Thursday, August 02, 2012

FlatWorld Knowledge: A bargain, if they have the eTextbook you need

On The Textbook Guru website, Jeff Cohen has posted a review of the FlatWorld Knowledge college eTextbook platform. FlatWorld Knowledge offers basic versions of all its textbooks for free, and gives faculty the right to make their own derivative works from its textbooks, through a Creative Commons license. The advantage is that students don't have to pay for a complete textbook when their professor only covers content from part of the book. FlatWorld Knowledge allows teachers to post versions of textbooks that their students (or anyone) can access.

Cohen likes the ease of the signup process for students, and the pricing model: The eTextbook itself is available for free and is accessed online via a browser-based eReader. The "Study Pass" version (priced at $19.95 in the example given in the article) includes an enhanced online eReader with note taking and highlighting, as well as interactive study aids and a "study view" of the eTextbook that consolidates key information from each chapter. The "All Access Pass" version (priced at $34.95 in the example) includes all the features of the other versions, as well as a downloadable PDF version of the eTextbook, and a version that works on the iPad and on Nook and Kindle eReaders. (There are also black & white and color print versions of the textbook available at higher prices.)

Cohen confined his test to the free version, and he liked the online eReader; most of the things he complained about are features missing from the free version but included in one of the paid versions. However, the biggest problem is the small variety of titles available. The textbooks don't come from major publishers, so FlatWorld Knowledge has to convince educators to write the textbooks in the first place, with no promise of financial compensation. The company has a good selection of business and economics titles (69 eTextbooks), and a fair selection in the humanities and social sciences (32 titles), but its selection in other areas is very light. It currently has only 115 eTextbooks in total.
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