Boundless is back in the news again this week with a new product launch and a possible resolution to a year old lawsuit. Given that the possible settlement was announced only weeks before the new launch, I don't think they are unrelated.
Boundless is a name that hasn't graced the pages of this blog before, but I have been watching them.
This startup got a lot of attention early last year when they debuted a line of replica digital textbooks, including from traditional publishers. Boundless' digital textbooks used (and still use) OER and freely available content to replicate the structure of textbooks from major publishers, which as you can imagine did not make them any friends among the larger textbook publishers.
Three publishers filed suit in April 2012, with Cengage, Macmillan, and Pearson each claiming that one of their textbooks was being pirated by Boundless. I don't have many details on the specific status of that lawsuit, but the Xconomy blog reported in late July 2013 that Boundless and the publishers were in settlement talks.
The federal judge overseeing the lawsuit had sent the parties to mediation in April 2013, and in mid-July Boundless indicated that a settlement could be on its way. Xconomy cited a letter that Boundless filed with the court which pretty much said that the defendant and 3 plaintiffs were "reviewing draft settlement papers” and that they planned to "continue the mediation process with the hope of resolving the case.”
We'll probably never find out much about the settlement, but that's not unusual. The Kno-Cengage lawsuit from last year was settled quietly, with the parties only revealing that it had been settled (briefly mentioned here).
But in spite of the lack of specific details, one conclusion we can draw from Boundless lawsuit is that Boundless is confident enough they will get the settlement terms they want that they are pushing ahead with their first paid product.
Earlier this week Boundless announced the launch of their first paid digital textbooks. Each textbook costs $20, and they can be read in the web browser or in an iPhone app. There's no app for Android or the iPad, but the browser version is HTML5 based and should scale well to the iPad's screen.
I have not found any screenshots showing one of the textbooks in the iPhone, but here's what they look like on the website:
The textbooks include the same content as is freely available on the Boundless website as well as additional content:
Boundless Learning Technology prompts students with quizzes, flashcards, summarization and more at optimal points during their reading to help them retain information permanently.
The $20 textbooks are still the replica textbooks that Boundless launched last year, and that has me scratching my head. If you go to the Boundless website you'll be prompted to search not just by a topic but also by ISBN or title.If you search for an ISBN belonging to one of the more commonly used textbooks from a major publisher, you'll be offered a replica textbook that has similar content.
Boundless is making it clear that their textbooks are replacements for the expensive textbooks from major publishers. In fact, you can even find replicas for 2 of the 3 textbooks mentioned in the lawsuit. They don't mention the textbooks by name, but a search for the ISBNs or the title/author will result in a replica title for those 2 textbooks. There is also a recognizable thumbnail of the cover image for the 2 textbooks.
I can't help but wonder if perhaps the lack of a specific mention is part of the settlement, but of course there is no way to know for sure.
The digital textbook market is one of the slowest growing ebook markets at the moment, with only about 7% of US college students reporting that they had bought one in the past year. But it looks like Boundless might be having more luck than the rest of the market. They report that they have a million students using their textbooks each month. Given that there are an estimated 21 million college students in the US, that is an impressive accomplishment for such a young company.