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Text book company to sell low-cost textbooks through IU Bookstore by offering online, print-out options


By Leonard M. Hunt, Jr.



An armful of textbooks might strain your back and break your bank.

But Flat World Knowledge is trying to reduce both of those problems. The book company is a publisher of commercial, openly-licensed textbooks and is making textbooks available online for free, along with low-cost versions off-line.

“We are no different from Pearson or McGraw-Hill,” president and co-founder  Erick Frank said. “We are publishers in that way, but our model is different. We make it available on a website.”

Flat World textbooks will soon be available at the IU Bookstore, following a recently announced partnership between the publisher, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers and the National Association of College Stores. The IU Bookstore will be among more than 3,000 national campus stores to distribute Flat World texts for the fall 2010 semester.

“We partnered with Barnes & Noble and NACS Media Solutions to dramatically lower the costs of printed textbooks for students, including students on financial aid,” CEO and co-founder Jeff Shelstad said in a press release.

Founded in 2007 in Nyack, N.Y., Flat World published its first textbook online in March 2009 after configuring the navigation for its online resource. The website is set up for professors to “adopt” one of Flat World’s textbooks and use it for its course.

Flat World’s open publishing platform allows professors to edit their textbook online and type in their own notes for the students to see. The site automatically renumbers the pages of the textbook.

“Flat World wants to give faculty more control over the textbook,” Frank said. “And our model doesn’t force professors to switch to new editions every 18 months, a common practice of the textbook industry that drives up textbook costs for students and makes unnecessary work for faculty.”

After the professor is done editing the textbook, the digital file will then be sent to the bookstore in case students want to print a copy. If a student wants to buy an audio file of the textbook, he or she can purchase the entire book for $34.95, or $2.99 per chapter on Flat World’s website. A PDF file sells for $19.95 for the complete textbook, or $1.99 per chapter.

Frank said Flat World is in the process of designing iPad-compatible textbooks, which will be available through iTunes.

If a student wants to print the textbook, he or she can go to the IU Bookstore and ask for a version of the textbook that his or her professor assigned to the course. The bookstore can then print a copy in black-and-white or color.  

Frank said making a variety of textbook formats available to students benefits the environment. Students who order traditional textbooks online have to wait days for it to be shipped to them. With Flat World, he said students can listen, view or print out a chapter or the entire book within hours at a local bookstore.

Sophomore Jessica Curtis, who is studying business, said she spends between $300 to $600 each semester for textbooks. She said her textbooks sometimes have to be custom-made by the professor, which can get expensive.

“Since professors will have the luxury of editing the Flat World textbooks, it will allow them to create the best text possible,” Curtis said. “I have had to purchase several customized texts in the past two years and they are always very expensive. This program would in turn reduce the cost of texts for students.”

Flat World currently has 20 business, marketing and economics textbooks on its website. It is looking to reach 100 within three years.

The company said dozens of more titles covering algebra, psychology, sociology, genetics, media, culture and more are to come.

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