Open Source Text Book Company Flat World Knowledge Gets Funded

from the disruption-on-the-way dept

We wrote about Flat World Knowledge, the open source textbook provider earlier this year, in noting how the textbook market was ripe for disruption. It's great to find out that the company has now received $8 million in funding -- which seems to go against a rash of recent stories from publications about how companies building business models with a big "free" or "open source" component would have trouble raising money these days. FWK, of course, is using free properly -- as a part of a larger business model where scarcities are charged for, but infinite goods are given away freely. Who knows if it will succeed, but it's nice to see the vote of confidence from investors.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Weird Harold, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 6:25pm

    Can't wait to see the oopsies that slip into the textbooks. Imagine learning everything in life only from wikipedia.

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

  2. identicon
    Luci, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 7:18pm


    What makes you think that mistakes in these would be any worse than what you find in the dead tree versions?

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

  3. identicon
    CanIBuyYourUsedBooks, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 7:29pm

    Publishing Scam Artist Friends of WH

    As we all know, the very expensive textbooks you are required to buy in college are completely devoid of errors. And, each year the textbook is updated to include all the new and relevent error free data so that the student has the best that money can buy. Why do you folks here at TD have a problem with that? As WH has pointed out many times, you only get quality product if you pay out the ass for it. Everyone knows this is true. These freetards need to wake up.

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

  4. identicon
    mordred kaides, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 7:52pm

    I don't mind paying money for somethings, but the real question is why would you have a problem with people getting something for free? if you don't trust the qualety that's fine but let other people enjoy what they want.

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

  5. identicon
    NET625, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 8:38pm


    So if WH finds an "oopsies" then he can do some research and fix it. It works for Wikipedia too, don't forget to spell check.

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

  6. identicon
    Eric the Grey, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 8:49pm

    Re: Publishing Scam Artist Friends of WH

    I'd be more likely to agree with this if I hadn't personally come across errors in the answer section of an intro to algebra textbook a few years ago.

    Nobody is perfect, but with FW's way of doing things, if an error was discovered, it can be corrected and uploaded right away, rather than waiting for the next printing.


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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2009 @ 9:53pm

    Re: Re: Publishing Scam Artist Friends of WH

    Surely you did not miss the sarcasm in the original post.

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

  8. identicon
    Eric Frank, Mar 28th, 2009 @ 6:51am

    Can have both quality and open

    Caveat - I'm one of founders of Flat World Knowledge. Just a point of clarification. We are highly focused on quality textbooks. Our development process mirrors traditional publishers - we contract with leading academic experts to write our books. The books are heavily peer-reviewed, proofread, copyedited, professionally illustrated, etc. It is when we get ready to publish the book that we do things differently. We openly license the books under a Creative Commons license so anybody can modify the book legally FOR THEIR OWN USE - in essence they fork from the original and modify for their own classes. The original always remains on our catalog, is is maintained and updated by the original author team, who earns royalties on all sales of softcover print copies, audio versions, digital study aids, etc. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify - sorry for long comment.

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

  9. identicon
    Easily Amused, Mar 28th, 2009 @ 9:50am

    Re: Re: Publishing Scam Artist Friends of WH

    ........ *Whooooosh*........

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

  10. identicon
    Easily Amused, Mar 28th, 2009 @ 9:53am

    Re: Can have both quality and open

    Thanks for the info Eric. I wish you the best of luck with this venture, the current system is really terrible and I see a huge window of opportunity for you guys.

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

  11. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Mar 29th, 2009 @ 5:14am

    Business Textbooks versus Other Kinds of Textbooks.

    I notice that the Flat World Knowledge books seem to be a set of textbooks for a business school curriculum, covering all the usual and standard topics such as accounting, finance, marketing, business communications, etc. I suppose that the business teaching community has a certain ideological commitment to business models. Obviously, they don't share Wikipedia's commitment to radical egalitarianism. But of course, as many people have noted, Open Source Software projects are not like Wikipedia either-- they have editors, who make decisions about contributions.

    Writing a textbook is simply a formalization of the work one does in teaching a course. One writes lecture notes to talk from, and, when rewritten, they become part of a textbook. Likewise, one prepares study questions and examination questions, etc. If you are competent to teach a course at the college level, you are competent to write a textbook for it, and many people simply pass out mimeographed hand-outs as full or partial replacements for standard textbooks, especially in small classes where the cost isn't too important. A textbook is a much simpler proposition than an encyclopedia, because it does not pretend to universal knowledge.

    There are lists of hundreds of free textbooks, mostly in science and mathematics. People just write textbooks to teach their own courses from, and generally have them printed up at the local copy shop, and eventually put the books on the internet. Academic scientists and mathematicians don't pretend to be businessmen, and they generally aren't very interested in business models. There is a certain minimum business involvement in getting paper copies of a book at economic prices, but sooner or later, a way around that will emerge.

    Perhaps the students will become comfortable studying from computer screens. Textbooks can be redesigned around free educational software, so that the student reads a bit of text and then goes and plays with the software for a while, instead of trying to burn the text into his memory. The whole package of text and software can either be available on a website, or burned to CD-R disks at a cost of about ten cents each.

    Perhaps printers will become better. Home computer printers are simply dreadful in a whole series of ways. If they were not dreadful, people could routinely use them to download and print off books. From an engineering standpoint, I've never been able to understand why printers have to be so dreadful. The manufacturer could surely build a print-head with redundant layers of nozzles, so that if one nozzle became clogged the print-head could automatically switch to another. The print-head could incorporate scanner elements to report what the print nozzles were actually doing, thus providing feedback. At this point, you can buy a gigabyte memory key in the drugstore for about ten dollars. It is hard to believe that the cost of a smart print-head would be prohibitive.

    A curious thing about Weird Harold's reflex response was that he assumed that everything had to be like rock music, that the motives of a textbook author had to approximate those of a rock star.

    Previous post:

    Also some additional sites:

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 29th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    Re: Business Textbooks versus Other Kinds of Textbooks.

    That's great. But there may be some barriers in place.

    Many Universities have business relations with textbook publishers. These relations may include verbage which stipulates textbook requirements for classes held there. I have read about many professors revolting against these rules and allowing the students to use old versions of the textbooks and also producing their own handouts for the class in place of the textbook.

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

  13. identicon
    DS, Mar 30th, 2009 @ 5:14am

    Re: Re:

    Wow, it sounds sooo much cooler to say 'dead tree'.

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

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