Flat World Knowledge adds funding, launches open-source textbooks for the blind

Flat World Knowledge, provider of free, open-source textbooks intended to lower mounting book prices for college students, has come out with two pieces of news. First, it added about $2.5 million in funding last month, bringing its total raised to $10.5 million. And second, it just forged a partnership with Bookshare, to make textbooks accessible for visually impaired students.

Flat World is significant because its business model is fairly unique. Similar textbook services like Chegg and BookRenter allow students to keep books temporarily for a fee. This lowers prices, certainly, but doesn’t give them a free channel. Also, Flat World’s use of open-source technology has the potential to fundamentally change the way students gain access to texts.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Flat World Knowledge, is backed by Valhalla Partners, Greenhill SAVP and High Peaks Venture Partners, in addition to a handful of angels. It brings in additional revenue by charging students for print-on-demand soft-cover textbooks (similar to course readers), audiobooks and relevant excerpts.

Bookshare, is a nonprofit library targeted at people with impaired vision. It has about 75,000 members, and offers access to 63,000 titles. It is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Adding Flat World’s repertoire should expand this number considerably, the organization says. By comparison, Flat World has a customer base of 40,000 college students.

Flat World raised $8 million in a first round of funding in March of this year. The $2.5 million received in November is an extension of this round. In addition to launching with Bookshare, it is prepping more titles for release online and in print format.

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