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Open Textbook Publisher Flat World Knowledge Gets Random House Investment

Flat World Knowledge, which offers a unique, open license model for digital textbook publishing, will be receiving an infusion of capital from major trade book publisher Random House.

The investment in the company isn't the first for Random House owner Bertelsmann AG. Bertelsmann subsidiary Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments opened a funding round in January 2011 with Flat World. This latest investment, which is separate from that first one, now closes it.

Flat World's business model is to publish top textbook authors under a Creative Commons open license, which allows students to read complete, peer-reviewed textbooks free online or to purchase the same texts in print and digital formats. The company makes money through the sale of physical books, e-books for devices such as the iPad and Kindle, audio books, print-it-yourself PDF downloads, and interactive study aids.

The open textbook model gives teachers the right to use the content as it fits their course requirements. Instructors can edit at the word level; move and delete chapters and sections; and insert annotations, video, and other multimedia material. Once their changes are made, they can save the modified text and have it published in multiple formats, which students can buy from college bookstores or Flat World's Web site.

So far, according to Flat World, more than 1,600 professors at 900-plus institutions have adopted its books.

"This investment by Random House, the digital and print publisher of many of the world's great authors and their books, sends a strong message to our customers about the quality of our authors' work, and the long-term viability of our business model," said Jeff Shelstad, Flat World's CEO and co-founder. "This is great news for our company and for the future of higher education publishing."

"Flat World Knowledge is a transformative company in higher-education publishing whose forward-thinking digital initiatives and implementation complement ours. We share a strong drive to make high-quality academically-oriented content widely available and affordable for students and educators, and we welcome the opportunity to invest in Flat World's growth," said Markus Dohle, Random House's chairman and CEO.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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