We recently wrote about textbook publisher, Flat World Knowledge, changing its business model and getting rid of its free access
to textbooks, something it had initially promised it would never do. The final line of our post noted that this hopefully opened up the opportunity for other providers to step in and figure out new ways to be disruptive in the textbook field. We were then contacted by Thomas Madsen, who runs Bookboon
, which offers up free ebooks, including textbooks, business books and travel guides -- and then monetizes them with advertising. He notes that, not only is business going well, but they will continue to make sure that the books remain free for students
. Obviously, people get a little squeamish about advertising as it relates to education, but Bookboon deals with that by focusing on a specific kind of advertising: job advertising, which students would obviously find quite useful rather than annoying (and they make sure that there isn't too much advertising). And, together, it works as a business model:
That our model is sustainable and that students and professors like our product is best illustrated by the fact that our traffic has grown on average 100% per year since 2009. This year 40,000,000 ebooks will be downloaded from bookboon.com.
This growth we have financed by retained earnings only. We have not taken in outside investments, which otherwise has been the standard when someone wants to offer free education material, and still most of these have had to give up on their original vision to survive. Because we are profitable and independent, we will be able to continue to grow our business in the coming years and provide free textbooks, to the benefit of all students.
Some tried to take the story about Flat World Knowledge and argue that it proved that "free" didn't work. But, as we noted, all it proved was that how Flat World Knowledge implemented it as a part of a business model did not work for them. Others, using "free" in other ways as part of a complete business model, are figuring out how to make it work, and Bookboon appears to be a good example of that in action.