Textbook Company Embraces Free For Infinite Goods, Charges For Scarcities

from the working-in-action dept

A reader who goes by the name of Kalazor, who is a college student, alerts us to the business model of a company called Flat World Knowledge, who makes textbooks and provides free and open access to them online:
Our books might feel like your current book – for a minute. They are written by leading experts, and are peer- reviewed, edited, and highly developed. They are supported by test banks, .ppt notes, instructor manuals, print desk copies, and knowledgeable service representatives. There the similarity ends.

Instead of $100 plus, our books are FREE online. We don't even require registration! Students just enter the URL they're given by their instructor and start reading. It's that easy. No tricks. No popup ads. No "a premium subscription is needed for that". In fact, our free books go beyond what standard print editions provide with integrated audio, video, and interactive features, powerful search capabilities, and more..

Even better – read our books where you are! If you are a student in Facebook, then read our book using our Facebook app. Still free. If you are an instructor using an LMS like Blackboard, you can integrate our book into your LMS. Yep. Still free.
The business model definitely matches the economic principles we've discussed in the past. Specifically, they focus on charging for scarcities, with the main one being convenience:
Are you reading this feeling a bit jaded? Something must be coming – some advertising, spam, a charge after a trial period, lock-in to a product, something. Breathe. Relax. It's just not coming.

Our business model eliminates the catch. We're giving away great textbooks and making them open because it solves real problems for students and instructors. In so doing, we are creating a large market for our product. We then turn around and sell things of value to that large market – more convenient ways to consume our free book (print, audio, PDF) and efficient ways to study (study aids). Sure, we'll make less money per student than the big guys. But that's okay. We'll be selling to a lot more of them, and we'll be doing it for a lot less money (thanks to technology like web-hosted services, XML, print-on-demand, and more). Like we said... just a smarter way to do business. For all of us.
They've certainly picked an industry that is wide open for such a change. Unfortunately, it looks like the site is just now launching, so I haven't been able to look at any of the actual books to judge their quality. They might want to talk to the economics professor we recently mentioned who's already giving away a great free econ textbook.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Evil Mike, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 10:55am

    About frickin time! Good to hear.

     

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    Buzz, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:27am

    Wait

    How is selling the PDF considered selling a scarcity? The site uses one abundance to market and sell another abundance. I'd expect the PDF to be free too. >_>

     

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      Michael Long, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:47am

      Re: Wait

      And the audio files as well.

      Paying for content that you actually need and use... I mean, can you imagine?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

        Re: Re: Wait

        And not a sustainable business model as well! But don't let that gets in the way of pesudo-smartass commentary.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Wait

      Well, for most people you "need" to own Adobe Acrobat in order to create the PDF. Many people don't know about things like CutePDF that allows you to print to PDF.

      Also the formatting may be different and they could be using more advanced features of the PDF document, such as a table of contents that allows you to jump to sections from whereever you are in the document.

       

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        nasch, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 4:45pm

        Re: Re: Wait

        None of that makes the PDF a scarce good. It can still be reproduced an arbitrary number of times for (essentially) no cost. So they seem to still be in the business of selling infinite goods, just that they're giving away some infinite goods and selling others.

         

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      Mike (profile), Jan 14th, 2009 @ 4:53pm

      Re: Wait

      How is selling the PDF considered selling a scarcity? The site uses one abundance to market and sell another abundance. I'd expect the PDF to be free too. >_>

      Er... sorry, I thought I made it clear. They're selling the *convenience*. That's the scarcity.

       

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      maybe.., Jan 14th, 2009 @ 5:48pm

      Re: Wait

      They are selling portability.Even though you can "view" the web based version having a more printer friendly version could be of actual (worth paying for) value to some.

       

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      college student, Jan 21st, 2009 @ 10:14am

      Re: Wait

      PDF is only an option. Afterall, this isnt a non-profit organization! They're probably trying to make some kind of money here HELLO!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:29am

    Great, because textbooks are scams.

    My son just started college. I tracked down and purchased a copy of his physics textbook from India. Exact same book in every way, in English, but it was being sold for $160 in the US and $19 in India. The Indian copy, of course, had a little blurb "This is not licensed for sale in the United States."

     

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      usmcdvldg, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:37am

      Re: Great, because textbooks are scams.

      This is the type of shit that truly is wrong, and should somehow be illegal. Microsoft is the biggest offender, going as far as to give fully featured copy's of windows and office away for free just to keep Linux from propagating.

       

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        Michael Long, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:05pm

        Re: Re: Great, because textbooks are scams.

        Linux is doing just fine non-propagating on its own.

        What was the last number? 0.86% of the desktop market?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 24th, 2009 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Great, because textbooks are scams.

          Actually I think you'll find it's about on par with Apple now

          The reason the numbers are what they are is because even if you offer a better, cheaper or both product going up against something in the position that Windows is in is very nearly impossible. Apple only did it by being far, far better and having excellent marketing. Linux is doing it by being free, and sometimes also better. (For me it is both free and better, for you maybe not)

           

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        Doug, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:07pm

        Re: Re: Great, because textbooks are scams.

        I'm confused here. What side of the issue are you on? Is the gouging bad (I'd agree there), and if so, why use an example of a give-away as a means of showing how bad gouging is? Is the giveaway bad, and if so, why in the hell is it bad in the first place?

        BTW, I want one of those fully featured copies of Windows with Office if you've got a spare lying about.

         

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        Kiba, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 2:39pm

        Re: Re: Great, because textbooks are scams.

        They're wrong...how?

        If people want to keep using crappy software because it come with the computer free, that's their business.

        Linux is fine on propagating on its own. Given time, it will become pervasive. It already have in many case.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    Way to encourage stealing...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:01pm

    Converting their site to PDF ... easy.

    Converting their site to audio ... Festival.

    Converting their site to print ... a bit harder, but probably a print-on-demand service will do it. Or Kinko's.

    Check back in ten years, see if these guys are still around -- which is the actual test of a business model.

     

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      Hephaestus (profile), Mar 18th, 2010 @ 11:53am

      Re:

      "Check back in ten years, see if these guys are still around -- which is the actual test of a business model."

      They will probably have video courses by then and some sort of advanced education app that learns what you need to learn and drills you on it.

       

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    Meo, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    Books?

    Then there's my response to obscene text book prices in college. Don't buy them! Certainly not applicable to all degrees but I graduated with a 3.2 and bought maybe 1 book in my sophomore, junior and senior years combined.

    I found that if you just get out of bed and go to the lectures the prof's generally tell you exactly what you need to know.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:34pm

      Re: Books?

      Your professors were probably not jerks. Most of mine made us randomly do examples out of the book.

      The only guy I did not mind doing this to us actually wrote the book and study aid. Both of which priced very reasonably and designed to be able to take notes in.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    Another example...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    I think I'm going to book mark this place. This will be great for free personal enrichment! If their books are any good anyways...

     

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    John Doe, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:42pm

    Like others have mentioned, how are they giving away an infinite resource in the hopes of selling other infinite resources (audio & PDF)? Seems in your zest to pronounce a winning business model you gloss over the flaws. Maybe they should sell autographed copies or even t-shirts? ;>P

     

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      John Doe, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 1:03pm

      Re:

      In addition, they are marketing to today's who have not moral/ethical/legal issues with copying everything and anything digital. They better sell physical goods because digital goods will not work.

       

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        Duane (profile), Jan 14th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re:

        Has any generation had a qualm about copying? Before you say yes, I have two words for you, Industrial Revolution.

        Also, everyone knows the textbook is worthless. I'm in grad school right now and I only use the book to see what problems I need to do. I use the Internet for everything else. So far, 3 As, 1 B and over $1,000 in books I could have done without.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Web Books + E-Book Reader = Win

     

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    Josh, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 1:45pm

    Read the Web Site????

    From the comments I see here (1-18), it looks like most of you didn't even check out the website (which I highly recommend you do). If you do you will see that the items they are selling, yes you can buy a .pdf or audio file, but you can also buy a Bound copy of the book in full color. So what you ask? Well, since all of their copyrights are in Creative Commons they actcually give the teachers the RIGHT to edit the book down to the sentence and word level. So if your instructor wants to add or change something in the book they can. So your printed, bound, and in color copy of the textbook is exactly they same one your teacher is using. That in and of iteself is pretty usefull to me. You can also write your own study guide for a given subject/book and then upload it to the website and set a price you want to sell it for. Every time it is downloaded you get paid for it. The potential is unlimited for this company to do very well in their venture and I wish them the best of luck.


    I personally will be making use if this site as it progreses for a few resons. I'm a 31 year old 3/4 time college student, full time parent, and full time employee. Anything I can do to save money is way ahead in my book. I also love the fact that you can add an app to your facebook profile and READ THE TEXTBOOK from your facebook account. Or if you teacher uses a LMS system they can load the textbook directly into the LMS.

    Anyway, if you want to know more, RTF Website.

     

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    Ray Trygstad, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    Flatworld Knowledge Must Read Techdirt...

    ...because you said "They [Flatworld Knowledge] might want to talk to the economics professor we recently mentioned who's already giving away a great free econ textbook," and they obviously did because now R. Preston McAfee (the econ prof) has an edition published by Flatworld and they are managing derivative works for him as well. (That was FAST!)

     

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    Cabbagehead, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 12:24pm

    PDF bait

    So the Business Model assembles an audience and offers a convenient upgrade. Love the discussion. Obvious that many demonstrate why they are called students. Fun.

     

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    iconoclast, Feb 1st, 2009 @ 9:21am

    wanna see a value textbook with a real business model...go see http://dotlearn.com

    our prof has been using it for years..sure you pay a bit, but you get a lot

     

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    Nancy, Apr 3rd, 2009 @ 2:33pm

    FREE IS GOOD!!!

    I don't like to pay anything! That is why I go to places like http://www.freebookquest.com... now I know that if you don't pay, the whole system will crash. I doubt my few dollars would have helped anyways. Everyone is doing it now anyways.

     

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    Pat Taylor, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    Textbooks

    I have always bought my textbooks from CheapestTextbooks.com. They have used textbooks for sale in all subject areas. I recommend using them if you are looking to buy or sell textbooks.

    http://www.CheapestTextbooks.com

     

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