Different pitches

Hi all –

For those of you who remember my intro, I work in textbook publishing. One of the most interesting entrepreneurial ventures I’ve seen in a while is a new company called Flatworld Knowledge, which makes textbooks free, and uses all sorts of new technologies to create learning communities. It is a for-profit business, but I’m intrigued by the way they’ve turned the traditional model on its head. They have four clever little videos describing what they do at the following site: http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/minisite/ 

These aren’t formal pitches to investors, but they take a pitch-like form (although if being impressed by the presenter is one of your criteria, I’m not sure what you’ll think of stick figures!) The business isn’t yet fully launched; their first ‘books’ will be ready for the January semester. One of the most impressive things to me is that the entrepreneurs running it come from traditional publishing. Take a look and see what you think. I can’t wait to see where this one goes!



1 David Vogt { 09.08.08 at 12:30 pm }

As you say, a timely disruption to the traditional textbook business model. There have been countless ‘open knowledge’ projects in the past that have failed – the market still needs the tangibility of a textbook. They don’t really expose their business model on the site – I wonder if they know what it is yet….

2 Drew Murphy { 09.08.08 at 1:55 pm }

Thanks for pointing this out Laura. You have to appreciate the promise and creativity that technology ideas bring to business settings. They can make the word “free” sound so amazing. It all seems so easy and transformational like there’s this business alchemy they are able to perform to make this happen.

3 David Wees { 09.08.08 at 2:48 pm }

The pitches look interesting. It reminds me of another project I once got into a little bit (I forget what it was called though, but the name Connexions rings a bell). I can’t find it though.

As someone who has participated in the creation of textbooks though, I can assure you that the ‘writing’ step isn’t nearly as easy as they make it out to be in the videos.

My guess is that their business model is:
1. Make people give them content for free
2. Sell it cheaply

This will fail unless there is a great incentive to do #1.

4 Carolann Fraenkel { 09.08.08 at 5:17 pm }

Hi David(s),

I agree that the big *if* is getting the content.

I dug around a bit and it looks as though they are trying to sell convenient packaging (print on demand, pdf for a fee etc.) as a way to make money. My husband is currently working for a startup that does print on demand, and I have to tell you it is a tough slog. Everyone is doing it all of the sudden. The only real way to make money at it is to have a huge volume (ie: Kodak) or a completely automated process that runs itself with no humans. They do get some work from Universities, but they then mark up and re-sell to the students.


5 davidp { 09.08.08 at 9:53 pm }

Here’s another approach based on a more intrapreneurial model, using targeted grant funds from major donor agencies as a strategy to move an idea ahead … and perhaps a preview of Mod 3 discussions.

It’s not always about selling venture capitalists.


MITE is about publishing and involves ex-publishing execs. Spot its (market) differentiator.

Bet you can find other publishing plays that are also based on grant-based funding models of the “intra” style.

David Wees’s comment above references Connexions at Rice University. http://www.cnx.org. Here’s a link to great video podcast (pitch) on Connexions by its founder and spokesperson Rick Baraniuk:



6 David Wees { 09.09.08 at 3:18 am }

My friend and I also started an organization Open Educator ( http://openplanner.org ). Our plan was to create an online community of educators planning curriculum and lessons together. We haven’t really managed to get it off the ground for a number of reasons.

1. Not enough time to promote it.
2. Not being paid to do it, so paid work always comes first.
3. The vast majority of teachers prefer to plan their curriculum and lessons without using electronic resources.
4. Planning with someone requires you to know them, and our site encourages a lot of ‘lone wolves’ to join, who then never meet anyone and produce no content.

We have a little video (pitch) that Andrew created. You can check it out here:


7 davidp { 09.09.08 at 9:52 pm }

In a similar vein, DavidW …

http://www.wikieducator.org – Wayne Macintosh, Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, BC


more generically, via Dave Tosh and Ben Werdmuller at the University of Edinburgh


Lots of folks trying to harness the power of community, open source and open educational resources.

The key for those in this class with these en/intrapreneurial interests will be how to find a differentiator that draws audience and builds critical and sustainable mass.

8 Marc Kampschuur { 09.09.08 at 11:58 pm }

In a similar vein to:
1. Make people give them content for free
2. Sell it cheaply

years ago I saw a business model where people could submit and your poem could be selected for publication in a collection of poems – which meant the author would then be likely to purchase the collection…

9 Laura Macleod { 09.11.08 at 4:39 pm }


The interesting thing about Flatworld is that it looks like, in some respects, they plan to compensate authors, it isn’t for free. They would get a share of the money made on the print versions. The other thing they’re big on, which again I think is promising, is peer review, which is one of the cornerstones of publishing and one of the problems with lots of the sites that gather ‘digital learning objects’. They substitute ‘user ratings’ for rigorous peer review.


10 Michael Peterson { 09.14.08 at 10:06 am }


Thanks for sharing the material on Flat World. As an analyst, the zero revenue issue begs further discussion. That said, like many of the other pitches, the purpose of these Flatworld Knowledge videos wasn’t to pick up investors, but generate interest in Flatworld as a textbook option.

There were aspects of their presentation I thought Flatworld handled very well; aspects I thought were weak in the other videos:

Each Flatworld video started with an illustrated problem, and indicated how the Flatworld system promised to solve it. It took effort to establish what Recombo was doing as a company and OLT and UBC IT Services also included wide-ranging discussions of mission.

They provided bite-sized videos. My sense of the other video pitches was that I’d like to see a 1 minute statement of what was so great about a venture, and why I should think it could work, and then leave time for a discussion on market size, or technical capacity, or revenue projections – as the audience requires. Several short videos worked better for me than one long presentation.

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