SOURCE: Flat World Knowledge

Flat World Knowledge

August 23, 2010 07:48 ET

150,000 College Students to Save $12 Million Using Flat World Knowledge Open Textbooks for 2010/2011 Academic Year

Transformative New Publishing Model Gaining Traction With Faculty, Students, Authors

IRVINGTON, NY--(Marketwire - August 23, 2010) -  Flat World Knowledge, the leading publisher of commercial, openly-licensed college textbooks, today announced another dramatic increase in the number of colleges and classrooms adopting its textbooks. This fall semester, more than 800 colleges will utilize Flat World textbooks, up from 400 in the fall 2009 and up from 30 colleges in the spring 2009.

With Flat World's textbooks saving the average student $80 per class, the company is on track to save 150,000 students $12 million or more in textbook expenses for the 2010/2011 academic year which begins this month.

Flat World's year-over-year growth is fueled by the company's innovative "free and open" textbook publishing model that allows students to acquire complete, high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks at prices ranging from FREE for online access to only $30 for a softcover print book. Other formats include PDF downloads, audio and e-reader versions for the iPad and Kindle, as well as digital study aids.

"It's gratifying to see the tremendous response to our textbooks and publishing model across a wide range of academic institutions," said Jeff Shelstad, Flat World Knowledge CEO and co-founder. "By preserving what works from traditional publishing and changing everything that's broken, our open textbook publishing model is providing substantial benefits to students, faculty and authors."

For the 2010 fall semester, more than 1,300 educators representing 800 major state and private research universities and community college systems have adopted Flat World textbooks, including the University of Maryland, University of Texas, Carnegie Mellon University, multiple California State University campuses, the Foothill DeAnza Community College District in Calif., as well as institutions in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

With a growing roster of top authors and more than 24 published titles and 50 more in the pipeline, Flat World expects to publish textbooks for the 125 highest-enrollment college courses in the next few years. New subjects in the immediate pipeline include algebra, psychology, chemistry, statistics and English composition.

Textbook Pricing Crisis Threatens College Affordability, Graduation Rates

Many students cannot afford to spend $1,000 or more on textbooks each year; a new college business textbook can cost $200. Prompted by concern that textbook costs were rendering higher education unaffordable to students, Congress enacted legislation that went into effect in July as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

In a Public Agenda research report published by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 60 percent of students surveyed said the cost of textbooks and other fees contributed to their decision to drop out of college. If students do stay in school and don't buy textbooks due to costs, they are at a learning disadvantage.

With fewer students buying new texts, publishers have responded by raising prices and bringing out new editions faster to combat used books. This leads to more sticker shock for students and more work for instructors to rewrite syllabuses.

Flat World Knowledge's business model and online publishing platform stand in stark contrast to the practices of traditional higher education textbook publishers who've fueled the textbook affordability crisis. By eliminating high textbook prices as a major financial barrier to college, Flat World's unique business model has attracted a growing number of students and faculty converts who have grown frustrated by spiraling textbook prices.

Breaking the Rules to Build a Better Publishing Model

Flat World's approach begins by keeping what works in traditional publishing. The company signs top scholars and successful authors to write exclusive, high-quality textbooks using industry-tested product development best practices.

But instead of adopting the industry-standard "all rights reserved" copyright license, Flat World publishes under an open Creative Commons license. The open license, combined with a highly-automated publishing platform that keeps costs low, transforms a static text into a dynamic learning resource that is automatically available in multiple low cost formats.

Students Free to Choose Price, Format

"The future is about creating better value, not making it more cumbersome and expensive for students," said Kyle Blake, a returning business student at Minnesota State University Moorhead. "Flat World understands that students want to be treated as consumers who deserve really good books in any format they wish."

While many students take advantage of the free online option, more than 50 percent purchase a physical book or other format that fits their individual learning style. To date, the most popular choice is a black-and-white softcover book for $30 -- significantly less than most textbooks. Online and interactive digital study aids are also top-sellers at $1.99 per chapter or $14.95 for a subscription.

Softcover books are printed on demand and sold directly to students or through their campus bookstore, minimizing conventional manufacturing and inventory costs.

Flat World has agreements with Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Follett Higher Education Group, and NACS Media Solutions to distribute their open textbooks to more than 3,000 college stores across the US. 

The company anticipates that more of its sales will transition from print to various digital formats over the next few years.

Faculty Free to Make the "Perfect Book"

Since publishing its first commercially available books in 2009, Flat World reports that one third of its faculty adopters have used the online platform and customization tools to modify their textbooks to reflect their individual approach to their subject -- something they can't do with a conventional text. The open license approach gives them freedom to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the book -- the 4 R's that define open -- so long as they attribute the author and publisher and don't engage in commercial activity.

Flat Word anticipates that 50 percent or more of faculty will customize their textbooks by the fall 2011 semester. This growth in faculty customization will follow the release of enhanced customization tools later this year. Faculty will be able to edit at the sentence level, creating the potential for a richer learning experience for both students and educators.

This semester, Dr. Scott Hunt, professor of economics at Columbus State Community College, and his colleagues created their own version of Principles of Macroeconomics by rearranging content and writing new sections.

"In all the years I've been a professor, we've never had the perfect book," said Dr. Scott Hunt, professor. "Now we do, and it's affordable."

Why would authors give their books away for free?

Authors have been hurt by the textbook industry's broken business model. Royalties are dwindling from fewer new book sales. And non-royalty-paying used book sales, book rentals and online piracy sites take a greater share of the market. Authors also face internal competition with titles in their discipline from the same publisher. And many authors are kept on a treadmill of minor revisions for new editions that are coming out at a faster rate.

Flat World is attracting top scholars and best-selling authors by offering a different experience: a new model that allows for faster market entry and a better royalty rate for a bigger return over time combined with a rigorous editorial development process and sales and marketing support. Flat World authors earn 20 percent royalties (the standard is 12 to 15 percent) on all revenue generated around their work, in all channels, sold anywhere in the world. In the open model, authors can benefit from a consistent revenue stream over time since sales don't drop off dramatically after the first year due to used books sales and rentals.

"I have full confidence in this model because it makes so much sense for students, faculty and authors," says Steve Barkan, professor of sociology at the University of Maine and author of Sociology: Understanding & Changing the Social World, soon-to-be published by Flat World. "Students, many of whom work part-time jobs, can finally get low-cost access to knowledge. As an author, I feel good about 'doing the right thing' and I stand to be well-compensated for years to come."

A sustainable model for the future of publishing

While the textbook publishing industry struggles to adapt to the Internet's impact on the way learning materials are consumed, Flat World has seized on the opportunity to bridge the value gap with a sustainable and profitable revenue model for publishing in the 21st century.

"The future of textbooks is all about choice," said CEO Shelstad. "By giving educators and students high-quality, affordable choices, Flat World Knowledge is helping thousands of students gain access to the education and knowledge they need to realize their potential and succeed in the global economy."

About Flat World Knowledge, Inc.
Founded in 2007 by senior textbook industry executives, privately-held Flat World Knowledge is a leading publisher of commercial, openly-licensed college textbooks. Written by the world's top scholars, Flat World books are peer reviewed and professionally edited and developed. Educators have the freedom to use the books as-is, or they can customize them to suit their course requirements. Students can access the books for free online, or purchase low-cost softcover print books, PDF downloads, audio and e-reader versions, as well as study aids at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks. More information is available at: http://www.flatworldknowledge.com.

Contact Information

  • Media Contact:
    Carole Walters
    Flat World Knowledge
    973-413-0625
    Email Contact