Professors help students save on textbook costs

By Noelle Westfall
February 18, 2010

Lauren Sliva

Every semester some students dread the cost of their new textbooks. With books costing up to $1,050 a year, several professors at Cabrini decided to find another way for students to gain the knowledge they need from a book without the hefty price tag.

Using Flat World Knowledge online books, Dr. Eric Malm and Dr. Lisa Delgado, assistant professors of business administration, have helped students save their money and not sacrifice the course book. Their textbooks cost nothing on-line, although students can choose to also purchase a print copy of the book for around $25. This way the students are able to find which learning method works best for them.

“Last spring I was thinking of how I wanted to offer a lower-cost textbook solution,” Malm said. “Economics never changes, examples change, but supply and demand are always the same. It’s frustrating to me that a textbook company wants $120 or $150 for a microeconomics book. I very randomly got an e-mail from Flat World Knowledge. It was advertising a new economics book that was written by my favorite economics professor as an undergraduate.”

Malm presented the book to his colleagues and together they decided to use the new Flat World Knowledge book for this past fall semester.

Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank started Flat World Knowledge in 2007. These two men previously worked with traditional textbook publishers including Prentice Hall and felt the call of an untapped market of instructors, students and authors who were dissatisfied with the current textbook industry.

In January 2009, Flat World Knowledge offered 30 courses, with 1,000 students using their online books. In September 2009 they jumped to about 480 courses throughout the country and 40,000 students.

“I really feel lucky to do what I do,” Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, said. “And its because it’s really been a challenge in a good way; a challenging problem to build a new model for an industry. Students, instructors and faculty are going to get a much better value. It’s cool to be in a business where we’re not just selling one little feature; we’re solving really significant problems.”

The books offer a large amount of personalization to the professors because they are able to select the online content of the book to reflect what is being covered in class. For example, the professor can rearrange a section from the back of the book that they want to cover early in the semester. This way the instructors are able to tailor their books for every class.

In light of the textbooks being changeable and not copyrighted through the school, the only argument against their usage is that they are similar to other online information sources. However, because the professors are the only ones who have access to change their books, they are the only ones who are able to maneuver the content after its rigorous editing process from the books’ developers. This makes their content very accurate.

“I start the first class bringing up how they can read online,” Delgado said about introducing the online books to her students. “They just have to register online, they don’t have to pay for anything. I tell them they don’t need to bring the book for class, so if we need to do something in the book I just bring it up online on the whiteboard.”

Cabrini isn’t the only institution across the country using Flat World Knowledge and other unconventional textbook sources. In implementing these inexpensive book alternatives, professors can now walk into their classes correctly assuming everyone has the book, even if they don’t bring it to class. Because of this advance, learning is just a mouse click away.

“I think education socially is such a critical need and when somebody gets access to higher education there are so many documented benefits,” Frank said. “In my research I’ve found textbooks are the number two financial barrier in the system and it’s so solvable.”

Flat World Knowledge’s Web site,, also offers a campus promo kit for students to spread the word about their free book alternatives throughout their campus in hopes of saving other students a few more dollars next semester.

“I love the idea of a cheaper textbook and the fact that it’s the same quality of a regular hard textbook,” Delgado said. “When I was going to school Blackboard and all of those things were very new. I love having all of this technology.”

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Noelle Westfall

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