Readers of this blog have seen references in earlier posts to a couple of start-ups in the free e-book space, notably Flatworld Knowledge, (www.flatworldknowledge.com ) and Wowio (www.wowio.com) Well it turns out another company has been doing it for several years. Actually, it could be argued that this company originated the concept of free college textbooks. I’m referring to Freeload Press, which dates back to 2005, arguably the Middle Ages in terms of e-book evolution. The banners on their site read:
- Students spend an average of $900 a year on textbooks, We propose they spend $0
- Books + Download + Free = Freeload Press
- Liberating textbooks and study aids for students from all financial backgrounds
The CEO of Freeload, Tom Doran, informed me today that beginning this August, all of Freeload’s Textbook Media e-books will be browser-based, which permits use of rich media for academic content and advertising. While Freeeload Press will continue to offer ad-supported e-books for free, other publishers using Textbook Media can set end-user prices for the ad-supported e-book version. In either case, students can choose to pay for an ad-free e-book version, or an ad-free paperback version. The texts are in use at over 250 colleges and universities.
But one needs to look at the bigger picture of free vs paid content. All sorts of approaches are being experimented with, including 1)”Freemium” (a small percentage of users choose to pay for a premium level of service; 2) Cross-subsidies: also known as “loss leaders”, in which something free or cheap leads the buyer to purchase another, more expensive item, 3) Data Aggregation: Collect enough data from a large enough community of users, and sell that to sponsors who desire that demographic; 4) Altruism and the gift economy: aka open source movement and user generated content [for more on this, see Chris Anderson’s insightful piece in the MArch issue of Wired: “Free, why $0.00 is the future of business”, from which the above paragraph borrows generously]
All of which points to more reason to short Pearson and Prentice Hall, et al.