Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of free, open-source online college textbooks, says it has raised $8 million in a first round of funding, offering technology that some say could fundamentally change the way students acquire and read books for school. The money will be used to add more titles to its offerings.

For a while now, traditional textbook sales have been on the decline due to internet sources, piracy and the growing used-books market — not to mention skyrocketing prices that have dissuaded many prospective customers. The average student spends upwards of $900 a year on textbooks, according to one scholastic interest group. This comprises up to 72 percent of what most students pay to attend college in general, reports the Department of Education.

Flat World’s books are written by the same caliber of authors as regular textbooks in stores and edited by professionals. The company makes revenue by giving students the option to buy print-on-demand soft-cover textbooks (think course readers), audiobooks and individual excerpts from books at discount prices. Based in New York, it supplements this material with web-hosted quizzes and flashcards, relevant MP3s and social learning games. It claims faculty members will probably prefer this combination of tools because it gives them greater flexibility in choosing which parts of books to teach and in what order.

Flat World has yet to launch in a major way but says it has 22 business and economics textbooks in the hopper and plans to release 10 of them for faculty review before the summer. Its products are also being tested on about 40 campuses across the country.

The round came from Valhalla Partners, Greenhill SAVP and High Peaks Venture Partners, as well as several angel investors. There is no other company offering a similar service on this scale for now.

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