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.