Google has announced that it’s now selling audiobooks on the Google Play Store, filling out its offerings of movies, music, TV, and ebooks. The new titles are available on Android, iOS, and the web. They’re also available via the Google Assistant, the company’s biggest product push right now, meaning you can play an audiobook on your home smart speaker, continue it in your car, and keep listening on your phone.
To go along with the launch, Google is offering very deep discounts on lots of audiobook titles. Ready Player One is $6.99, Fire and Fury is $8.99, and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is $7.77. (Don’t ask why it’s that nonstandard price, or Neil deGrasse Tyson will probably Twittersplain it to you.) Google is also offering 50 percent off your first audiobook purchase. Audiobooks can be shared with the same “Family Library” rules that apply to other media content Google sells.
Google is following Apple’s iBook’s model of allowing customers to purchase audiobooks without a subscription. You can do that with Audible books as well, though Audible (which is owned by Amazon) is pretty aggressive at pushing customers to sign up for a full subscription.
Based on a demo of Google Play audiobooks I saw, it looks like Google has gotten most of the basics down. You can listen to books at up to 2x speed and set a sleep timer for falling asleep at night. It is able to sync your place across multiple devices. What it can’t do, unfortunately, is sync your place between an ebook and the audiobook, as they’re completely separate offerings.
Although Google Play audiobooks work most places you’d want, there are some caveats. First, it will only work with the Google Assistant on Android phones, not iPhones — and only in English to start. And though it’s “coming soon to the Assistant on Android Auto in the US,” it won’t be there at launch. The Google Play Books app will work with the normal touch interface, however.
Since this is Google, it’s not only touting Google Assistant support but also machine learning. The company says that often the metadata for stuff like chapter markers can be messy, so (in what seems like an over-engineered solution), it’s automatically parsing the timestamps for chapters from the audio itself and surfacing them in the app, allowing you to skip around as you like.
The Google Play Store doesn’t get much attention — most people see it simply as the place to get Android Apps — but it has some benefits. As with Amazon, media you buy on the Google Play Store is usually available across Android, iOS, tablets, desktops, the web, and (sometimes) TVs.
Now, with audiobooks, Google has checked off another multimedia box it needs to compete with both Apple and Amazon. Google has one more box to check, though, and it’s the one that actually gets attention: original content. (YouTube Red shows don’t count, sorry.)
Audiobooks on Google Play should be available today in 45 countries and in nine languages.