Rapid Response: FlatWorldKnowledge Decision (Updated)

I was extremely disappointed to learn that FWK had made the decision to exit the OER community and, indeed, the OER cause. If the company is not careful, they have the potential to do great damage on their way out the door. The publishing industry has already begun the “We told you so” rhetoric because FWK has so far failed to make clear the reasons behind their decision. It is not likely the case that FWK wasn’t sustainable as a provider of high quality OER. They’ve been growing under their business model for quite some time. It is more probably the case that those funding the venture weren’t satisfied with the profit margins and revenue pace. In short, FWK wasn’t making enough money (or they weren’t making it fast enough) for those who don’t share the very principles of openness upon which the company was founded. If I’m correct about this, then FWK should take pains to emphasize that their OER business model is actually sustainable, so long as sustainability (not uber-profitability) is the primary goal. A statement to this effect would effectively nueter the hounds (or Cheshire cats, as the case may be) who are clamoring for opportunities to kill the OER movement.

If I am wrong about this and the FWK model is not, in fact, sustainable, then this should be made clear as well. In this situation, FWK would need to concede that this first attempt at a sustainable OER business model didn’t work in the long run. But, this would be no reason to give up on trying to figure it out. What if Thomas Edison or Abraham Lincoln or scores of others had given up on their first (or second, or third) attempts? I, for one, am confident that a sustainable model for producing and distributing OER is possible.

3 thoughts on “Rapid Response: FlatWorldKnowledge Decision (Updated)

  1. This is a great point and one of the reasons why free, openly licensed textbooks and corporations don’t always mix well :-) I was amazed at what a hot button topic this was at the Chronicle.

    1. Thanks. I’ve read that statement as well and view it as a politically convenient pivot from the original principles upon which FWK was founded. Fairness was not the main concern – openness was. You’re right, the FWK statement might give an impression of un-sustainability. But, it could also give the impression that what the FWK board and funders really want is a whole lot more profit. As far as I understand it, the open format (not “free format” – another pivot) upon which FWK was originally based was never intended to be highly profitable. Read more about this point in David Wiley’s recent blog post – http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2585

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