,000 ebooks that are in PDF or EPUB formats to their Google Play Books account cloud storage, and synchronize them between multiple devices. Uploading of digital rights management (DRM) protected ebooks purchased outside of Google Play Books is not supported.[3] The use of Google Play Books requires a Google account.

Unlike's Kindle Store and Apple's iBooks, the DRM system used for protected items purchased from Google Play Books is based on Adobe's open platform DRM system. This allows users to download DRM-protected books from Google Play Books in the EPUB and PDF formats, that can be transferred to and read on e-readers and apps that support Adobe Content Server 4 DRM.[4][5] The supported e-readers include the Nook and Sony Reader. DRM-protected ebooks cannot be transferred to Amazon Kindles or Apple iBooks, since they do not support Adobe's DRM. Transferring DRM-protected books to an e-reader requires the Adobe Digital Editions software to be installed on the computer.[6] Authors offering books through Google Play may choose not to enable DRM protection, in which case the downloaded ebooks can be freely transferred to other platforms including Kindle and iBooks.[7]

Books can also be read online on any web browser with JavaScript enabled.[8] Books can be read offline through official mobile apps for Android and iOS devices that were announced at the same time as the original Google eBookstore,[9] and on the Google Chrome browser on desktops through an HTML 5-based web app available from the Chrome Web Store.[10] Holding purchased books on the cloud theoretically allows Google to serve books to users in a variety of formats, including new formats that might not have been available at the time of purchase.

On 23 May 2011, Google announced on its official blog that Google eBooks was partnered with over 7,000 publishers at the time, and that the mobile apps for iOS, Android and Chrome had been downloaded more than 2.5 million times. Over 3 million free ebooks were available in the US.[9]

Publishers and authors can submit their books to Google through the Play Books Partner Centre, although new sign-ups are not currently permitted. Apart from being able to buy the ebook from Google Play, customers can preview these books through Google Books, with the publisher being able to set the percentage of the book available for preview.[11][12] Purchase of books from Google Play is currently supported in 65 countries.


The former Google eBooks icon

The Google eBookstore was launched on December 6, 2010, with more than three million titles available, making it the "largest ebooks collection in the world".[9] At the time of launch, the service was partnered with 100 independent booksellers, while the number of publishers was 5,000. This increased to 250 independent booksellers and 7,000 publishers in May 2011, along with three million free Google eBooks available in the United States, up from two million at launch.[13][14] The service was codenamed Google Editions, the name under which it was widely assumed that the service would be launched.[15] Google Books director Dan Clancy had talked about Google's vision to open an ebookstore for in-print books in an interview back in July 2009.[16] Then-named TechHive reported in October 2009 that the service would be launched in the first half of 2010,[17] before a Google employee told the media in May that the launch would be in June or July.[18][19] The actual launch, however, took place in December.[9][20]

The store was headed by Dan Clancy, who also directed Google Books. Clancy stated that Google Editions would let publishers set the prices for their books and would accept the 'agency' model, as that of the publisher being considered the seller with the online vendor acting as an 'agent'. Clancy also stressed that Google's ebooks would be readable on any device, indicating the open nature of the platform. It would also make ebooks available for bookstores to sell, giving "the vast majority" of revenues to the store. Having already digitized 12 million physical books at the time, including out-of-print titles, Google offered a "far greater" selection than Amazon and Apple did.[21]

In June 2011, Google introduced an affiliate program for ebooks, allowing websites to earn commissions by referring sales to the Google eBookstore. Google eBooks became listed on the Google Affiliate Network.[22][23]

In March 2012, Google revamped all of its digital distribution services into a single platform called Google Play, with the Google eBookstore becoming Google Play Books.[24][25][26]

In April 2012, Google announced that its reseller partner program would be discontinued by the end of January 2013.[27]

In July 2013, The Digital Reader reported about changes to the publisher policy page for Google Play Books, including missing mentions of book bundle pricing, and instead "several mentions" of ebook rentals. The website also reported that Google had dropped support for a wide variety of ebook file formats it used to accept, including DOC, XML, HTML, MOBI and PDB, to focus primarily on the EPUB format. Website writer Nate Hoffelder noted that this policy change represented a "paradigm shift" for Google.[28]

In May 2015, Google announced that a new custom-made typeface called Literata would be used for Google Play Books.[29][30] Also in May 2015, Google announced that it would close its Books Partner Center for new signups to "improve our content management capabilities and our user experience."[31] However, the Center was still closed for new signups in November 2015[32] and December 2016.[33]

Reseller program[edit]

At launch, Google had formed partnerships with independent booksellers, enabling them to sell Google ebooks on their websites for a cut of sales. Bookstore partners included Powell's, Alibris and participating members of the American Booksellers Association.[9]

In a blog post in May 2011, Google announced that it had over 250 independent bookseller partners, compared to just over 100 at the time of launch.[13]

In April 2012, Google decided to end the reseller program, stating that the program "has not gained the traction that we hoped it would" and that "it's clear that the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers". The program was discontinued at the end of January 2013.[27] As noted by Publishers Weekly, the service "sought to bring independent retailers into the digital retailing", by giving local bookstores a fee from each title purchased by consumers, but local stores were required to do their own marketing and promotion, something that "many stores simply did not have the resources to do".[34] Seen as a "big blow for small bookstores seeking to compete against Amazon and Barnes & Noble", the move attracted severe criticism from the industry. In a letter to its members, the American Booksellers Association said that it was "very disappointed" in Google's decision, while noting that the change could be "disconcerting and disruptive" for booksellers. "As an enormous, multinational corporation, Google has interests far beyond independent bookstores, and the book world at large, and, at times, it has lacked understanding of many basic principles of our industry", the letter said.[35]

Affiliate program[edit]

In June 2011, Google launched an affiliate program for Google eBooks, allowing website owners to earn a commission by referring sales to the Google eBookstore. Google had previously tested the program as a limited beta in December 2010 with Goodreads.[22] Becoming an affiliate was described by Gigaom as a three-step process: users first had to sign up for an AdSense account and be approved, then join the Google Affiliate Network and be approved, and then sign up as an affiliate for ebooks. Website owners could earn between 6-10% of a book's selling price, depending on the amount of book sales through affiliate referrals.[23]

In February 2012, Google announced its decision to scale down the affiliate program, turning it into a private initiative and removing most of the affiliates. Google eBooks would no longer be listed as an advertiser on the Google Affiliate Network.[36] Google had previously stopped accepting new applications for becoming an affiliate more than two weeks prior to the announcement.[37]

Those who were delinked from the program received commissions for sales up to March 15, 2012. Google said that it would continue to add affiliates, but only on an invitation-basis.[38] In a mistake, Google also notified independent booksellers that their affiliate status would expire, but later clarified that it did not intend to remove independent booksellers from the affiliate program, and said that it was "working to reinstate those who were mistakenly notified."[39]


Books purchased can be read on a dedicated Books section of the Google Play website, through the mobile app available for Android and iOS devices, and through the use of a Google Chrome web browser app.[40] Offline download and reading is supported on the mobile apps and through the Chrome web browser app.[41]

Mobile app features[edit]

Sample of Literata typeface used for Google Play Books

Introductory reading features at launch included selecting font, font size, line spacing, and day/night reading modes, and the ability to pick up reading positions while using multiple devices.[9] On Android, the home screen ("Read now") shows the recently opened books at the top, along with book recommendations and books +1'd by friends.[42] The "My Library" section shows all the books grouped into three categories: "Purchases", "Samples" and "Uploads". Books can be "kept on device" for offline reading. Play Books features a 3D page turning effect, with an option to turn it off. It also allows users to turn pages using the device's volume controls.[43] The website interface does not support different reading modes or any page turning effect.[42] Text can be read out loud using the device's text-to-speech engine or Google Text-to-Speech, with an option for "High-quality voice" in settings, although the feature requires a data connection to stream the voice data.[42]

In September 2012, Google Play Books on Android was updated to feature a new sepia reading mode, in addition to day and night modes; info cards for unknown written geographical locations and dictionary definitions; word or phrase translation; and support for highlighting text and writing notes.[44] The sepia reading mode, text highlighting and note-taking features were eventually extended to the iOS app in August 2013.[45]

In May 2013, Play Books started allowing users to upload PDF and EPUB files for free through the Play Books website, with support for "up to 1,000" files.[46][47] The Android app was updated in December 2013 with support for uploading files.[48][49]

In October 2014, Play Books was updated to allow users to tap the center of the screen to enter a "skim" mode, where "the page zooms out to allow you to easily slide between pages in the book", in an effort to improve the reading experience for non-fiction books, including "cookbooks, textbooks, or any other book that you don't typically read straight through from cover to cover."[50][51]

In November 2015, Play Books was updated with features aimed at comic book fans, with the update adding a new vertical scrolling experience for comics in landscape mode, and new curated pages and recommendations for comics, with options for organizing by issue and volume.[52][53]

In December 2015, Play Books was updated to include a "Night Light" feature that "gradually filters blue light from your screen, replacing it with a warm, amber light as the sun sets". Google claims that Night Light "automatically adapts to the amount of natural sunlight outside based on the time of day, giving you just the right temperature and brightness".[54][55]

In July 2016, Play Books was updated with "Bubble Zoom", a machine learning imaging feature that recognizes objects in comics and "expands the speech bubbles of a comic one-tap-at-a-time, making them super easy to read on your mobile device".[56][57]

Books on Google Play[edit]

Google Play Books
Pricing model Varies by country
Format EPUB, PDF
Restrictions Adobe DRM scheme
Preview Free chapters from every book
Availability 65 countries

The Google Play store serves as the primary source of ebooks for reading on Google Play Books. Over five million titles are available for purchase or free download. Select books, mainly textbooks, are also available for rental. The rental period starts as soon as the payment is completed.[58] Google Play also allows users to pre-order ebooks in cases where they are available on Google Play before they are released. The customer is not charged until the ebook is available for reading. Not all ebooks, however, are available for pre-order.[59]

File formats[edit]

Originally, Google used to allow publishers and authors to upload books in a number of formats including DOC, PDF, PDB, MOBI, EPUB, and HTML. But in July 2013, support for all these formats except for PDF and EPUB was dropped. As of now, Google accepts EPUB versions 2.0.1 and 3.0. Both text and image-based PDFs are accepted when the EPUB format is not available, with the preference being for PDFs with a text layer.[60]

For reading on e-readers or third-party apps, ebooks can be downloaded in the EPUB ("flowing text") or PDF ("scanned pages") formats. The advantage of EPUB has over PDF is that it allows the book's text to adjust or 'reflow' automatically to different screen sizes. Books of which only a PDF version is available can be difficult to read on smaller screens.[61]


Books are available for purchase from Google Play in the countries marked in blue.

Purchase of books from Google Play is currently supported in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine,United Arab Emirates,United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Vietnam.[62]


In a December 2010 review, Laura Miller of Salon wrote that the public domain titles on the Google eBookstore were of a "lesser quality" than on competing services, writing that some titles "had obviously not been proofed and the scans of the original pages were difficult to read". Despite that, Miller found it interesting that public domain titles had functionality to view them either as a "scanned version - with the original type, page numbering and even library stamps and marginalia, basically photographs of the printed pages" and also as "searchable "flowing text," rendered by optical character recognition". Miller also wrote that the the eBookstore was not easy to search, "an irony considering that the Google empire was built on search". She criticized the user interface for being "poor" and seemingly "devised by people who know next to nothing about the book trade". She praised Google's decision to incorporate reader reviews from Goodreads, writing that it "helps, as these are often more thoughtful than the average Amazon reader review", though again criticizing the "related books" section for bad suggestions. She also praised that Google had formed partnerships with independent bookstores, writing that it is "a great way to support neighborhood bookstores and it also allows Google eBookstore customers to partake of the expertise of people whose life's work is connecting readers with the right books."[63]


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