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Flat World chips away at $9B textbook industry with cheaper digital versions

Image Credit: Flat World

Textbooks are stupidly expensive. Their prices are increasing faster than college tuition, medical services, and even new homes, and Flat World is one of the tech companies striving to make college textbooks more affordable.

Today, Flat World announced closing $9.5 million in funding to expand its reach, add new content, and develop more products.

Flat World is a provider of digital textbooks for college and university courses. All of the content comes from authors with teaching, research, or textbook writing experience. Flat World works as a publisher in this way — the books receive peer-reviews and professionally editing, and it publishes them under the creative commons license. Its catalog includes more than 100 textbooks in business and economics, humanities, math, science, and more.

Traditional textbooks cost the average college student $655 each year. On top of sky-high tuition and room and board costs, this really adds up. Furthermore, these books are burdensome for students to lug around and don’t necessarily align with an instructor’s vision for a course.

Flat World’s goal is to make educational material more affordable and accessible and to give teachers more flexibility with the material that they teach.

Textbooks are a $9 billion a year business. They present a big, fat, glaring target for the tech community because they create so many problems that are ostensibly easy to solve with innovations like the iPad.

Even Steve Jobs dreamed of making paper textbooks obsolete. 

Apple’s iBooks Textbooks service now presents digital versions of 25,000 textbooks that come tricked out with interactive animation, full-screen photos and videos, 3D diagrams, quizzes, and a note-tracking system. Amazon, Boundless, Inkling, Coursera, Flooved, and Chegg are also jockeying to replace physical textbooks with their digital versions.

One of the challenges is maneuvering around copyrighted content.

Months after launching its free and online alternatives to college textbooks, Boundless was served with a lawsuit from three major textbook publishers for violating the Copyright Act. Founder Ariel Diaz maintained that this type of content is not copyrightable and the parties recently reached a settlement.

Large publishers, like Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillian Higher Education, would obviously prefer it if students and teachers continued using their expensive products.

In the meantime, students, teachers, and educational institutions are seeing the benefits of more interactive, dynamic, customizable, portable, cost-effective educational materials.

Flat World said it now works with 2,500 institutions and 13,000 faculty members worldwide and reaches more than 1 million students.

Bessemer Venture Partners led this round, with participation from Valhalla Partners, Tribeca Venture Partners, and Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments. This brings the total capital raised to $35.7 million.

Flat World is based in Washington, D.C.

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