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Textbooks are a multi-billion dollar industry, but I'd say it's one where the primary consumers -- students and teachers -- are fairly dissatisfied with price, content, and availability. So it's no surprise that there's plenty of activity in the textbook industry with startups taking aim at the more established companies and practices.

One of those upstarts is Flat World Knowledge, the largest publisher of free and openly-licensed college textbooks.

Today, Flat World Knowledge announced a joint pilot program with the University System of Ohio to allow 1000 Ohio students to receive digital versions of their textbooks for free.

Under the pilot program, participating faculty select Flat World Knowledge textbooks for their classes. These are openly-licensed, which means that faculty have the leeway to customize the books - edit, add to, mix-up - or use as-is. Students, for their part, will be able to access the books in a variety of formats -- on the web, as e-books, as PDF files, or as audiobooks. These digital files are non-expiring and they have no DRM. Should students choose, they can opt to pay for printed copies of the textbooks.

"Skyrocketing textbook prices are a major contributor to the cost of higher education," says Flat World Knowledge president and co-founder Eric Frank. "This new partnership creates a framework for reducing college costs and improving learning outcomes. Everybody benefits from equal access and choice of educational materials."

While the price-tag of "free" may be perfect for college students, just as important I must say, is the adoption of the openly-licensed content by the university system. The University System in Ohio follows Virginia State University's lead, which announced a similar program last summer.

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Audrey Watters


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