Monday, 14 July 2008

Free Textbooks

Normally when a PR person approaches me with a story, I'm not all that interested, but this one struck me as a pretty interesting development, so I thought I'd put out the information with a bit of commentary.
Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of free and open college textbooks, today announced it will soon begin the nation’s largest in-classroom test of open college textbooks. The nationwide beta test of its books involves hundreds of students from 15 colleges and universities across the United States. Flat World Knowledge’s free and open textbooks will replace traditional textbooks in a single class or class section at each participating institution. The beta test begins this August and will run through the completion of the Fall 2008 semester.

Flat World Knowledge has built a business model around offering free textbooks to college students. Through their open platform, students will have access to complete textbooks free of charge, with the option to purchase affordable alternate formats of the content (i.e. print & audio versions of the text, podcast study guides, mobile phone flash cards, etc.).

Flat World Knowledge’s mission is to take the best characteristics of traditional textbook publishing - such as expert-written, peer-reviewed and professionally edited texts -- and then flip the old model on its head. Flat World’s books will be open for faculty to customize, and free to students online. Flat World and its authors earn compensation by offering affordable choices to students beyond the free online book, from printed textbooks for under $30 (printed-on-demand), to audio books for under $20, to downloadable and printable files by the chapter, and more. The company supplements its texts with low-priced study aids like DRM-free podcast study guides, digital flash cards, interactive practice quizzes, and more.
Free textbooks. Pretty cool. I wonder if they can make money with the alternative models. If you look at companies like Cramster that provide community and answers to text book problems - often oriented around particular college texts without the direct involvement of the publisher, then you have to believe that there will be communities around text books emerging and likely you can monetize off of that. Just not sure if it will be the publishers.
Eric Frank, Flat World Knowledge co-founder and chief marketing officer. “This new model of textbook publishing will result in increased choices and dramatically lower costs for students. It can enhance learning by giving instructors more control over content, and by leveraging the power of social learning networks around content. Between the oligopolistic practices of the big publishers on one end of the spectrum, and piracy on the other, lies a better solution – open textbooks.”
There's quite a few things in between - and there's also social text books. But this would seem to be a good approach for publishers to stay relevant in a Wiki world. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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