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Google Takes on Audible With New Audiobook Offering

Google is getting into the audiobook business: The company launched a new  audiobook store as part of its Google Play Books service Tuesday, promising competitive prices with a pay-as-you-go model. “You can listen to as many or as few as you want without a subscription,” said Google Play Books head of product management Greg Hartrell.

The company is marketing the new service with a sale on popular audiobook titles including “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” by J.K. Rowling, Fire & Fury by Michaelk Wolff and “1984” by George Orwell. Audiobooks are available in 9 languages across 45 countries.

Consumers will be able to buy audiobooks within the Google Play Books apps for Android as well as on the web, and also play them on iPads and iPhones, Google Home speakers, Chromecast streaming adapters and compatible devices. “You just pick up where you left off, no matter which device you are using,” said Hartrell.

Android devices are getting offline playback of books at launch, and Google has also integrated the service with its assistant. This means that consumers will be able to say things like “Okay Google, read my book” — and their phone or Google Home speaker will start playing back the requested title. Hartrell said that Google is using artificial intelligence to make sense of a book’s table of contents and automatically give chapters the right headlines.

With audio books, Google is entering a space that has long been dominated by Audible. The Amazon-owned service has been selling audiobooks online since the mid-nineties online, and has also been Apple’s primary audiobook partner since 2003. In addition to single titles, Audible has also been running a popular subscription service for audiobooks.

One frequent point of criticism of Audible has long been its use of digital rights management (DRM) technology that makes it impossible to play Audible files on some devices. Hartrell sidestepped questions about the file formats Google is going to use for its audiobook offering during an interview with Variety, but said the company was looking into make the service available on MP3 players and other legacy devices at some point down the line.

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