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How can you sell more ebooks and audiobooks on Google Play Books to the global market? How can you optimize your books so they are more likely to be discovered?
How might auto-narrated audiobooks help expand the market? All this and more in today's interview with Ryan Dingler from Google.
Ryan Dingler is a product manager at Google, and also writes about the intersection of technology and business.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- The difference between Google Books and Google Play Books
- How searching and purchasing books works on Android
- Market penetration of Android devices and global reach of Google Play Books
- Publishing books on Google Play Books and international pricing
- Advantages of publishing direct with Google Play Books
- The importance of good metadata for marketing books
- AI-narrated audiobooks and when they might be available for authors
You can find Google Play Books at play.google.com/store/books and you can publish at Play.google.com/books/publish/u/0/
[You can buy my ebooks and audiobooks on Google Play — non-fiction as Joanna Penn, and fiction as J.F.Penn]
Transcript of Interview with Ryan Dingler
Joanna Penn: Ryan Dingler is a product manager at Google, and also writes about the intersection of technology and business. Welcome Ryan.
Ryan Dingler: Hello.
Joanna Penn: It's great to have you on the show. So first up, I have been having a little read of your blog.
Tell us a bit more about you and why you're so interested in books and technology.
Ryan Dingler: Maybe first I'll talk about my background. I am an avid reader of books myself, even before I got into this job, I mostly read nonfiction, although I do enjoy quite a bit of sci-fi and can definitely go on a binge there.
One thing that is unique that I have been able to do is merge my interest in books with my actual job, especially as it relates to technology. As a product manager at Google, I work to develop products for a lot of our users, both on the publisher side and on the consumer side.
So it's been quite interesting to see how books can interplay with technology. Books have a long history with technology dating back to the printing press in the 15th century and really disseminating information. I see my role as doing that today. Maybe on a little bit smaller scale, but allowing anyone to publish their books on our storefront and purchase it and read it in 75 countries.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. You mentioned 75 countries there, and I think this is the biggest issue I see with many self publishers. Obviously there's a huge market in America, but I feel like everyone just thinks America is everything. Give us an overview of Google Play Books in the global ebook ecosystem. Obviously we're not going to list 75 countries.
Where does Google Play Books perform best and give us an idea about the Android ecosystem as well.
Ryan Dingler: I think the best place to start actually is to talk about Google in general. And then I can drill down into Android and Google Play Books and the difference between Google Play Books and Google Books.
As most people are familiar, Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. And books are a big component of this.
Google has had a long history with books, dating back to 2003, 2004, with their Google books product, which I'll talk about. There's always some confusion between what's Google Books and what what's Google Play Books.
Google Play Books specifically is part of the Android ecosystem. So if you have iOS, you're probably less familiar, but Android is the most used mobile operating system in the world. Today, we have over 2.5 billion, monthly active users, worldwide, and the place where they come to get their apps and their games and their movies and their books is through the Google Play store.
If you're familiar with the app store on iOS, Google Play is the same thing for Android. And as I said before, it really has global reach.
The books part of Google Play Books is the part that I work on, which is a retailer for eBooks and audiobooks. We actually don't sell any print books and we don't have a dedicated reader. Our strategy is that you can read on any digital device that you have, whether it's an Android app. We also do have an iOS app, and the web store, as I said before, it's in 75 countries. We operate really on a global scale.
We do have large businesses, both in the US and actually Japan or Manga is quite popular as you can imagine, but we see that publishers do well in a lot of other smaller markets that they typically wouldn't even think about, whether it's like South Africa or Germany or India, depending on where the publisher is.
And Play Books is tied into the overall Google products ecosystem. That's like Google home, Android auto assistant on mobile or assistant on any other type of hardware device that we have Google Play Books could easily be played on any of those devices as well.
So that's Google Play Books. I just want to distinguish it a little bit from Google Books.
Google Books has to do with Google search. So if you type in the name of your book into search, if you have uploaded with us, and in terms of Google Play Books you may see on the right hand side, a column about your book and it may have a preview, a small preview of it, a description of the author as well.
All of that comes from uploading to Play Books so that we can use your books and your content to just my small snippets to users to help them purchase whether through us or I can go play books or with another retailer.
Joanna Penn: Lots of things I want to ask, first of all, on the Google Books, the search side. As you mentioned, people do get a bit confused, but it's very important that my books can be found. For example, with nonfiction in particular. I want people to find my books in search and my books are on Google Play Books. But I hadn't thought to search for them separately.
Is that something that just naturally happens? If people's books are on Google Play Books, will they appear in search?
Is there some search engine optimization (SEO) side of things that we need to do to make it more easily searchable?
Ryan Dingler: That's a good question. It should happen automatically.
Actually, when you're going through the process there are two options. One is to publish on Google Play Books, which actually requires it also be on Google Books. And then if you didn't want to sell with us, you could also just put it on Google Books.
I do want to make a small caveat that as long as the query or the search is relevant your books should show up, but we really can't make any promises. It really depends on the query that was entered, which kind of touches on maybe your second question about SEO and things like that. It should pop up if that query is really relevant for the book.
If you put in the title and the author, it should come up on the right. If it's not there, you probably haven't uploaded with Google Play Books, or somehow there's something that we think is slightly more relevant there, but, when you upload with Google Play Books you do have that ability to kind of embed it through. There's really nothing else to turn on.
Joanna Penn: Is that still true if people use an aggregator? Many people might use Publish Drive, for example, to reach Google Play Books.
Ryan Dingler: Yes.
Joanna Penn: Okay, great. Another question there, you mentioned about the Google Play app. And I think like you mentioned 2.5 billion, the Android has active users. I think I saw a stat that it's something nearing 80% of global mobile.
Would that be about right in terms of between 70 and 80% in terms of penetration?
Ryan Dingler: Yes. I believe that sounds about right. Depending on where you are, you can get something of a warped perspective of the market, whether you're based in the United States or the UK you might like iOS has a lot more market share than that remaining percentage there, Android really does well in other markets outside of those two with other ones. People are always surprised by how big Android's market share is.
Joanna Penn: I remember seeing that at Podcast Movement, and it's very surprising to people, but of course their devices are a lot cheaper with the Android ecosystem. So I think that's one of the reasons why.
My question here is, is the Google Play app on every device that has the Android ecosystem or do people actually have to download it? So for example, I'm thinking as authors, when we share a link to our book, if we share a Google Play link and someone clicks on it, say on social media, on Twitter, if they don't have the app on their device, is it going to have a problem or does it just pull it through the browser?
Is the Google play app on every device that has the Android ecosystem or do people actually have to download it?
Ryan Dingler: That's a good question. It really depends on that specific user's device. So maybe just to run through a couple of different circumstances.
Have you shared with someone that has Android? It actually doesn't come pre-installed on the Android operating system. But if you share link it likely will open in the Google place storefront. So they have Google Play there already. They can just open it there. If they have the app directly.
There's one small distinction between the Google Play Books app and the Google Play store. They are actually separate, you buy in one, which is the Google Play store, and then you read on Google Play Books, but you actually know also can purchase there as well.
If you have the Google Play Books app it'll open there. If they have the Google Play store and a little pin there, if they don't have either of those and they're on iOS and they don't have the iOS app, it will just open in web and we've tried to make it so that of no matter where this links are being shared, it will open in kind of the best optimized experience for them.
Joanna Penn: What about audio books? I have audio books as well on Google Play. Are they in all 75 countries as well?
What territories are audiobooks doing well in?
Ryan Dingler: They're not in all 75, but I think we're over about 40 to 50 countries right now. We're always trying to increase our audiobook reach.
Maybe a bit of background about our audiobooks business. It is an a la carte model, which means a user can come in and purchase a book at a great price without having to actually subscribe to the audio book attrition. We tend to do well in the United States, primarily for audiobooks, but we do see a lot of growth in other English speaking markets like Canada, Australia, and the UK, as well as actually Germany is quite a big market for us as well.
We do see growth in a lot of what I would call less mature audiobook markets; growing high percentages, but somewhat smaller numbers overall.
One other comment about that actually is for audiobooks. Audio is very important to Google in general. We have Google Assistant, which is almost entirely a voice specific, audio specific product and people can play audiobooks through there. It's of a very strategic importance to us.
Joanna Penn: I was actually going to come back on that. And it's interesting because I think a lot of people now have multiple assistants and I tend to talk to Google on my phone, even though I have an Apple device. Although I'll talk to my watch and my Homepod in a different way using a different wake word, obviously.
Are you seeing a growth in audiobooks that correlates with the growth of use of Assistants say in various ways that people are now using the Assistant?
Ryan Dingler: Yes. We do see a lot of users actually listen to their audiobooks on Google Assistant. It is a growing percentage of our total listening time. One thing though that has been a consistent challenge is people don't actually want to purchase their audiobook on Google assistant. There's definitely a discoverability problem.
It's actually not enabled for us, but we found that people really come to our storefront first. And then once they have the book, they figured out what they want to read the description, maybe listen to a sample. Then they had in their library, then they can say, Hey, and then the name. And then they say, can you play this from my library? And it plays automatically there.
Joanna Penn: We talked a minute ago about the book's metadata and the SEO for eBooks.
If someone does ask a question to their assistant, would it serve a snippet of the text of an ebook if audiobook was enabled for example, or is that something that's a possibility because of course, voice search means often voice response. I care very much about SEO for audio. Is that something that is linked?
Ryan Dingler: I'm not actually sure about this one. I think that it may, but there are just so many other products at Google that I don't have a great answer for them.
I think that if you try it out, it may work. It may not. We do try to have it. So the Corpus is available. The Corpus is what we call our books available to all the different products. Google Assistant does link up to Google search quite well. And we as part of Google search, Google Books is a big component of it, which is where all the books to come in. So it should work, but don't quote me on that.
Joanna Penn: No worries. I know it's hard. It's difficult to keep up, I'm sure. Even if you're in the company! Because of course, Google is a very big company with a lot going on and a lot more money involved than book sales.
For example, eBooks, especially are tiny. The sale is tiny and I really wondered how important are books to the Play store. We're this tiny thing tacked on the end of gaming or all these other exciting things.
From a business sense, are books important to the Play store because a lot of authors feel that it's not that important?
Ryan Dingler: That's certainly a good question given the growth and the size of Google in general.
Google Play has had a long history with different, what we call vertical experiences, whether that's music or games or movies, books in general.
One of the core aspects of Android is that we wanted to have these vertical experiences, these really specific products, music, available to all Android users and Google playbooks is meant to serve that purpose. So although it doesn't have as large of an impact on revenue as you would expect from the size of Google, it is a very important pillar to make sure that all of our customers have access to these books.
I would say it more fills a role to know that if a user buys the Android device, that they will always have these books, people have eBooks and audiobooks available to them no matter what device they purchased. That's really our core mission is making sure that they have that availability and hopefully at a great price as well.
Joanna Penn: Certainly for me as an author, my goal is to have my work available on every platform that someone might look for it and in every format. So, I appreciate that.
Let's get a bit into the publishing side because for awhile Google Play Books has had a bit of a reputation because it was closed to authors for quite a long time. Now it's open.
Can you talk about publishing direct on Google Play. What are some of the benefits and is it now open to everyone?
Ryan Dingler: Yes, it is officially open. There's not even an invite process, which some people may have been familiar with before. We allow publishers to sign up in over 40 countries.
Just to name a few, it might be applicable. US, UK, Canada, and Australia, as well as tons of other countries. If you are not on Google Play Books today, all you need to do is go to Google, type in Google Play Books publishing, and we will be the first link at the top.
And there's a small get started process and you can create a count within a minute, and then you just have to upload your book and set up payment information.
I do want to quickly note though, there is always a little bit of confusion if you don't have a Google account already. We do require a Google account. If you use Gmail that works perfectly. If you don't, you do need to create a Google account, which you can actually link to another type of email service, and then you can come in and then create the account from that Google account.
If you haven't created an account, it is very easy to do so, it takes a couple of minutes and then all you have to do is upload your book, just like any other publishing platform.
Joanna Penn: Importantly, the multi-currency pricing is something I think that people might want to know about.
If they price in different currencies, is there guidance on those types of prices?
Ryan Dingler: Yes. We do offer the ability to enter one price and have that price be converted locally into specific countries. We're in 75 countries. There is probably almost just as many currencies. If you want to put in one price, let's say 9.99 USD, we would then convert that into local geographies.
One thing that I'm sure people are familiar with is it's always best to provide smart pricing. You don't want it to be converted and be 4.27 in some other local currency. It just doesn't look like it's very professional in the store. And also, it doesn't have that behavioral economics where it seems like it's still $4, but it's almost $5 for the four 99.
So we do advise publishers in specific markets that are important to them to provide that local pricing and really provided at a level that that makes sense or that country. So you can imagine if you're providing your book price in euros to do it as 9 euros and 99 cents. If you want to do the same in the US you can do that price.
But also, if you want to provide it in other countries where the cost of living is not as high, we do actually advise publishers to provide a lower price, to really get at the exact point where supply equals demand for it. And you can actually generate sales. We do find that a lot of our books are overpriced for that given geography, often. As long as you have the time to do it, definitely try to provide as much price and currency as possible.
Joanna Penn: Definitely. I think a lot of people just put in their US dollar price and then don't realize that that translates into Indian rupees or something and can be expensive.
Also if someone is already publishing through a distributor, I know because I've being doing this and the books are there on Google Play Books. If I log in, I can see it also. What are the benefits of publishing direct versus through a distributor? Or is there any difference? Obviously there might be a difference in royalties, but what would be any other differences there? Any benefits?
What are the benefits of publishing direct versus through a distributor?
Ryan Dingler: First off, I think the decision to go direct or not really depends on the specific publisher business. There are pros and cons to each option. The con is time and the knowledge learning curve.
One unique thing, maybe, about Google Play Books that you don't experience as much at other retailers is we actually require all publishers, for eBooks specifically, to have their own direct account. So if you want to go publish with us, you first actually need to create an account like you will be direct, and then you can have a third party come in and manage your account.
Which makes it easy if you want to go back to being direct at some point. But there are a few benefits to going direct one, as you said, you can earn your full revenue share or your full 70% in 60 plus countries on our platform.
Two is you really have direct access to different tools. We recently launched the ability to create promo code campaigns, which is the ability to provide a discounted or free book to individual users, whoever you want to distribute the codes to.
You can actually create up to 15,000 codes a month, which we find satisfies almost everyone. You can do that through our partner center. And if you have direct access access, it's a bit easier to do that.
Also a long requested feature: we've finally been building new analytics tools into our partner center. And if you have direct access, you can use those a little bit more to understand how your business is performing and react to what you see in the data.
And then last, you actually do have it since you have a direct relationship with us, you hear about new activities and opportunities as soon as they happen, rather than hearing to them indirectly.
One of the benefits of the way that we have it structured is when you do create an account you can actually continue to go in there after it's already be managed by a third party. So you can do all this stuff. It really just comes down to how much time and effort you want to put into our platform.
I think there's there's any benefits to both sides, direct or not. But I think that you have the time to go direct, which as we know is really the main costs. I do think that there are a lot of benefits to doing so.
Joanna Penn: It all sounds pretty exciting, but I know one of the things everyone really just wants to know is how do we sell more e-books and audio books on Google Play. We would all love to sell more.
Can you give us some book marketing tips for Google Play Books?
Ryan Dingler: There are certainly a few things to think about. I would say most aren't that unique to our platform. They would probably apply to other ones as well. And I might separate out into two parts what you can do in our store to make your books more discoverable.
As most people are familiar, ours is a very algorithm driven store. So how to help that algorithm show it to more users. And then the second part, what you can do to market your book, to bring users and build an audience on Google play.
So maybe to start off with inner store. First is if your book is in a series, which we know a lot of publishers have books in the series, it is very important to give us good, serious metadata. The most fundamental thing, and I think it often gets overlooked.
With a well structured series metadata, we can do a whole host of things. We send push notifications to users, where it's relevant. We have bundles, so they can purchase more than one book at a time the series. We do cross selling. And at the end of the book, we call it ‘the end of book experience', sell users on the next book in the series.
It's very important to give us good metadata and that really gets in the nitty gritty details for a second. It makes up two parts. There's the series name and the series number series name just needs to be consistent across every single one of the book and series.
And the series number is very helpful for it to be a whole integer. So one, two, three, four, or five, when it is like one, one and a half, two, three, four, five, it makes it actually quite difficult for us to put together that series page, especially if there's number skipped or if there's prequels all of those types of things.
That's the first thing in our store and it's probably the most foundational overall.
Second is while we're on the topic of series is to have a first in series free. We have no restrictions on how long a book can be free in our store. You can have it a Permafree. We have found that that really performs well for a lot of publishers to get people hooked on the series, especially if it's a particularly long series. Once they're hooked on the free book, they will continue.
And then maybe lastly, for in store, this is just experiment with pricing, to kinda mix it up every now and then with a large percent drop in the price. We try to very heavily feature recently priced books to help our users find good deals.
When a book has a price drop that meets our classifications, we have it appear in a whole host of places that's like collections highlighting this kind of titles. We do collections by genre. We also send targeted push notifications to emails and customers that the book is relevant to when there is a price drop, so that experimentation and changing it to see how it goes is really helps with discoverability.
And then maybe on the flip side is that that's in our store outside of our store. It comes down to fundamentals as well. Making sure that the Google Play link is on your website. It's in the newsletters. It's everywhere that you have every other store because a lot of users are very loyal to their retailer.
When you do have that link, to earn a little bit extra money, you can have an affiliate link there. We do have that program where you can earn 7% back when you use your purchases, a book in the store after clicking on the link, that's the ground level fundamental is making sure you have the Google Play link wherever you have other shortlinks.
And then maybe one more unique one to our platform. And it goes back to what I was talking about before with promo code campaigns. As I said before, you can have 15,000 codes per month. That's actually three campaigns a month up to 5,000 per campaign. We've seen some publishers in quite successful with this feature.
If you have a newsletter or any other domain where you're interacting with customers, we found that some publishers create a little bit of excitement around their book by saying, okay, I'm going to create a campaign where the first hundred people can redeem my book either for free or for 50% off.
Then users in your newsletter would be able to redeem that easily and come to our store to complete that purchase if it's a 50% off or if it's free to start reading right away. And that's really to get users that are quite loyal to their platform and specifically Google Play Books. When they see that they can come in and once they have their book in their library, things get a lot easier because we do a lot of promotions relevant to what users are actually interested. And when they have that expressed interest, your book starts to appear more that I said a lot, but that's, it's basically the fundamentals there.
Joanna Penn: That's great. And I think, as you say, it's about getting things moving and so often if you have a free first in series and you have a BookBub, that goes out also to Google Play, that can just start things moving in a series. But until it's moving, it doesn't go anywhere and it would just sit there amongst all the other millions of other books. I think that's a good tip.
Also, I wondered about merchandising because as indie authors, we are used to Kobo and Apple and Amazon have things that we can apply for in order to be featured in some of these carousels or things.
Is there anything that we can apply for in terms of merchandising or is that something that might be coming?
Ryan Dingler: Being Google we're very algorithm driven. We don't have many merchandising opportunities for each user, we try to personalize the store to the individual. So everyone's shopping experience looks different depending on their specific needs. We've done a lot of experiments on our personalization with merchandising and using our algorithms to try to drive engagement.
And we think we've gotten to a place where we're trying to be as personalized as possible to both increase the number of purchases and increase total revenue for our publishers. One of the benefits though, of using algorithms is that we do is that it basically provides a level playing field for all partners.
You don't need to pay extra, to get on the same way. And so we find that it benefits both publishers there since they're on a level playing field and users, because they get the most customized, personalized book recommendations. I don't foresee many changes there.
Joanna Penn: And then something that I really want. I'm going to just tell you now what I would like to see, because I'm in the Google ecosystem. Obviously I have books, I have audiobooks. I'm also a narrator. So I'm a creator and I'm a rights holder for the books, but I'm also a narrator. I'm also a podcast. This podcast goes out on Google Podcasts. I'm also a YouTuber and I have websites, and I'm a writer.
So, I'm in the Google ecosystem in lots of different ways. And one of the things I've always wanted, for example, someone listening to this podcast, I would love if they're on Google Podcasts, that they could go, Oh, I really like Joanna's voice. I'd like to listen to her narrate an audiobook.
I would love like a Google Creator button that would link my creations across the whole ecosystem.
I have suggested this to a number of Googlers. So I'm suggesting it to you too, but I mean, I know that the company is not one company as such.There are loads and loads of different silos and all of that. But that kind of idea of a creator across multiple areas. Is that something that you think could ever possibly be linked together?
Ryan Dingler: I do. And that's a very good point. When you think about it, either on the creation side or the user side, users want to follow people. They don't want to follow specific podcasts.
They want to say, Oh, I follow this famous actor, actress or writer, regardless of where it is, whether it's a music, it's a book it's podcast, video. I think that's where it's going. It'll just take a while to get there. So if you want to follow someone on a podcast, you can follow them in that domain, but also you can see their audiobooks. You can see any other part of creation that they're doing.
The part is always coordinating across teams, trying to get it all hooked up on the engineering side. But I do think that in time, that is where we're seeing things go and hopefully we can, we can make it happen a little faster.
Joanna Penn: Oh, good. I'm so committed to that because I feel like this is marketing, this podcast is marketing for my brand and for people who come on the show obviously, and I feel like it would be so great if it was more easily linkable. So I'm really encouraged to hear you say that. Consider me a vote for the Google Creator profile thing, whatever it will be called.
You've mentioned algorithms a lot and Google is very ahead of the pack in terms of AI, artificial intelligence, and a lot of the things going on. I'm very excited about the AI space. I talk about it a lot on this show and I was excited to see that there's a Google Play Beta program for AI voice narration of audiobooks, which has been reviewed positively by a UK publisher.
I've discussed this on the show and I've got my own voice double, and I'm very excited about this. And I know a lot of people who are.
Can you tell us a bit about the program and why you think AI voice is going to be game changing for audiobooks and when authors can get involved?
Ryan Dingler: This is something that I've personally been working on for quite a few years now, almost my entire time on books. So happy having to talk about it.
I think maybe just to start off, I want to describe why we started to look at this in the first place and how we went about building it. When we launched audiobooks a few years ago, we noticed that there was a massive gap in the number of books versus audio books.
In fact, 95% of ebooks don't have an accompanying audio book, which is just millions and millions of books. And it's not that some of these eBooks would make a great audiobook. As we know, audiobooks are expensive to create both in terms of time and money. So we started to think about, what can we do as Google, who has a lot of text to speech machine learning to try to make it, so it's less expensive to produce.
With a lot of tweaking and internal coordination we started to build a product that we're calling auto-narrated books, basically text-to-speech audio books. We actually created the handful of public domain books to showcase just how good we think that these voices are.
Now most people are used to listening to a text-to-speech voice for a couple of seconds with Google Assistant or maybe a minute, but it's a bit different when you're listening to a five-hour six hour audio book. And so we took a lot of time to really refine these voices.
One thing that I think it's important to say is these auto-narrated audiobooks aren't in any way meant to replace human narrated ones.
The human voice is really still far and away superior at storytelling. This is really the best fit for books that would not otherwise have become audio books.
We think that by giving listeners more access to content, whether it's human narrated or auto narrated, really encourage users to listen to more audiobooks and expand the audiobook listening addressable market.
So we think that over time when users actually create ordinary audiobooks, they'll find, Hey, I'm starting to get some traction. Maybe it makes sense for me to invest in human narrated audiobooks.
We're also excited about the accessibility implications of ordinary audio books, both in the blind and low vision community, as well as readers with reading challenges such as dyslexia and really expanding access to audio versions of titles that, as I said before, would never have had an audio produced otherwise.
That's really the background on the product side. We're still trying to iron out a few details. There are a few things that are tricky to get right. Especially as you think about converting an EPUB directly into an audiobook. But we're excited to launch the tool, hopefully sometime coming soon to a wider publishing audience.
Joanna Penn: When you say soon, are we talking one year, five years, 10 years?
Ryan Dingler: Hopefully within the year. That that is our goal. There may be something that pops up before then, but we're really trying to make sure that the tool is as easy as possible for users to create. But definitely I would hope sometime within a year.
Joanna Penn: And when you say publishers, you mean someone like me who has my books on Google Play, that's something I might be able to get access to when it's available?
Ryan Dingler: Exactly. And we will definitely make it known to everyone when we have it available.
Joanna Penn: I'll tell you what I'm excited about this too, is that for example, you're an American male. You have an American male voice. I'm a British female and when I read my book, I knew that some people like my voice, but other people might want an American male and vice versa.
There are so many audio books that I get from America and they're all narrated by American men. And I'm like, I would really just like a British female voice! Why do I have to listen to this? I agree with you that we're not replacing humans, but we're giving the listeners a choice.
I might really just prefer a different voice to narrate the audiobook and what I see with stuff like this is, well, give people a choice. How would you like to listen? Yes, you can have this premium price, human narrator, or you could listen in a whole load of different voices, generated by AI. So that's kind of how I see it as that.
You could almost choose the voice of your audiobook like you choose the voice of your Assistant.
Ryan Dingler: That's exactly how we see it as well. And the initial version that'll be coming out, we'll have somewhere around 15 different voices that'll vary by gender, by accent, by age, by their pitch and their tone and their speed.
So users publishers can customize to figure out which voice they want to use. In the initial version, we'll have them only select one for one audiobook. But you can imagine that as it goes on as a user, you can say, Hey, I want the British female version for this book. And they can select on their side from a whole host of different options.
That won't be available in this coming release, but in time it will get in there. So users can really figure out, how do I want to listen to this content? And what makes sense for this specific content, whether it's serious or it's a little bit more comedic. And be able to choose themselves.
Joanna Penn: That's great. That's brilliant. The other question is on language. So for example, I'm not sure if voice doubles will be available, but I have books in German and other languages. Could you have the same voice, but narrating in a different language?
Ryan Dingler: You could have the same voice in there in different language. That would certainly not be possible in the initial version. It'll only be English. But we are looking to expand other languages as well. And you can take the same type of accent and convert it to another language. It may not always sound like I would, you would expect a human from speaking German would because it's maybe a British person speaking German in a little bit different manner.
We're trying to refine the models, but you certainly will be able to have it in different languages. And that's a big portion of what we see. If you write a book in English, let's say, and then you want to convert it to other languages. Maybe you're not going to make an audiobook in all those languages. Maybe you have only an English audiobook and this would make sense for some of those other audiobooks to be created by ordinary narration.
Joanna Penn: Oh, I love that. And I love that you've been working on this for a number of years because I am super excited about it. Everyone listening knows I go on about it all the time, but it feels like things have really speeded up. I know the pandemic has accelerated a lot of things. Obviously you've been working on this for years.
Is it the next couple of years that we're going to really see a shift, an explosion, of content in this exciting new audio world?
Ryan Dingler: That is certainly our hope, our intent, certainly my hope after all the time that we've been investing in this. I think it really comes down to the user and we have tried very hard to make a voice that users can listen to for long periods of time.
We've already created some public domain books. So you can feel free to listen to yourself though. We really think it's approaching the area where people would enjoy listening to these. And that really opens up, as you said, an entirely new domain of space, to create different types of audio just because it's normally so expensive to actually do that creation.
Joanna Penn: Where can people find out more about Google Play Books and also audiobooks?
Ryan Dingler: The best place is just to go to our Google Play Books publishing center. And if you just type that into a Google search will be the first thing at the top. And then when you do a create an account, or if you already have an account, make sure that you're signed up for our emails.
About a year ago or so changed our email opt-ins so make sure you go back in there, make sure they opted into the categories that you want. One of those is announcements. We always have a lot of announcements coming, whether it's new products in general or ones that have to do with auto narration, that would be the best place to stay informed.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Ryan. That was great.
Ryan Dingler: Great. Thanks Joanna.
Simone Leigh says
Many thanks. Great content. I’m trying to lever myself up the scale on GooglePlay, so this is great stuff to hear 😉
Bill Sinclair says
Have tried opening an account with Google Play to publish books umpteen times—they don’t make it easy. Gave up and moved on. Good post.
Ron Seybold says
I would expect a Google employee to say something misleading and misguided like, “So we think that over time when users actually create ordinary audiobooks, they’ll find, ‘Hey, I’m starting to get some traction. Maybe it makes sense for me to invest in human narrated audiobooks.’ ”
I just don’t believe this is how readers think. Once they’re getting something for free (the audio version), the only way they’d decide to invest is if the free, ordinary version was of poor quality. When a Google Play book arrives with watered-down narration, this doesn’t help the book generate another sale. The free audio just stands in the way of a bona fide sale of an audiobook for the author.
The Author’s Guild has already filed disputes over this.
I didn’t expect your podcast would give that Google promotion a forum, though, especially since you’ve produced an audiobook. You know about the effort and expense a production takes. Google isn’t trying to give audiobooks a new audience. They’re trying to undercut the growing audiobook marketplace.
It’s disappointing that you didn’t ask your Google guest to explain how authors will share in more revenue because their books are auto-narrated. I can be certain, though, that my books won’t ever be sold on Google Play, and I’ll advise my author clients and colleagues to stay away, too. This is a rights grab, at worst, and an obstacle course set up to clutter the audiobook landscape at best.
The next time Google comes your way, you might want to get some help from an industry journalist on your questions.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Ron, I have always said that I expect AI narration to be a massive part of the industry going forward, and Google is one of the biggest companies in AI so to have Ryan on to talk about it was something I am proud of.
You are welcome to your opinion, of course 🙂
I expect audio rights to split into multiple licenses e.g. AI-narrated, human single voice, and multi-voice full cast production.
I covered this in episode 520 – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2020/12/04/voice-technologies-streaming-and-subscription-audio-in-a-time-of-artificial-intelligence-ai/
We will grow the audio audience with AI-narration. Yes, it will lower costs and revenue, but expand the market.
Wishing you all the best.
Isobel Starling says
I’m actually pretty sickened by the blinkered view of AI ‘auto-narrated’ audiobooks in this article. There is a worrying lack of consideration of the effects that releasing such technology into the mainstream will have on the livelihoods of millions of authors and narrators.
Authors and narrators already have enough of a fight on our hands with trying to get Amazon/ Audible to treat us fairly and give us transparent contracts, fair payments, and understandable royalty reports. Authors who sell audiobooks wide are finding it a painfully hard task to get a return on their investment. Nothing Google Play offers would encourage me to put my audiobook content on sale with them -especially when they’re planning on burying my narrator’s exceptional talent under millions of AI narrated audiobooks.
The #Audiblegate team is fighting hard to get a better deal for all of us and change the industry for the better. AI audiobooks are NOT a positive step forward. For a start,I don’t believe ‘all’ ebooks deserve to be audiobooks. The ebook market is flooded with plagiarism, ghostwritten content, and even books of copy/paste nonsense. The fact that “95% of ebooks don’t have an accompanying audiobook” isn’t a reason to make millions of audiobooks with AI narration and flood a market. Authors and narrators are already struggling to keep our heads above water. Rightly, a lot of people in the audiobook industry are terrified AI is going to take away their income. Rightly, a lot of authors are terrified that their PFH paid for audiobook will vanish from visibility in a sea of robotic dross.
Google said ” So we think that over time when users actually create ordinary audiobooks, they’ll find, Hey, I’m starting to get some traction. Maybe it makes sense for me to invest in human narrated audiobooks.”
This is rubbish. Google wants to flood the market with millions of AI books until listeners don’t notice the difference. Sadly, just like with ebooks, there comes a saturation point where readers will read any old S**t as long as it’s free or 99c. Some readers don’t care about the writing talent, or if a book is written by a computer. They just want to escape their daily lives for a while. Does Google seriously expect us to believe that after a small financial outlay gets an AI audiobook, authors will suddenly say, “Hey, I think I’ll invest $250 per finished hour for my next book with a human narrator.”
Many narrators will have gone bust by then.
Joanna Penn says
You cannot beat the machine. AI narrated audio will become mainstream, as will subscription models and digital audio. All of which drive down income for narrators — as well as authors and rights-holders. That is why the ‘creator economy’ is all about building up personal relationships with readers (and listeners) so that even while income is driven down in some areas, it grows in other ways.
For example, my podcast is free to everyone, but a growing number of people support me on Patreon. This is the kind of thing that narrators will need to do. Voice licensing will also be an interesting model and with blockchain opportunities, may result in micro-payments.
Basically, the old models are dying — we all have to reinvent the way we make money. It’s as true for narrators as it is for authors.
Isobel Starling says
We will have to agree to disagree. The world is shifting in its understanding of the dangers of AI.
I carried out a poll among audiobook listeners in several audiobook groups, and in general, they were horrified by the idea of AI narration – not only because they weren’t convinced that AI could convey the emotion they look for in, say, romance narration, listeners had favourite narrators- who themselves have fanbases. The thought of AI narration was as abhorrent as discovering their favourite singer wasn’t a human. Listeners want human narrators to earn a living and not to have big tech harvest all of the money in the audiobook market.
There may be limited uses for AI voice going forward- warnings, alarms, sat nav, but for audiobooks, I believe the wider industry, narrators, authors and listeners will fight against it.
I’m hopeful AI voice for audiobooks will end up on the lengthening list of failed Google products.
Joanna Penn says
What do you think about the several billion people who can’t get audiobooks in their own language or their own dialect?
It’s fine to protect an established market of English language narrators, for sure, but surely opening up audiobooks and audio content to people in other languages (and accents within that language) is a good thing?