Over the past few years, a publishing company called Flat World Knowledge has been publishing a number of textbooks in several subject areas, from history to psychology to math. One of the features they have advertised is their “open” books, meaning in part that their books are available for free online to everyone. Until recently, this was nearly unheard of: students can now legally get their textbooks for free (while paying for extra features if they want them). While I had not heard about their books until recently (likely because they have few math books), this is definitely something I like, at least in the abstract.
Unfortunately, Flat World Knowledge has recently decided that the “open” model will not work for their publishing, because not enough people were buying their books. As much as I would like to argue that such a model should work, I’m sure they have more data than I do, and have undoubtedly done their analysis and decided that such a business model is unsustainable for them at this time. While I hope that they are able to offer their books in an open manner again in the future, they have at this point decided to restrict the way in which their books are available on their website, starting on January 1, 2013. (They have already started implementing this change, as well.)
The good news is that they previously published their books online under a Creative Commons license, a common license which allows redistribution (in particular, the attribution, share-alike, non-commercial license, version 3.0). This means that people like me have the right to continue to redistribute copies of the books, if we happen to have them. As it so happens, I have copies of all of their books which were available as of December 29th, 2012, so I can make them available.
Having the books is nice, but I am still a bit disappointed: I would have liked Flat World Knowledge to succeed in their open publishing experiment. I would have liked more books to be available, and I would have liked even more companies to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, it appears as though that area may remain the realm of private or government financing for the moment.
I would like to remark for the inevitable debates to ensue in unseen boardrooms in the future that the Creative Commons license did allow this release, but it also likely allowed Flat World Knowledge to have this many books at all. In nearly every foreword I read, the authors extolled the open license of the book as a primary reason for publishing with FWK. Were it not for this license, it is entirely probable that FWK would not be in such a favorable position. The ability of others to share your books should be regarded as the feature so many authors see it as, rather than a liability.
So, I am now releasing the complete set of over 100 Flat World Knowledge books published in HTML through 2012, available at http://flatworldknowledge.lardbucket.org/. In light of his recent passing, this archive is dedicated to the memory of Aaron Swartz, who was involved not only in making and keeping information free, but also with starting the Creative Commons organization whose licenses helped make these books available.
It should be noted that not every FWK “make it your own” book is available on that archive at this time: there was a lot of redundant content, so MIYO books are not directly available there. I did get a copy of those as well, so let me know if you need one and I will be sure to get it to you. Additionally, three books were only available from FWK as PDFs: those books are currently not available from the archive.
I intend to host copies of the books for the foreseeable future, but I have also housed a copy of each book with the Internet Archive – another group Aaron worked with – as well, to ensure their longevity. Each book page has links to buy the book from Flat World Knowledge (they put a significant amount of effort into editing and publishing each book, so it seems appropriate to compensate them), and to donate to Creative Commons (the group which made the license which enabled this release) and DonorsChoose, a website which connects elementary and high school classrooms and teachers with donors to help kids, an appropriate goal given the textbook theme.
Teachers: if you used a FWK book in your class, you can direct students to my page for a free copy of any existing FWK book. If you had a MIYO edition for your class, let me know and I will package it for you. I do not expect to be able to update the website with new editions when they are published due to FWK’s new licensing, but I might if possible.
Students: these are copies of the FWK books as they were available at the end of 2012. I have made a significant effort to ensure they are accurate copies of the books as published. You are welcome to use them however you see fit (as long as you follow the Creative Commons license). You can download a full copy of each book as a .zip file, or just browse online.
FWK Authors: it seemed as though many of you would appreciate your books still being available to everyone, although it might slightly reduce your royalty base. Feel free to point readers to these copies if you want, or to grab them for your own use.
Disclaimer: I am but one person. The opinions expressed here were mine at the time they were written. They may not be those of my employer, who was not involved in this project. Further, I am only hosting copies of material that was released by Flat World Knowledge under a Creative Commons license. I have not analyzed their contents fully, and am relying on FWK to have appropriately cleared all of their content for copyright concerns. While I suspect they have, please do not assume I have verified this.
Update: Flat World Knowledge has asked me to not attribute the books to them or the authors in my redistribution. The archive has been moved to http://2012books.lardbucket.org/, although any old links should continue to redirect to the correct location without any problems. I’m not sure why Flat World Knowledge doesn’t want to be associated with copies of their books, but they are within their rights to ask me to remove the attribution under the terms of the Creative Commons license. If you redistribute the books, I assume that they would like you to leave off any attribution from your copies as well, although they haven’t explicitly said so to me. (In my opinion, the Creative Commons license is a bit unclear on what to do in that situation, but it looks like your best option is to leave off the attribution to FWK. As always, if you have major concerns with a license, contact a lawyer.) In addition to the subdomain change, references to Flat World Knowledge, including the opportunity to buy the book from Flat World Knowledge, have been removed from the book template. If you would like to buy a (possibly updated) copy of any book from FWK, feel free to go to their website and search for the book there.
Did you miss the link when scrolling down? Here it is again: http://flatworldknowledge.lardbucket.org/.