Open Source Textbooks. The Minstrels Rejoice!

Wired’s Epicenter blog first mentioned this today.

Flat World Knowledge has been partnering with colleges left and right, one professor at a time to offer free on-site access, PDFs and cheap textbooks to students. Now that’s something I can get behind.

The first thing I thought of is that if a student can download a PDF for $20, what’s to stop that student from pirating that file and giving it to all the students in a class, or maybe five students get together and throw in $4 each for their own PDF?

Easy. It’s all Creative Commons licensed. In a CC world, there is no piracy (unless you break the terms of the license).

You do not have to be a college student in one of the classes who have professors who are part of the FWK network to read, or even buy, these textbooks. I just flipped through several pages of a Economics textbook right on the website.

It is hard to read the textbooks on the website as the portion that wants you to pay for the book takes up just over a third of the screen and the controls for changing pages isn’t very intuitive.

I have not seen how their paid edition textbooks look, but they do come in two flavors: Color and black & white.

If they offer their textbooks for so cheap (or even free), how do they make money? Study aids and formats.

As shown by page 160 in Chris Anderson’s Free (which FWK has so graciously provided a Google Books link to right on their website) they charge varying amounts for MP3 audio book versions, as well as individual chapters.

But why would you pay $1.99 per chapter when you can just cut & paste the text into a Word document, or, even better, cut & paste it into Open Office and make a PDF out of it.

Flat World’s website
Wired’s article
Chris Anderson’s “Free” excerpt


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