Last week, Jay Cross hosted a discussion on the un-book and several people discussed the concept of self-publishing on the Web, given services like Lulu. The question was asked by Dave Gray, “Why publish and then get feedback?”. Also, with self-publishing the author stays in control of the process. The publishing world is changing.
Eric Frank from Flatworld Knowledge spoke about his new venture, which is set to go live in 2009, but already has 26 universities involved in testing the concept. Flatworld’s business model:
Our books are free online. We offer convenient, low-cost choices for students – print, audio, by-the-chapter, and more. Our books are open for instructors to mix, mash, and make their own. Our books are the hub of a social learning network where students learn from the book and each other.
Eric mentioned that they work with established authors/experts; use a Creative Commons license; and allow textbooks to be re-purposed for each user and/or the adopting faculty member. Revenue is generated on the add-ons such as print, audio, PDF’s, and later on the Kindle. All of this is designed to give faculty more control over content. The service includes the ability to make private/public notes and comments as well as text chat and later some social networking.
It’s a new business model but doesn’t push things too far, which should make it viable. The professors remain in control, which should get buy-in, and the service will not be disruptive to the teaching model in higher education. Lowering the cost of text books will be positive for students as well. The key will be in getting a critical mass of text books and it looks like this is proceeding well. Self-publishing, or at least publishing without the middle-man, appears to be hitting the mainstream and this should be good for anyone in the learning field.