Flat World Knowledge No Longer To Offer Free Texts, Claims It's More 'Fair'

from the huh? dept

We've written about upstart textbook company Flat World Knowledge a number of times, mostly highlighting its interesting business model of giving away digital versions of its textbooks for free, while then charging for various scarcities, including printed versions. It's also done some interesting things, like creating a make your own textbook platform. However, the company has now announced a surprising about face, saying that it will no longer offer free access to its textbooks.

The company's explanation here rings hollow:
Cost partly motivated the decision, according to Jeff Shelstad, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “We’ve got to be smart with the limited capital that we have” if the company is to survive 10 years from now, he said.

There’s also “an element of fairness” behind the move, Mr. Shelstad said. Some institutional partners have been paying as much as $20 to $25 per student for access to Flat World content, while other partners pay far less. The goal is to even things out while remaining affordable, according to Mr. Shelstad. “We have anchored ourselves around affordability, and we are still there with this move,” he said.
None of those arguments make much sense, frankly. The "costs" associated with offering up free access could be alleviated by putting the works on other platforms like BitTorrent. The "fairness" argument also makes little sense. If everyone chooses to opt-in to whatever level they think makes the most sense for their situation, what's the problem?

And, of course, this move goes 100% against the promise that the company made when it first launched:
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.
Apparently they didn't mean most of that. Makes it a bit more difficult to trust the company on any future promises. That's not to say that the company might not still be an important player in disrupting traditional textbook pricing, but it seems like it's just opened up opportunities for others to come in and focus on truly open solutions.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 12:36am

    Step 1. Launch free campaign.
    Step 2. Collect users.
    Step 3. Fuck the users.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:41am

      Re:

      That's how insurance companies work too.

      1. Entice them with low premiums
      2. Collect customers
      3. Jack up renewal premiums and hope that customers are too loyal or lazy to switch

      Thankfully, people are getting wise to these tactics.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Tex Arcana (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 6:20pm

        Re: Re:

        :nein:

        That's how drug dealers work too.

        1. Entice them with free smack
        2. Collect customers
        3. Jack up prices and know youve got 'em hooked because they're addicted

        Unfortunately, people don't effing get it, and continue to get screwed because of their need to S̶h̶o̶o̶t̶ ̶s̶m̶a̶c̶k̶ learn.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 12:54am

    Corporations are pathologically incapable of maintaning long-term relationships. Without a binding contract, assume any promise that goes ahead more than 3 months is just hot air.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:30am

    LMAO

    Scroll back one article and read the title. Paywalls work better if you beg.

    Seems legit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:13am

    Another company realizing "free" doesn't always work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:17am

      Re:

      Another company realizing "free" doesn't always work.


      No one has ever argued that free "always" works, because "free" is not a strategy by itself. It's one element of a strategy.

      But, okay, strawman.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
         
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re:

        No one has ever argued that free "always" works, because "free" is not a strategy by itself. It's one element of a strategy.

        But, okay, strawman.


        Don't be such a twit. They tried "free" and it failed.

        Now maybe (gasp!) they'll use that crazy and outdated business model where they just sell the product that people want, i.e., the book. Shocking!

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 7:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How your parents got you to walk after the first time you fell down is what I'll never understand.

          I mean, given that "It failed once so it'll never work" attitude of yours.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 8:59am

          Re: Re: Re:

          They tried "free" and it failed.


          Evidence, please.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Don't be such a twit. They tried "free" and it failed.

          "Free" is not a business model. No one has claimed it is other than you. That's called a strawman.

          Now maybe (gasp!) they'll use that crazy and outdated business model where they just sell the product that people want, i.e., the book. Shocking!

          They were selling books all along. Shocking.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 3:28am

    you mean the advertising comments were a mixture of lies and bull shit? now how's that not surprising? money always conquers all!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 3:57am

    Fair?

    Looks like they are moving to the usual academic publishing model, charge the producers of content and their students a fortune to access knowledge. This model is fair to the publisher in that they get paid for other peoples work, where access to the knowledge is required for learning and research.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 5:15am

    Is this just "We are not succeeding therefore PIRACY!"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 5:37am

    If we had a reputation economy, these guys would've just bankrupted themselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 5:50am

    More fair?

    "More fair" translates to "to our advantage". It always has and always will.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 6:42am

    greed wins again!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 3:47pm

    Seriously guys? WTF is the big deal...free doesn't have to mean as in beer. Their prices are pretty damn good! An all access pass is $35 per book, or you can get a black and white textbook for a few bucks more if you prefer to make your own study stuff. I would happily pay that price instead of the bullshit bookstores would charge. I know it sucks that you can't get everything for free anymore, but they could have EASILY raised their prices to what the big publishers charged...BUT THEY DIDN'T.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This