Google’s crackdown means you can’t buy Barnes & Noble ebooks on Android

Starting next week, users of Barnes & Noble’s Android app will no longer be able to purchase digital books in the app, and this appears to be due to a Google Play policy deadline that’s more than a year and a half in the making. And it’s not just Barnes & Noble that suffers; you also can’t buy Amazon’s Audible titles with a debit or credit card in the latest version of the Android app.

The changes appear to stem from Google’s insistence that apps use Google Play’s billing systems. Developers have long criticized Apple and Google for requiring the use of their own billing systems, largely because of the so-called “app store tax” on many transactions.

Google updated its policy in September 2020 to clarify what types of in-app transactions required use of the Google Play billing system, but Barnes & Noble and Audible are only now making changes — and at the last minute. Google originally gave a deadline of September 30, 2021, then offered a six-month extension to March 31, 2022 — which, as I write, was yesterday. Both Audible and Barnes & Noble pointed to Google’s policies as the reason for the changes, and Audible even linked us to that September 2020 post.

Google spokesperson Dan Jackson also directed us to this page, Understanding Google Play Payment Policies, to explain Audible and B&N’s steps. It describes that “apps that use an alternative in-app billing system must remove it to comply with payment policies.”

How can it affect users? Specifically, Barnes & Noble says that “as of April 4, 2022, with the release of NOOK software version 6.1, the ability to purchase has been removed from the Barnes & Noble Nook app for Android and the Nook HD 10,” designed with Lenovo,” on a page on its website. The company was a bit clearer in an email sent to a roadside employee on Friday: “You can no longer make purchases of digital content in the B&N NOOK Android app.”

With Audible from Amazon, you can no longer buy titles with a debit or credit card in the app from Friday, according to a support page. Additionally, new Audible memberships launched in the app from Friday will be billed through Google Play, not directly through Audible. You can still use Audible credits to buy books in the app, and you can also buy more credits in the app.

You may be wondering why Google is enforcing this just a week after announcing a potentially major policy change: a pilot program that let developers use their own billing systems. We wondered that too, but Jackson pointed out that pilot participants must offer Google’s billing system before they can record their own.

Currently, Spotify is the only company named in a pool of “a small number of participating developers”. Audible spokesman Kamian Allen said the company had no say in joining the program, and Barnes & Noble did not answer our questions.

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