While Apple (AAPL) and its iBookstore wait for the DOJ to finalize its punishment in the wake of an e-book price fixing conviction, Google (GOOG) is swooping in to take on the company in the growing e-textbook market.
This fall, Google Play will be joining Amazon (AMZN), Barnes & Noble (BKS) and Apple — along with a bevy of smaller players — in offering college and high school students a digital alternative to those 10 pound paper textbooks.
“Rolling out this week, you can now rent or purchase digital textbooks from the Books section on Google Play. We have a long list of publishing partners, and we’re launching with a comprehensive selection of higher education titles from science and mathematics to history and English, and everything in between.”
Apple got into the educational book market in a big way last year, with the January 2012 launch of interactive iBooks textbooks and e-text authoring software. Amazon has been in the digital textbook business since 2009, when it launched a pilot program with U.S. universities to offer texts on its (then huge) 9.7-inch Kindle DX e-reader. That early foray might have been pushing it, but with today’s tablets offering better displays, storage and multimedia capabilities — and with Wi-Fi being pretty much ubiquitous on campuses — the hardware limitations have been eliminated.
And tablet ownership is rapidly growing among students. A 2012 survey by the Pearson Foundation found that the number of U.S. college students who owned a tablet had tripled over the previous year, while the number of high school seniors with one had quadrupled. The study also found a preference among the groups for digital textbooks over printed versions — the e-texts are more interactive both through embedded material and instructor/classmate notes that can be shared via social media. They also tend to be cheaper. The students felt digital e-textbooks were destined to replace their heavy, hardcover counterparts altogether within five years.
With its Android operating system now powering 63% of tablets, an existing e-book business and the opportunity to stick it to two rivals (Apple, who keeps trying to banish Google apps from its mobile products, and Amazon, who has the nerve to fork Android and sell tablets locked into its own app store), it’s not a surprise that Google’s wading into the ring.
How much is this market worth? It’s not going to make or break the bank for Google, but then again the company is so big that no single line of business (other than advertising) has a material impact other than to help the company to diversify beyond advertising revenue. Still, there is a fair amount of cash up for grabs.