Google’s move to sell or rent schoolbooks on GooglePlay is set to lighten schoolbags and help trim students’ expenses
In a year marked by the profusion of new start-ups providing e-education products and services, the giants of Silicon Valley are also muscling into the e-education market in a big way. Following Apple’s iBooks app, and the Amazon Kindle e-reader, Google is the latest Internet mega-player to enter the scene. On 9 August it launched a schoolbook sale or hire offer on Google Play. This first foray into education a few days before schools go back after the summer break seems strategically well-timed, given that purchases of necessary course books often adds up to a heavy financial burden for students, who may have to lay out close to a thousand dollars a year for the recommended volumes. A recent report from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the price of standard textbooks has risen by more than 800% in the space of thirty years, i.e. three times the increase in real estate prices and medical costs over the period. Google now offers a simple and less expensive alternative: buying or renting books online.
Major savings for US students
The app, which was launched a few days before the new school year begins, offers a selection of textbooks from the catalogues of the main educational publishers: Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hilland Macmillan have all gone into business with Google. The books are available for both iPhone and Android users, and specific apps enable them to buy or rent the books at prices up to 80% lower than the paper publications. Moreover Cloud technology means the texts can be brought up on to any device from laptop computer to smartphone or tablet. However, the majority of the books on Google’s list so far are digital versions of the paper originals. This means that apart from the cost savings aspect and the convenience of Cloud storage, these formats actually add very little to the tried, trusted and traditional paper format, with the exception of one useful feature: users can access a free-of-charge app that enables them to annotate text and underline passages in the e-books.
Beyond online textbooks?
Google’s arrival on the market seems to confirm the fact that e-education is a market in its own right, and one that is expanding rapidly. However, the giants of the online world will have to go beyond mere digitisation of paper texts; they will need to take steps to share the content and make use of the opportunities that digital platforms provide. Apple, for example, with its free self-publishing iBooks Authorapp, gives teachers the opportunity to create their own manuals, using interactive content comprising video, photos and 3D objects. The Cloud also provides new ways for students and teachers to work together. US start-up Box enables teachers and students to exchange ideas through a common interface. By offering course books on its online store, Google is integrating e-education into an ecosystem – including Google Glassand Android – that is becoming broader and more sophisticated. Providing online textbooks is undoubtedly only the first step towards greater integration of education into the Google ecosystem.