Flat World Knowledge

Text books cost a fortune these days. And they don’t age well. And they don’t contain local information.

This morning I had a chat with former textbook publisher executive Erik Frank, who’s out to change the situation. He and another text veteran formed Flat World Knowledge to reverse the tide.

Flat World proposes to offer e-texts by known authors to students for free. (Students will pay for print & audio versions of the text, podcast study guides, mobile phone flash cards, etc.) Books will be printed on demand.

On Monday, Flat World goes beta with four business textbooks at 15 universities. They hope to have eight texts available for the ’09 school year. David Wiley is their “chief openness officer.”

Erik described a “social learning network” students could join to study with one another; this struck me as a potential ghost town. My suggestion: offer a social network that enables instructors to swap ideas around a the topic of the text.

Can Flat World claw its way into the hidebound world of academic publishing? I’m skeptical. Then again, Erik and his co-founder have three decades of experience with traditional publishers, so maybe they have an edge. I still remember being required to buy pricey books written by my professors. Argh. I wish Flat World well.