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.

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

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

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