Audiobooks from Google Play are smarter, more social, with no subscription

Google has launched an audiobooks service in the Google Play Store that allows you to purchase individual books and listen to them on a frankly staggering range of devices.

The audiobooks will work on Android, iOS, Chromecast, as a web-based application and in any device with Google Assistant. That last one is particularly interesting, as Google’s voice assistant is becoming fairly ubiquitous.

This means you’ll be able to listen to your audiobooks on a vast array of first and third-party smart speakers like the Google Home range, plus Android Wear-powered wearables. It's also coming soon to Android Auto, so you can be entertained while driving, and the service will remember where you are in your novel so you can transition from one to the other without restarting the chapter.

Smarter speaking from your smart speaker

Google is putting the same level of computer learning that you’ll find in its other features into the audiobooks service, allowing you to interact with your books so that rather than just ‘Track 12’ showing up on your dashboard's display, you’ll get the chapter title, and with the Google Assistant interaction, you can ask for pertinent information about the book like the author’s name.

Smart speakers are well known for their timers, and Google Play audiobooks takes full advantage of this, allowing you to set a countdown timer for when to stop reading, so if you want to delegate the reading of your child’s bedtime story to your Google Home, you can. Although there’s nothing to stop the little nipper from requesting more stories.

Talking of family, one of the things that sets Google’s offering apart from Amazon’s Audible is the family sharing feature. With Audible, you’re able to share an audiobook with one other adult in your Amazon Household. With Google, you can share with up to five other people in your family.

The Google Home Max speaker

The Google Home Max speaker

We asked Greg Hartrell, Google Books Product Manager, about Google's definition of family, if you had to be biologically related to them, he had this to say:

“We don't have an opinion on the various definitions of families. You set up a family account by going to Google Play, the head of the household puts on a payment instrument, and up to five people can get added to that family account. And since there are many definitions of a family, we hope that people use that experience to have their family enjoyed their audiobooks together.”

So if your family happens to be your book club, that looks like it’s all part of the plan. That’s not the only differentiator, and the next is probably going to be the most appealing for those that aren’t regular readers but want to dip their toe in to the world of audiobooks:

“This is an a la carte model with prices below list,” continued Hartrell, “making it affordable and easy to try, and there's no commitment meaning that you can listen to as many or as few as you want without a subscription.”

Available titles in the US include Ready Player One ($6.99), Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House ($8.99), Murder on the Orient Express ($4.99), Lincoln in the Bardo ($8.99), 1984 ($5.99) and The Girl on the Train ($6.99). 

Okay Google, why now?

It makes sense for Google to be getting into audiobooks now, with Google Assistant looking set to live within all sort of smart home devices, and as Hartrell puts it:

“The audio publishers association in America published a statistic that the sales of audiobooks have grown double digits year over year and that's growing faster than any other book format.”

In the smart speaker market, Google managed to release the Home range long after Amazon’s Echo range hit the shelves and still became a major competitor. It will be interesting to see if it can do the same with audiobooks.

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.