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.

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Comments on “Textbook Company Embraces Free For Infinite Goods, Charges For Scarcities”

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Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.”

Anonymous Coward says:

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)

Doug says:

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.

Meo (user link) says:


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.

Duane (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Josh says:

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.

Ray Trygstad (user link) says:

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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