Flat World Knowledge
= an open textbook company
Eric Frank, Flat World's cofounder and chief marketing officer, explains:
"The time has come for open textbooks. 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." (http://springwise.com/education/open_source_approach_to_textbo/)
"FWK is an open textbook company. Open Textbooks are textbooks that are available online, for free, to everyone. In the specific case of FWK textbooks, these are licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This means that FWK grants everyone the four rights of open content (reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) for their textbooks. It also requires that those who exercise any of the four rights: i) give credit to the textbook author(s) as the original source; ii) refrain from selling the textbooks or derivatives of the textbooks for profit; and iii) share any revised versions of the textbook they create with the world under the same license terms.
FWK utilizes a textbook development model including a single expert author or small number of expert authors, as well as artistic support, editorial support, and support in the development of supplemental materials. The resulting textbooks are of extremely high quality.
Given the previous discussion about the lack of access to quality educational and curriculum materials, it should be clear that providing the four open content rights to such high quality textbooks creates a great deal of value. Students and anyone else with access to a computer now have access to very high quality online textbooks at no cost. Rather than "how does FWK leverage openness to create value?" the primary question of interest becomes "how does FWK leverage openness to sustainably create value?". (http://www.osbr.ca/ojs/index.php/osbr/article/view/797/768)
Discussion: Creating Sustainable Value
FWK provides access to online textbooks at no cost, using an open license that prohibits others from selling printed or derived versions of the textbooks for profit. This license restriction creates an opportunity space in which FWK can sell printed versions and derivative versions of the textbooks in order to sustain the business, publish new books, and create additional value. While at first it may seem counterintuitive that anyone would pay for a printed version of what they can get online for free, imagine trying to read 300 pages on the screen. A number of experiments have already demonstrated very clearly that books whose full text is published digitally sell very well in print. Examples include Lessig's The Future of Ideas, Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, and Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
Given the opportunity to choose a format that suits them, many students are willing to pay for other versions of the text even though the full text of the book is available for free online. Some prefer an audio version they can listen to while driving or exercising. Some prefer an inexpensive paperback version while others prefer a hardback, full-color copy of the book they can take with them from college into the workforce for reference. Given a palette of choices and reasonable prices, people will pay for the value provided by these additional formats. It is by providing this additional value through alternate formats that FWK sustains its business.
Alongside opportunities to sell books in printed and other formats, a significant opportunity exists to sell optional study materials that support student learning of the content within the books. These materials are usually shrinkwrapped with traditional textbooks as a way of justifying their exorbitant costs. FWK comes back to the principle of choice - disaggregating these resources and leveraging the capabilities of the Internet to sell and deliver digital supplemental materials individually or in discounted bundles. These materials are a second way to generate the revenue necessary to sustain the business and continue creating value." (http://www.osbr.ca/ojs/index.php/osbr/article/view/797/768)
- Paper: A sustainable future for open textbooks? The Flat World Knowledge story. by John Levi Hilton III and David A. Wiley. First Monday, Volume 15, Number 8 - 2 August 2010