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Maker of 'open,' free textbooks raises $8 million

Open source is not just about software. Flat World Knowledge is applying open-source principles to producing and selling college textbooks and related materials.

Flat World Knowledge publishes college textbooks that are free online and open for editing.

Its business model is to offer the option for students and professors to print soft-cover textbooks in whole or part, at a fraction of the cost of a standard hardbound college text.

The company announced this week that it has raised $8 million from Greenhill SAVP, High Peaks Venture Partners, and Valhalla Partners.

Flat World, founded in 2007 by two textbook industry executives, is starting small. According to its online catalog, it focuses on seven practical, business-related areas, including economics, marketing, and accounting. As of now, it offers seven textbooks but has plans to publish 15 another books by May 2010.

The site states that the books are "written by the world's leading subject matter experts" and are "peer reviewed." Flat World's open model allows instructors to shift around or eliminate chapters, and plans to let instructors edit "down to the sentence" starting this summer.

According to a statement about the investment:

(Flat World) makes its books available as free Web-hosted textbooks. It earns revenue and pays its authors royalties by providing students with options to purchase print-on-demand soft-cover textbooks, audio textbooks, and self-print individual chapters at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.

The company enhances the learning experience by offering low-cost digital study aids like MP3 study guides, interactive Web quizzes, and digital flashcards.