Paying for college textbooks can be a financial burden for students who already are struggling with soaring costs for tuition, room and board.
Students typically spent $805 to $1,229 for books and supplies during the the 2007-08 academic year, according to the College Board.
As a student backlash grows against these costs, a Nyack-based company called Flat World Knowledge sees a business opportunity in offering students a budget-friendly alternative — free textbooks over the Internet. Executives at the two-year-old privately held company said the concept of online books is making inroads at more campuses as professors and students see how they can positively impact the classroom experience.
“We expect 2009 to be a big year for us as we further our commitment to offering alternatives to the high-cost traditional textbook,” said Eric Frank, Flat World Knowledge co-founder and chief marketing officer.
Flat World Knowledge said that 30 U.S. universities and colleges have agreed to offer its online textbook products in trial programs this spring. Teachers of marketing, economics and other business coursres are among those offering the online textbooks that are written by leading academics and authors, the company said. The trial is an expansion from a 15-school test in the fall.
Flat World said that even though the online books are free, the company generates revenue by selling related options to students, including audio versions, digital study aids, study guides and mobile flash cards. After starting out with business course textbooks, Flat World plans to branch out to general education course books.
“Branching into general education courses will have a tremendous impact on community colleges in particular,” Frank said. “Not only are general education courses the bread and butter of community colleges, community college students are feeling the greatest pinch from the high cost of traditional textbooks.”
In October, Flat World said that it had raised $700,000 in new funding from investors that include media executives, educators, authors and technology entrepreneurs. That brought the total funding raised by the company to $1.4 million.