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Dear OER colleagues,

News just broke that Flat World Knowledge will stop offering "free access" to its open textbooks as of January 1, confirming rumors that many of us have heard over the past few weeks.

FWK has not publicly released any information beyond what is in the article.  I spoke with Jeff Shelstad yesterday, who confirms that they are eliminating free access but cannot offer any specifics about their new model, including what license if any they plan to use.  The timeline for working out the details is up in the air, as FWK is still regrouping after Sandy completely flooded its NY office (fortunately everybody is ok, but they need to relocate).

We should expect to see more coverage of this story in other higher ed outlets within the next few days.  My strong recommendation is that we avoid any strong public reactions or speculation until FWK works out the details - there's no sense in reacting to problems that may not exist.  But, we should be clear any existing copies of CC licensed content remain under that license regardless of any changes to FWK's model, and that if FWK stops offering free access, it no longer is offering OER.

- Nicole

(FYI - I'm on leave from PIRG working on a Get Out The Vote effort for the election, so I probably won't rejoin the discussion until Wednesday ;)

Flat World Knowledge to Drop Free Access to Textbooks

November 3, 2012, 5:00 am

Sometimes free costs too much. As of January 1, 2013, Flat World Knowledge, which used to describe itself as the world’s largest publisher of free and open textbooks online, will no longer offer content at no charge.

Cost partly motivated the decision, according to Jeff Shelstad, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “We’ve got to be smart with the limited capital that we have” if the company is to survive 10 years from now, he said.

There’s also “an element of fairness” behind the move, Mr. Shelstad said. Some institutional partners have been paying as much as $20 to $25 per student for access to Flat World content, while other partners pay far less. The goal is to even things out while remaining affordable, according to Mr. Shelstad. “We have anchored ourselves around affordability, and we are still there with this move,” he said.

The company’s model allows instructors to customize textbooks and students to pick different packages of content—textbooks in different formats, related study guides, and so on—depending on what they want. The only thing that will change is that there will be no free option, Mr. Shelstad said. “We’re still a great, affordable solution that gives you control of content,” he added.

Flat World has recently begun to explore the possibilities of so-called MOOC’s, ormassive open online courses. This fall, it agreed to provide access to a textbook for a free, introductory course in solid-state chemistry offered by edX, the joint Harvard-MIT online-education venture.

Mr. Shelstad doesn’t expect the lack of free options to hamper the company’s ability to work with edX and other providers of free online education. “I don’t see any reason why we won’t continue to partner with MOOC’s,” Mr. Shelstad said. “I’m not sure this will have much impact on that at all.”

Flat World has talked to some 200 of its institutional members about the change, the chief executive said. “I would say that 190 have more or less said, ‘Not a problem,’” he told The Chronicle. â€œOf course, we have some who are really committed to the open license.”

Flat World authors, meanwhile, “are almost 100 percent in agreement with this move,” he said.

“Campus Marketplace,” the newsletter of the Association of College Stores, first reported Flat World’s decision to drop its free option. “A number of our members work with Flat World Knowledge or have its adoptions on their campus, so this will likely be of interest to multiple folks in the industry,” Mark Nelson, the association’s vice president and chief information officer, told the newsletter.

Nicole Allen
Affordable Textbooks Advocate
The Student PIRGs
+1 401-484-8104 (work/mobile)

twitter: @txtbks
skype: txtbks

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Thanks for your post and this additional information.

Sent from my iPad