Google Starts Selling Audiobooks in Latest Challenge to Amazon

Unlike Amazon’s Audible service, users can buy individual Google audiobook titles without any membership and without any commitment to buy more.

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Google has broadened its efforts to sell audiobooks online with the launch of Audiobooks on Google Play Jan. 23. 

Starting this week, users in 45 countries will be able to buy audiobooks in nine languages from Google's Play mobile app store. Google's Audiobooks are available for Web users and as well as for users of Android and iOS-based smartphones and tablets. 

Unlike Amazon's Audible, with which it appears designed to compete, Google doesn’t require a membership to buy audiobooks. People can buy a single audiobook at a time and without any commitment to buy more, said Greg Hartrell, head of product management at Google Play Books in a blog Jan. 23. As with other Google Play purchases, users can share audiobooks with up to 5 family members for no additional fee via the Family Library feature in Play. 

Several audiobook titles—including some bestsellers—are currently listed on Google's Audiobooks site at promotional prices starting at under $10. Regular prices for many of the same books range from around $15 to more than $30. 

Users can access their audiobooks via Google Assistant, the company's digital assistant technology. Users can just say, “Ok Google, read my book” and listen to an audiobook with the Google Assistant on their smartphone or on Google Home, Hartrell said. "Try “Ok Google, who is the author?” if you need a refresher, or “Ok Google, stop playing in 20 minutes” to set a timer for bedtime reading," he noted. 

Currently, the integration with Google Assistant is only available on Android devices and Android powered speakers such as Google Home. Users in the U.S. will also soon be able to use Google Assistant to listen to audiobooks on Android Auto. 

As with Amazon Audible, users who purchase an audiobook will be able to listen to it on multiple supported devices without having to cue it up for each device. Users will be able to resume listening where they left off regardless of whether their the book is loaded onto an Android, iOS, Chromecast, Android Auto or Android Wear device. 

Amazon's Audible currently requires users to sign up for a $14.95 monthly membership. The membership gives users credit for one downloadable audiobook a month, regardless of price and up to 30 percent off regular prices on subsequent purchases. Amazon Prime members get free access to a small rotating collection of streaming-only audiobooks via a separate Audible Channels feature. 

Many of the features that Google announced this week with Audiobooks are already available with Audible as well. For instance, Subscribers can listen to an audiobook via the Amazon Echo smart speaker. Several of the company's Kindle e-book readers have begun incorporating support for the audiobooks as well. 

The launch of Audiobooks on Play is sure to intensify the rivalry between Google and Amazon. The two companies already compete head-on with each other on several fronts most notably cloud computing and recently in the market for smart digital assistant technologies such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. 

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.