Can Flat World Save the Commercial Textbook?

NYACK, NY — 08/20/09 — Flat World Knowledge, the leading publisher of commercial open source college textbooks, today reported a dramatic increase in the number of colleges and classrooms adopting its textbooks. This fall semester, over 40,000 college students at more than 400 colleges will utilize Flat World textbooks, up from only 1,000 in Spring 2009 at 30 colleges.

The increased adoption of Flat World’s free and low-cost open source textbooks follows two semesters of successful in-classroom trials. During Spring 2009 trials, Flat World textbooks were shown to reduce average textbook costs to only $18 per student per class, an 82 percent cost reduction compared to traditional printed textbooks averaging $100 per student per class.

Flat Word Knowledge Press Release, August 20, 2009

Flat World Knowledge may well have developed a “Fremium” model that saves students money and could save the textbook industry from an ignoble but well deserved end. I particularly l like the idea of a textbook that can be accessed in multiple ways: downloaded and printed, ordered as a black and white or full color book, as audio-files, on the web, and so on.

The textbooks can be updated easily and, according to Flat World, the authors make money. There’s probably going to be a place for this sort of thing in the post-textbook era but there’s also a lot of potential problems. It’s very possible that students will unknowingly get ‘nickled and dimmed’ to death by this sort of publishing. Markets don’t need to be ethical.

What’s really missing here is the pedagogical opportunity to make the static textbook into a dynamic knowledge making enterprise shared by teachers as well as students. The software and services are available. What’s harder is convincing universities that they should put time and energy into facilitating broad based initiatives to create and maintain fully open source textbooks.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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