Google says Google Play users can now store up to 20,000 songs for free and… (Associated Press / Google…)
Reporting from San Francisco — In a bid to better compete with Apple and Amazon.com, Google has created a one-stop shop called Google Play, where consumers can buy and download digital books, music, movies and games.
The Internet search giant says users can now store up to 20,000 songs for free and buy millions of new tracks, download more than 450,000 Android apps and games, browse e-books and rent movies on the digital media hub.
The initiative brings together Google Music, Google Books and Android Market. Visitors to those sites will be redirected to a single page that features tabs for books, music, games and movies, whether they are browsing the Web on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Google Play can be reached from any browser or mobile device.
"This is a smart move to position itself as a content provider. Google now has an offering that can rival iTunes," SearchEngineLand.com editor Danny Sullivan said.
Google, a competitor to Apple in the mobile market — in which the share of Android-powered phones by some estimates overtook iPhones last year — is trying to catch up to Apple in selling digital media directly to consumers.
Apple's iTunes accounts for 70% of the market for digital song downloads, by one estimate. Google took the wraps off a digital music store to compete with iTunes in November.
Amazon.com is also focusing heavily on building a digital destination using its Kindle platform as a gateway to millions of consumers.
Gartner media analyst Michael McGuire said Google is smart to make its digital content easier to navigate and find.
"This is a crucial step Google had to take to keep competitive," McGuire said. "Google is trying to simplify delivering to consumers something they will pay for or load onto their device. Anything Google can do to streamline that is important. Google has got more Android devices in the world, but I don't think it's paying out as much to people who create apps or content."
Google says it will offer a different album, book, video rental and Android app at a reduced price each day for the next week. For example, consumers can buy "Where's My Water" for just 25 cents Tuesday.
"We're creating this notion that the consumer has a single relationship with Google as the ecosystem for their content," said Jamie Rosenberg, Google's director of digital content.
Google has a huge audience with more than 300 million Android devices in use. But Apple has a head start with its iTunes and Apps stores. And Google has only three of the four major recording labels in its music store.
One Android developer said Google Play would drive more sales.
"The improved look and flow will make it easier for people to find games," said Adam Flanders, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Glu Mobile Inc., a San Francisco developer of more than 30 Android games such as Stardom and Contract Killer Zombies. "That's great for us."
With more than 450,000 applications in Google's Android app market, three times the number from a year ago, developers are grateful for anything that can help boost their visibility.
By combining Google's audience for all media, Flanders said, his company can get in front of more potential customers.
"If they've got more eyeballs in the store looking for all kinds of content, there's a higher probability of people finding one of our games," Flanders said.
Google has been making aggressive moves in entertainment as it looks for new ways to make money beyond online advertising, which still accounts for nearly all of its revenue.
It's working on a home entertainment device to be released this year that streams music and, down the line, may stream other types of digital content such as video. Google is also working with media companies, Hollywood production companies and online video creators to come up with original programming for its online video sharing site YouTube.