Managing ebooks with Google Drive and Play Books

The number of digital publications has exploded in the past couple of years. And I’m not talking about literature only. Think of manuals for electronic devices (some of my most recent acquisitions didn’t come with a printed booklet, but a CD-ROM instead), white papers, brochures, catalogues and of course thousands of free ebooks from website like

If you buy an ebook on Amazon or iTunes you don’t have much choice where to read those books and you just read them on the Kindle (app) or in iBooks. However, there are tons of free ebooks on the web (pdf or epub) for which there are plenty of ebook readers available. Of course, it would also be nice to have the same cloud features (e.g. synced bookmarks and annotations) as with the Kindle or iBooks. Unfortunately neither Amazon nor Apple allow you to upload ebooks to their cloud services and to sync them to all your devices. Google Play Books provides those services for free and without the need for a credit card.

You can upload epub and pdf files (the most common formats for free ebooks) from the web or from android (you will have to set “enable pdf” for pdf files in the Play Books app first) and then sync and work with them across devices. That means you can pick up reading on your smartphone from the page where left when you last read it on your tablet. Or you can annotate the book conveniently on a laptop computer and then carry around the annotations on your smartphone.

Play Books also allows you to import ebooks (pdf or epub) directly from your Google Drive. So I frequently upload ebooks to Drive first. Keeping ebooks in your Drive also allows you to share your library e.g. with your students. Moreover, you have additional tools available such as converters.

A variety of Google Drive features and additional tools make it really easy to work with ebooks in Google Drive:

1. Save ebooks to Drive
From the web the best option is to use the Save to Google Drive Chrome extension. This way you can save (and rename) pdf files and other ebooks directly from the browser without having to download or upload again. Alternatively you can also download ebooks into the Google Drive desktop folder.
If you receive a publication via email, you can use the Gmail function to save it directly into your Drive.

2. Finding and sharing ebooks
Google makes it really easy to find ebooks as whole pdf files (as well as other document formats) are searched through and even OCR’ed. Create a folder named “ebook library” and share the folder with your students. Of course you can also share single books or create subfolders.

3. Converting and creating ebooks
Using a Drive app like Cloud Convert allows you to convert different file types, such as MS Word or PDF into ebook formats such as epub or mobi. Epub is my preferred format as it is both an open standard and universal (you can open it in iBooks, for example, or read it in Google Play books). However, if a document has a complicated layout (e.g. a lot of tables, multi-column, etc.) the conversion is frequently imperfect and it might not be worth the effort.
You can also create ebooks using a Google Doc. Put an image on the first page as a cover for the ebook and create a table of content for the ebook. Finally convert the doc with Cloud Convert. Cloud Convert lets you convert multiple files in one go, so you don’t

4. Uploading to and reading in Google Play Books
You can read your epub files in almost any ebook app (e.g. iBooks). However, only Google Play Books also allow you to sync bookmarks and annotations across your devices and it is therefore my preferred ebook reader app. You can upload your ebooks from Drive in your browser via:
or on an mobile device using the Drive app (or any other) via sharing (you need to have the latest version installed, though).

Having two applications for ebooks might seem a bit inconvenient, however the possibility to share your own ebooks and being able to sync them across your own devices makes the effort worthwhile for me. Moreover, you can have students create their own ebooks collaboratively using Google Drive. You can already download Google Drive documents in PDF format, it would also be great if Google offers epub support in the future.

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