Google has been actively hostile to authors for years. That has changed, somewhat. You can now find much of my fiction and nonfiction on Google Play, for now. I rather expect Google to reverse their less-hostile stance without warning, so these might come down as quickly as they appeared.
What do I mean when I say that Google has been hostile to authors? Forget the bit where they scan millions of in-copyright books and make the text available. That’s a separate problem.
Google Play offers separate terms for traditional publishers than individual authors. I own my own publishing company, but I don’t produce books quickly enough to get access to the publisher terms. Fine.
Since its inception, Google Play has let individual authors put a suggested retail price on their books. Until recently, they reserved the right to cut the price for their customers. If they cut the price, they would pay the author their cut based on the suggested retail price. Google used this to boost their platform. They could take, say, SSH Mastery, and make it free for the next thousand downloads. I would make my $6 or so on each download. I get paid, so what could I possibly object to?
I object to it destroying my business, that’s what.
Modern publishing is an ecosystem. Changes in one distributor affect how other distributors behave. Other major ebook distributor either respects the suggested retail price I set on their platform (e.g., Gumroad) or they have a Most Favored Nation clause in their terms where they can match competitor prices. Apple had this for years, but I’m not certain of its status after the antitrust lawsuits. Amazon still has this MFN clause, and it actively monitors competitors for prices to match.
Here’s how this goes horribly wrong.
- Google makes one of my best-selling books free.
- Amazon sees it and price matches.
- A few thousand people download the book on Google Play. I get paid for those.
- Tens of thousands of people download the book on KDP. I do not get paid for those.
- Google restores the suggested retail price.
- I spend days begging Amazon to restore the normal price.
- Everybody I might sell that book to got it for free.
That book is dead. I made a few thousand dollars in a month but that book brings in nothing more, forever.
Writing is a passive income game. I count on each live book to bring in a few hundred bucks a month. Some, I’m delighted if they bring in fifty bucks a month. I count on last year’s books to pay this year’s bills. If you want to know more about how this works, check out Cash Flow for Creators.
Free books are a valid promotion strategy. (I’ll be announcing a free novel soon, to suck people into the Montague Portal omnibus.) I need to control their use, however.
I half-expect Google to reassert their previous model at any time. Google is spectacularly indifferent to their users. When Google blinks, I’ll be turning them off.
Mind you, I’ll keep the books set up in their publisher dashboard. When they twitch back, I’ll turn them back on.