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Google rolls out digital textbooks, to buy and rent — but students should shop around

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Google (s GOOG) has launched a digital textbooks section of Books on Google Play in the U.S., as promised. The textbooks are available through the Play website, Android and iOS (s AAPL) apps.

Most of the textbooks are only available for purchase, but a few are available to rent, too. Amazon (s AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (s BKS) also rent digital textbooks, and when I compared prices across the stores, I found variability in both availability and how long the rental periods are.

Take the Psychology textbook by Daniel Schacter, for instance: At Google, it’s only available as a rental, for $65.99 for 180 days. The textbook isn’t available in a digital edition at Amazon at all, but students can rent a print copy for $25.23 per semester (a period ending January 4, 2013), with the option to extend the rental for $5 every 15 days. And at Barnes & Noble, the digital textbook rental is $1 cheaper than Google’s: $64.99 for 180 days.

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Google also has fewer digital textbooks for rent than Kindle or Nook, but the selection should increase over time. Google says it’s working with the five largest textbook publishers — Cengage, Wiley, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan.

3 Responses to “Google rolls out digital textbooks, to buy and rent — but students should shop around”

  1. ricphillips

    Once again we get absurd pricing in the netherworld that is the migration from physical to digital media.

    Once you have written a good quality text book in paper – you get nothing for resale, and the cost of refreshing sales through updated editions is high. So we get the >$100 price tag for textbooks – especially university level texts that have low volumes.

    A per-book rental north of $100 per annum looks like the publishers are comparing apples with oranges and coming up with bar-stools.

    Digital costs less to produce, but more importantly the low cost of maintenance of editions and the removal of re-sale changes the economics.

    There is also a lot of evidence that an all you can eat monthly subscription model is viable. Safari are already doing this with technical books.

    $64.99 / 180 days is a what-we-can-screw-them-for-and-get-away-with price point. In the absence of cartel behaviour it won’t last.

    • You may be right, but assembling these books is expensive. If you’re really correct, you should be able to write your own psych book and rent it out at half of the price. Or maybe even less.

  2. Thad McIlroy

    CourseSmart also rents at $64.99/180 days, as does Kno and Chegg. Methinks that there are too many undifferentiated choices — every one of them “working with the five largest textbook publishers – Cengage, Wiley, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan” –.renting digital facsimile textbooks, the least popular digital textbook format.