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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Interesting interview on Open Textbooks

There was an interesting interview of Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, that appeared on Spark at the end of August. Many of us have probably hear the folks from Flat World takl before, or have heard about the company. I thought this interview was a bit different though and worth a listen to, particularly if you have not heard of Flat World and their efforts to change how the textbook industry works.

Some of the observations Eric makes in the interview provide some good lessons for retailers. In particular, I would point stores to the discussion of what open textbooks are from the Flat World perspective --that discussion begins around 5 min 20 seconds. The business model problem discussion -- that focus on following the customer, or giving students choice is really well explained at about 6 min 40 seconds into the interview.

One good quote -- at about 7 min 40 seconds in:
So really the point for us was, treat the student like a real consumer.
Put the content in front of them and say, "Here is a full range of choices from
free online to these affordable offline alternatives." And what we are
seeing is that almost 70 percent of students who have that choice actually buy
something, and 30 percent avail themselves exclusively of the free online
version. [...] One of the things one doesn't typically think about in the
traditional textbook model is that first of all that 70 percent of students who
buy is about the same as the traditional model. About 30 percent opt out
of purchasing entirely.

Later in the piece they talk about the characteristics of free, Chris Anderson's book on free, and how the model looks going forward. The interview provides some glimpses of where Flat World might be headed in the future.

Another good quote appears at just over 10 minutes into the interview where he notes, "Listen, we don't know what the future is going to bring in terms of the ways students will behave, what kinds of new devices they will be able to read on." This is a point I have tried to make in the past and I know some people have problems with it. We do not know what the new models will look like yet. There is a lot of speculation, but we are at the early stage of an emerging technology. We know the future will look different, but exactly how it will look is not yet clear.

At about 12 minutes 45 seconds he references a blog posting by Kevin Kelley on Technium where he compared the Internet to a giant copy machine, noting that you have to figure out what you can sell that can not be copied. In the post he spoke about 8 generatives or values that he thought people would be willing to pay for. Kevin's posting is worth a read, and I may enter a separate entry here on that article.

The interview concludes at close to 15 minutes 30 seconds. An easy listen over a long coffee break or during lunch.

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