Flat World Knowledge is one of a bunch of companies trying to reform the textbook industry,and one thing that sets them apart is that they let students access online versions of their textbooks for free.
Unfortunately, that free access is about to end. Starting next January, students will no longer be read their assigned textbooks on the Flat World Knowledge website.
Campus Marketplace was the first to report the news on Friday. This is the newsletter/blog for NACS, the college bookstore trade group, and they got the news straight from the horses mouth. “While free access goes away, our mission to be fair and affordable remains as strong as ever,” said Flat World CEO Jeff Shelstad.
Flat World Knowledge will still host the digital textbooks on their website, but they will only be available to paying customers. In addition to the POD textbooks sold via the website and bookstore partners, Flat World Knowledge also offers the textbooks as DRM-free ebooks in Kindle and Epub (you can also bundle paper and digital). Now if students want to use online version of a Flat World Knowledge textbook they'll need to buy either the ebook or the bundle.
Sometimes free just doesn't work as a business model. In this case Flat World Knowledge was perhaps too generous and offered too good of an opportunity for students to save money.
Many students have tight budgets; the record number of students not buying all their assigned textbooks will tell you that. By offering free online access to textbooks Flat World Knowledge may have put students in a position where they prioritized paying for other textbooks as being more important than paying for an offline copy of a Flat World Knowledge textbook.
Given that I myself have checked textbooks out of the library some semesters, that's probably something I should have foreseen.
image by ironypoisoning