This week Google started selling audiobooks through the Google Play Store. And after purchasing a book this afternoon, I was getting ready to join Nate from The Digital Reader in declaring that the experience of actually using Google Play for audiobooks is frustrating and disappointing.

But while I was tinkering with the Google Play Books app on my phone, it seems to have updated and now it does almost everything I’d expect.

Unfortunately there are still a few things that will probably keep me from spending a lot of money on audiobooks from the Play Store.

My first complaint? You can listen to audiobooks through the Google Play website on a PC, through the Google Play Books app on your phone, or through a supported device with Google Assistant. But there’s no easy way to download and save a copy of that book so you can listen on an unsupported device.

To be fair, you can download an audiobook to an Android device so you can listen when you’re offline. But it’s saved in a folder that’s inaccessible unless you have a rooted device. Since my phone isn’t rooted, I’m not sure if the file is protected by DRM or if it’s a DRM-free MP3 like the music that Google sells. The point is moot for me, since I have no way to transfer audiobooks off of my phone and onto my PC for safe keeping.

My second issue is that while the Google Play Books app has been updated to function as an audiobook player (as well as an eBook reader), there’s a key feature missing: bookmarks.

If you stop listening, the app will pick up where you left off. But it’d be nice to be able to save a space in case you want to flip back and forth a bit. And if you accidentally click on the wrong chapter from the table of contents, good luck finding your place again.

I purchased an audiobook copy of Stephen King’s It, and it’s a 45-hour listen with some chapters lasting for as long as 3.5 hours. I’d hate to lose my place and be unable to find it again.

Other than that, it looks like Google has worked out most of the kinks. Initially it was easy to buy an audiobook from the Google Play Store, but impossible to find it in the Google Play Books app. The only way I could find to actually start playing it was to find the purchase in the Family Library section of the Google Play Store and choose the play option from there.

But now there’s a new “Audiobooks” tab in the Library section of the app that shows any audiobooks in your account.

The Google Play Books home page also shows recent purchases at the top of the screen, with a “Play” button for audiobooks and a “Read” button for eBooks.

While there probably aren’t a lot of great reasons to buy audiobooks from Google Play rather than from Audible,, or other sources, at least the service is functional… and if you’re a Google Opinon Rewards user, you can essentially buy audiobooks by answering surveys.

I only bought It was because I already had a balance in my Google Play account and because I was curious to see how the new feature worked. Maybe I’ll actually listen to it… if I have 45 hours to kill (or a bit less since you can also listen to books at speeds ranging from 0.75x to 2x the normal speed).


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14 replies on “How Google Play audiobooks work”

  1. I am currently on my first audiobook from google play store and am somewhat disappointed. Trying to be fair, It is fine, nothing to complain about really except the loss of… mmm maybe data autonomy? I like to keep my files this way or that way and I can do nothing with the files from google play. I have been down this road with apple and still to this day have hundreds of dollars of audio files I literally can no longer listen to anywhere but at home staring at my pc. I know this is to keep us from swapping files and I get that. I can get the files and make them into the malleable mp3’s I am used to but it’s a pain. I don’t like buying pain.

  2. Does anyone know if you purchase an audio book does it also include access to the e-book version as well? I’ve search the help and can not find this explained.

  3. Every time I see something about another ebook or eaudiobook buying option I think, did you check with your local library’s digital options? Overdrive and Hoopla are two of the main options, but there are a couple of others. There are varying limitations depending on your library and the service, but FREE and you get your money’s worth from your property taxes.

    If I know I’m going to read/listen/watch more than once or twice, I’m a fan of buying. But, if I know I’m just going to enjoy it once, I’m a fan of checking my free options first.

    1. Del – I cold not agree more. The library authorities do not promote their facilities well enough, but a vast array of contemporary fiction is available in eBook and audiobook format FOR FREE through your local library’s digital service provider: usually an app from Overdrive, Ulverscroft, RB Digital or BorrowBox. (as well as couple of others)

      This simply needs to be better marketed by library authorities/libraries/local councils!

  4. I couldn’t find a way to include and open in Play Books already pre-existing, locally stored 3rd party pdf/epub documents/books.
    Is there one?

    1. Yes. That’s pretty straightforward. In the Google Play Books app via PC there’s an upload option under settings. One of the best things ever

    1. “Thank you for bringing up DRM. I’m one of the co-founders of and were are proud that our 90,000+ audiobooks are DRM-free, which we like to call cage-free. Here’s our perspective on why this matters

      Oh yeah? Then why is it (seemingly) impossible to search or browse only “Cage Free” titles on your site? I find no “Cage Free” search filters or advanced search options anywhere. If you are such big anti-DRM proponents, why isn’t there a Big Honkin’ Red “Show Cage Free Only” button on every page?

      In fact I feel like your whole site is designed the prevent targeted searching at all. The theory is that if you stumble around long enough looking for something that’s intentionally made hard to find, you will eventually find “something” and buy it anyway. I hate sites designed like that.

      1. What are you talking about David? The reason there’s no “Big Honkin’ Red ‘Show Cage Free Only’ button” is because _ALL_ of the books sold on are DRM free. You just need to download the .zip file containing the audio from the website after you purchase an audiobook.

        As for preventing targeted searching? There’s a search button on the main page, you can search by title, author, or narrator… Perhaps you can be more specific? What is it that’s missing that you think should be there?

  5. Can you download Audible audiobooks to listen on unsupported devices? That would be the real question as that is obviously the competition. Well, that and now Walmart/Kobo apparently.
    It is very nice that you can download to listen on Android devices since the announcement mentioned that it would be coming to Android Auto at some point as well if I recall correctly.
    Not having to waste cellular data streaming books is good.
    The bookmark feature would be nice, as you mention.
    I’d really like to be able to play third party books like those from Especially an app that worked with Android Auto.
    Of course you can just download them but I’d like something that kept bookmarks, etc…

    1. Audible books are completely locked up with DRM, except for the following scenario; Audible allows you to use iTunes to burn a book to CD-R. It (be it Audible, iTunes or whatever won’t allow you to burn the book to .mp3 or anything else, and I’ve had no success burning a book to DVD either.

      Nonetheless, if you have a huge stack of blank CD-Rs and are willing to record the audiobook to CD at the rate of about 77 minutes per CD-R, you then have an audiobook that is no longer DRM protected. If one was inclined (not me of course), someone could take all those CD-Rs and rip them back to her computer in whatever format she wanted.

    2. As for Audible, put “inaudible drm” into your favorite search engine and see.

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