Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Buzz about Flat World Knowledge: Free Open Source Textbooks

Wired News had a story yesterday about Flat World Knowledge, a new startup that promises to turn the traditional model of textbook publishing upside down on its head by offering free, expert-written open source textbooks. This follows recent Flat World coverage in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, US News & World Report, Time Magazine, and USA Today.

The company earns revenue through the sale of POD versions of the texts, as well as digital study aids.

Before I go on about Flat World, I should first disclose that my views about Flat World are not impartial. I'm on their advisory board and I'm an investor. The PR agency I own, Dovetail Public Relations, does PR for Flat World. So enough said about that.

Ask anyone who has been to college recently, or has paid for their kid to go to college and they'll tell you textbook prices are insane. Textbook prices have been spiraling out of control, growing faster than inflation and burdening most college students with annual costs approaching $1,000 per school year. The textbook pricing problem has reached a crisis, because it threatens to make higher education unaffordable to many students.

Some politicians have called for greater regulation of text book prices. This is tough though, because publishers' own production and marketing costs are increasing, and it's not fair to regulate an industry to zero profits.

A better solution is to recognize that the textbook publishing model as we know it is broken, and no longer serves the needs of students, educators, authors or publishers. A new approach is needed that leverages the economic efficiencies of digital production and consumption (Those of you who are fans of Smashwords know we're trying to leverage the same economic efficiencies to democratize trade book publishing, thus you'll understand why I'm so excited about Flat World's potential to change the world).

Under the Flat World model, students get free and low-cost textbooks and study aids; teachers have greater control over their curriculum by mixing and mashing the texts to suit their unique class requirements; authors get paid through the sale of POD copies and study aids; and the publisher is allowed to earn a fair profit.

Flat World Knowledge has 17 textbooks under contract and in development by top scholars and authors, and recently began limited in-class trials in a nationwide beta test at 20 colleges across the United States.

Learn more about Flat World Knowledge by visiting their site at http://www.flatworldknowledge.com.

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