Sidebar: Flat World Knowledge Attempts to Redefine Textbook Publishing
Flat World Knowledge was started by two people who worked in college textbook publishing. They realized that nobody was really happy with the system—not the publishers, the authors, the professors, and certainly not the students. Eric Frank, who is one of the co-founders of Flat World Knowledge, says the company developed out of a conversation that there had to be a better way to deliver college texts.
It’s clear, he explains, that publishers are unhappy about piracy; authors with a lack of a clear revenue stream; teachers with static content they can’t control; and students with paying high prices for books they use once. Flat World Knowledge decided to change the whole system by offering the books for free online under a Creative Commons license. That means, Frank says, that anyone, not just students in the class, can read the textbook online for free, furthering the idea of democratic content in the open access philosophy. It doesn’t stop there. Professors are free to make changes to the texts in an online editor, and because the content is free, it all but eliminates the piracy idea before it even starts.
While students can access the text online, he says for many, nothing beats having a hard copy. "All of our research with students has been telling us consistently the same thing, which is that while they like the convenience of online, many of them say they would still be willing to pay something for a more convenient format." He adds that students tell them if they priced alternatives right, the students would buy the alternatives, and that’s the money-making proposition for Flat World Knowledge. For example, students can buy a softcover black and white book for $29.95 or a full-color version for $59.95, the latter of which Frank points out is still about 40% less than a typical traditional textbook would cost.
Frank says the revenue model changes, but it doesn’t mean all parties don’t make money. In fact, he would argue there is the opportunity to make more money, because authors get paid a higher royalty percentage than through traditional publishers, plus they get paid a royalty on all peripheral class materials, something that doesn’t happen in the traditional model. Since professors can change the text regularly, it means more students need access to that semester’s work, which reduces the used book market (for which authors and publishers get nothing). Flat World Knowledge has come up with a promising new way to deliver content, and it hopes to transform the way college textbooks get published and distributed, providing something to please everyone in the distribution stream.
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Flat World Knowledge