There aren't any specific details on which titles will be available, but Google did say that they had teamed up with 5 major textbook publishers to offer a “comprehensive selection of titles”. The ebooks will be available for sale and rent, and the rental option is supposed to allow readers to pay only a fraction of the full cost of an ebook to rent for a period of up to six months.
The new ebooks are going to be available in the Google Play Books apps for Android, iPad, and iPhone as well as on the web. They'll support the same reading features as the current Google Play Books service, including search, bookmarks, highlighting, notes, and a “night mode”.
So Google is getting into textbooks, and now that they accept Epub3 they are probably going for the fancy-shmancy textbooks as well.
This is an interesting change, but not for the reason you think.
You see, Google Play already has a textbook section; they just don't have very many textbooks in it.
While there are some reference books and actual textbooks from publishers like O'Reilly, many of the titles in that section aren't actually textbooks. Instead they are general nonfiction titles like for Dummies books, or classics that your English teacher might assign, or basic how to books.
Today's news could be a sign that Google plans to offer better support for textbook buying, but I could be reading too much into it. All we can really say is that Google is more interested in content then they were last month, and more interested in enhanced ebooks than last month.
That's interesting news, or at least it was when I reported it 3 weeks ago.
Update: A trip to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine showed me that the textbook section was not listed in Google Play in July 2012 (that's the last time that Google Play Books was indexed). Instead many of the categories that now make up the textbook section were listed separately in Google Play Books. A lot of the ebooks currently listed in the textbook section were already in Google Play Books in those sections.
image by hackNY