Case Studies/Flat World Knowledge

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Adoption date unspecified
open textbooks, OER,


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Page Importance: B-Class
Page Quality: High
Flat World Knowledge is a commercial higher education textbook publisher that incorporates CC licenses into its business model.

It's gratifying to see the tremendous response to our textbooks and publishing model across a wide range of academic institutions. By preserving what works from traditional publishing and changing everything that's broken, our open textbook publishing model is providing substantial benefits to students, faculty and authors. Jeff Shelstad, Flat World Knowledge CEO and co-founder


As of November 5, 2012, Flat World Knowledge no longer incorporates CC licensing. [1]

Flat World Knowledge is a commercial textbook publisher that incorporates CC licenses into its business model. Co-founded by the Director of Marketing for Prentice Hall Business Publishing, FWK makes higher education textbooks available via CC BY-NC-SA, allowing professors and students to adapt them to individual courses. Flat World Knowledge is competitive with traditional publishers as it hires quality authors and editors, overseeing professional peer-review for texts. Flat World Knowledge recently released information that 800 colleges will utilize its open textbooks this year (2010), saving 150,000 students $12 million or more in textbook expenses.

In April 2010, FWK announced a new agreement with Barnes & Noble and NACS Media Solutions (an independent business subsidiary of the National Association of College Stores) to enable FWK’s open textbooks to be distributed in low-cost print form at up to 3,000 college bookstores across the U.S. for the 2010 fall semester. This new agreement expands the number where the physical texts are available up to 3,000—--wherever local professors have decided to participate. In addition, a print-on-demand (POD) model is to be piloted at a few bookstores, with the long term goal to have POD in all.

License Usage

Flat World Knowledge offers free and customizable online access to its textbooks, all available under CC BY-NC-SA. The license applies to its print textbooks as well as the print-on-demand versions. If users want a physical copy or downloadable PDF of a customization, they can order it from Flat World for a small fee, usually around $30 a textbook or $1.99 a chapter.

In addition, FWK’s platform is built on open source software and FWK has plans to eventually make its XML exportable at no cost, which would allow a user to remix FWK content on their own site.


CEO of FWK, Jeff Shelstad, writes in a guest post for GOOD:

"Our philosophy and Flat World’s disruptive business model is based on the idea of abundance, not scarcity. Abundance makes information and knowledge available to whoever wants it. Scarcity restricts access by charging a high price.
We sign top scholars to write innovative textbooks and use an industry-tested product development model to ensure high-quality. We then turn the traditional publishing model on its head. Flat World textbooks are published under an open license, which anyone worldwide can access free online, with no restrictions. Educators have the freedom to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute a Flat World book they adopt—the four Rs of open—at no cost so long as they attribute the author and publisher and don’t engage in commercial activity. We generate revenue around our free, web-hosted textbooks by selling affordable formats, such as print-on-demand, audio, and handheld reader versions for about $30."