It’s almost 2018 and it’s time to talk about Google and their digital distribution options. The lack of features and availability of additional content is making me regret purchasing anything from them.
We’re almost to the 6th anniversary of Google Play, the one stop shop for all content you can purchase digitally from Google. Like Apple’s iTunes / App Store, Google Play brings together the apps and games of the Android Market with the Google Play Music & Google Play Movies services, and the Google eBook store.
However, the comparison isn’t necessarily a fair one; Apple’s iTunes / App Store is the major competitor to Google Play, but they’re doing a lot right that Google could learn from, even after operating their own digital marketplace for almost six years.
I’m starting with Movies (and TV) and there’s some key areas I want to address: Availability, Ultra-High Definition (or 4K) movies and Special Features.
Availability wise, Google offers Play Movies in over 110 countries, but TV shows in only 9. Apple offers Movies in 109 countries, but TV shows in only 6, so there’s not much of a disparity there. Amazon by the same token is also a player in this game, and offers their Prime Video service which contains both movies and TV shows in over 200 countries.
It’s when you get to UHD content that you also see a big discrepancy with Google officially offering UHD content in 2 countries (the U.S. and Canada) and unofficially in 2 more (the UK and Australia), while Apple offers UHD content in all 109 countries they offer movies in.
That’s a massive gap in the UHD availability, with only a limited selection of movies is offered both here in Australia and in the UK, and they’re mostly Sony movies as far as I can tell. The availability of UHD content seems to have been driven by a promotion for Sony Bravia customers giving them a free UHD Movie – so by this logic, it appears that left to Google, UHD content would not be offered here or in the UK.
The UHD divide is further widened by the fact that Apple earlier this year upgraded all the HD movies that iTunes customers had purchased to UHD quality free of charge. Has there been a peep out of Google on this? No.
If you can get past the fact you can’t buy your favourite movie in UHD quality, then you’ll probably be resorting to physical media. There’s two advantages to physical media – for one you get to decide if you want UHD quality, Blu-Ray or just a DVD, and secondly you get special features….where’s our special features, making ofs, or directors’ commentary Google?
We get precisely none of this from Google, whereas Apple offers what’s called ‘iTunes Extras’ through their iTunes marketplace. iTunes Extras can include deleted scenes, the making-ofs, documentaries and yes, directors commentaries. All the things you can get if you buy physical media, but digital has lagged behind.
Google has dabbled in Extras over the years, and because of this we can tell that the technical ability to include extras is there, it’s just not being done regularly. The Star Wars 6-movie pack I purchased when it was first released on Google Play has additional features like documentaries, but there’s nothing else. I own the Blu-Ray pack of the Star Wars films and there’s a wealth of additional features included. Presumably it isn’t a licensing issue, so why can’t these be made available?
Google has done a lot right with their music service. The digital locker allowing you to upload many thousands of your own tracks is a massive plus for the service, but there’s still quite a gap in features and availability.
In terms of availability, Amazon music seems to be fairly restricted, with each country selling music on a country, by country basis. Google Play Music (and the subscription service All Access) is available in 63 countries, Apple offers songs and LPs through iTunes in almost 120. That’s a fairly big gap. We have little to complain about here in Australia, where we’ve had access for a while now, but in a lot of other countries Google Play Music is simply unattainable.
What about features? The concept of ‘Album Exclusives’ seems to have been scaled back by Apple in the past year, but up until then it wasn’t unheard of to see ‘Exclusive to Apple’ etc. tacked onto albums. These exclusives ranged from timed exclusivity to bonus tracks that were only available on their service. Apple Music also offers curated playlists and Beats1 Radio which is generally well received; Google’s radio stations aren’t curated as such, more informed by “similarity” of artists, sounds and songs, and while they can be enjoyable, they’re not fabulous. Having a built-in streaming radio service run by actual DJs is great for content discovery, something that I feel Google Play Music lags behind in. As many have said, it’s no competitor for Spotify.
Availability wise, there is the question of Podcasts. Launched in the US and Canada in April 2016, there’s no sign of this showing up in Google Play Music outside of these regions. You can get podcasts playing on Google Home outside of the US and Canada using very specific commands, but it’s not user friendly experience.
The big question is Why? Podcasts available in Google Play Music are available globally through podcast catchers like Pocket Casts – so it’s not a copyright issue. Podcasters generally want their podcasts to be available widely, a bigger audience raises the potential for better engagement, revenue from advertising etc. Google has so far remained silent on this issue.
Google has done well, but with rumours of yet another music streaming service coming up, it’s time to see Google just do it right. Ensure that the content is given to users who want to pay for it.
Google Play Books is another service that could use a bit of a polish in terms of content features but availability seems pretty good at this stage.
Google Play Books is available in 75 countries around the world – this is in comparison to Apple’s 51 countries making Google very much ahead of the game here. Amazon though really rules the roost with their Kindle eBooks service, with most countries able to buy ebooks from Amazon.
On the plus side for Google’s eBook platform is the positive of being able to upload your own eBooks (PDF or ePubs) but on the downside is you’re limited to 1,000 of these uploads, not a lot when you’re wanting to upload legitimately obtained ePubs from places like Project Gutenberg. While some people still keep legacy eBook readers – reading off an eInk display is far more comfortable than reading from a backlit LCD/AMOLED, for example – Google Play Books doesn’t let you put purchased content on a Kindle or Kobo reader. Granted, Apple’s service doesn’t either, but this is something that really could really boost the service.
Apple and Google are pretty much at parity with eBook availability dealing with the major publishers of fiction, non-fiction and text books. There’s one thing that Google has yet to fully jump on: Enhanced editions.
Apple, Google and even Amazon are now selling the enhanced edition of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but the Harry Potter enhanced editions which include ‘playful animations, intricate artwork, interactive features and J.K. Rowling’s annotations from pottermore.com’ are still an Apple exclusive.
Overall, Google Play Books is pretty good in terms of features and availabilty so there’s not a lot to complain about really.
Bridging the Music and Books categories are audio books. At this stage there’s a rumour that Google has plans to launch an Audiobooks category in Google Play. Apple sells Audiobooks in over 20 markets, so this is beating Google to start with, but both lag far behind Amazon and their Audible service.
There’s a whole other section in Google Play: Newsstand, but I don’t know of many people who even use it, it seems pretty well stocked – but I’m not even really up on magazine availability – we have things like Zinio and your local library for that. For the rest of their digital content though, if Google wants to get serous about their digital content platform – there’s still a lot that needs to change.
The whole point of this is that it’s time for Google to get serious about content. It’s time to start getting serious about being a global player in digital content, stop dipping their toes in and testing the waters and jump in.
Google has established relationships with all the vendors involved in digital Music, Movie/TV and Book content, plus they have over 2 billion monthly active users – of which they can all access Google Play. Leverage the relationships you have with your content partners and those users and get serious – or get out completely.