Flat World Knowledge Offers Open Source-Style College Textbooks

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 25, 2009

Part of the high cost of attending a college or university is due to the exorbitant fees for textbooks. It's an $8 billion dollar market and schools often pass on the high cost of textbook purchases to their students. Once a school selects course books, it's up to professors to mold their curriculum accordingly, rather than offer reading material that suits their teaching style and course content.

In an effort to make curriculum content more accessible to both students and teachers, New York-based startup Flat World Knowledge is going after the textbook industry by offering expertly-written books that educational institutions are free to modify to meet their needs.

Flat World's current "open source" book catalog is sparse since many of the books are still being written and edited, but thanks to recent venture capital funding, Flat World now has $8 million in series a funding in its coffers to finance the production of more books. The company also plans to unveil a textbook customization feature later this year that will let educators revise books according to the specific needs of their curriculum.

Flat World initially offered only business course textbooks while they tested the waters, but have since expanded their categories to include Accounting, Management, General Business, and general courses. In a prepared statement, company co-founder and chief marketing officer, Eric Frank, said that branching out into general education courses will have the biggest impact on community colleges. "Not only are general education courses the bread and butter of community colleges, community college students are feeling the greatest pinch from the high cost of traditional textbooks. With 40 percent of students sitting in a general education course at any given time, we know that expanding our offering will help a greater population of students."

Customizable textbooks is an idea that can't help but catch fire. The cost of college courses are nearly prohibitive for many families, even without the added cost of textbooks so, of course, free is good. I'm also intrigued that Flat World gives college professors the freedom to teach subjects the way they feel is best, not the way a faceless committee of textbook authors decided it should be taught.

Regan Caruthers, director of communications and business development for the California State University system, told CNN recently, "The Web gives us a rare opportunity to rethink the delivery mechanism for textbooks. If someone does this right, they'll make it better for everybody concerned: the professors, the students and the publishers."