Flatworld Knowledge, an “open source” textbook publisher that offers its texts for free online while selling digital supplements, reports that the number of students using its products has doubled and also announced plans to offer an “all-access” pass to its digital formats for $29.99. In addition, it has formed a site license division, and is expanding its Make It Your Own Program, which allows faculty to change Flatworld texts and add their content while allowing professors to receive royalties on content they add that is adopted by other professors.
The “all-access”pass will give a student unlimited access to all of Flatworld’s digital content formats, including downloadable PDF, browser access, audiobook, ePub files as well as Mobi file content that can be loaded into a Kindle with USB. Company cofounder Eric Frank noted that “it doesn’t cost us anymore to offer access to all the digital formats.”
Flatworld Knowledge’s MIYO program allows professors to upload video, web links, word and PDF documents, add their own notes and even delete or rearrange the original text and publish the new version digitally in multiple formats. The program is totally automated. Flatworld is expanding it to allow professors to share their revised editions in the publisher's catalogue for any professor anywhere in the world and receive royalties if their version is adopted.
In addition, Frank said the company’s site license program, initiated at Virginia State University in 2010, is growing and the company is oraganizing a new division to market and grow the program. The site license program allows a school to offer access to all of Flatworld Knowledge’s digital content formats for a flat student fee of $20.
Frank said that the Va. State program started with a 1,000 student license in 2010 and has been renewed as a 3,000 student license for this academic year. “We’ve since added nine more universities to the site license program,” Frank told PW in a phone interview. “We’re still testing the market but we think it will contintue to grow and we’re organizing a new division to push this approach to the market.” Frank said the program allows universities to use their buying prower to “push down prices,” at a time when studies show many students, particularly at historically black colleges like Va. State, often do not purchase the textbooks assigned for classes because of the cost. “At Va. State, administrators said that 90% of the students are on financial aid and 60% of them have admitted not buying a text for a class. It’s a staggering sign that the price of textbooks is an obstacle to learning.”
Overall more than 300,000 students at over 2,000 colleges are slated to use Flatworld Knowledge materials this fall. Frank said their studies show that when students buy the digital supplements they continue to return to use the free online textbooks. “Students don’t want the same print products turned digital with a bells and whistle’s and extra content added,” Frank said. “Besides Netflix,” he joked, “students want price and convenience. We’ve built a business model based on producing the book one-time and pushing a button to get multiple formats all for affordable prices, about $30 or less."