Flat World Knowledge started out with a revolutionary idea, which was to start creating and publishing college textbooks that were absolutely free online. Its business model is to offer the option for students and teachers to print textbooks in whole or part at a fraction of the cost of a standard hardbound college textbook. In addition it offers audio book versions, study guides, web quizzes and digital flash cards for a fee. And that business model seems promising enough that it has passed the VC funding test to the tune of 8 million dollars by the venture funding firms Greenhill SAVP, High Peaks Venture Partners and Valhalla Partners.
If you follow how the market is having to adapt to a world of infinitely-available digital goods (and a good place to start is the blog Techdirt) it has proved hugely disruptive to many business types, especially the music and newspaper industries. Flat World Knowledge is, we are sure, only the first of many new companies in this space that are finding a profit model in this new marketplace that does not rely exclusively on scarcity.
We think that availability of high quality, free online college textbooks is fantastic. I can remember paying hundreds of dollars each semester for all the textbooks I needed for my classes. And if I misplaced it or forgot to take it with me to class or to study, it might mean lost time or worse, having to re-purchase the book. If a college or university chooses to use Flat World books, it would mean that the relevant reading material is only a click away online. Problems could be discussed with friends or mentors outside of school without requiring them to share the same book or buy another copy. Finally, many schools that rely on donated school books will be able to access the latest editions without having to spend more money.