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Google Begins Selling Textbooks Through Play Store

With little fanfare, Google began offering electronic textbooks for rent or purchase on its Google Play store on Friday. Included will be books from some of the largest academic-text publishers, including Pearson, Macmillan Higher Education, and Wiley, among others.

Google said the e-textbooks could save students “up to 80 percent” off print-textbook prices, and could also provide readers with features not available from traditional books. Among other things, readers can search within a text for a word or phrase, bookmark pages, annotate paragraphs, and highlight key thoughts. Additionally, there is a new sepia reading mode that can ease the eyestrain that comes from staring at a screen.

The service will be rolling out to users across the United States during the coming weeks, said Matthew Firestone, a Google spokesman.

As with any book that customers purchase on Google Play, the e-textbooks will be stored in the cloud, allowing readers to access the material on a variety of devices, including the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, as long as the gadgets are running at least iOS 5.0.

Charles Schmidt, director of public relations for the National Association of College Stores, said Google’s move was nothing new. “It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. College stores are still the best value for your dollar,” he said, adding that today’s college students overwhelmingly prefer print.

“We think that the college students of today are digital natives—they’re not,” he said. “They’re digital immigrants. When they formed their study habits in middle school, print was still king.”

Indeed, a recent survey by a librarian at City University of New York found that students still prefer print for serious academic reading.

Mr. Schmidt listed a litany of reasons that electronic-textbook use remains behind that of print textbooks. Students must buy the gadgets on which to read the e-books, for one thing, and e-textbooks do not yet have the “bells and whistles” to justify these additional expenses.

Still, he said, Google’s move into the textbook space is nothing to scoff at. “When a big gorilla like that jumps into anybody’s space, they’d be concerned about it.”

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