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Series B round from Bertelsmann and Bessemer fuels Flat World's platform for free and open textbooks
Added to three other smaller funding rounds ($700K seed in October 2008, $8 million Series A in March 2009 plus $2.5 million in December 2009), the company has now raised just over $26 million.
Headquarted in Irvington, N.Y., Flat World Knowledge is one of many startups that wants to revolutionize education by changing the way textbooks get into the hands of students. Most people are familiar with how bad it can get, but this company specifically points out that students can spend around $900 a year on just textbooks.
The basis for Flat World’s model is a platform that lets students read textbooks for free online; there aren’t even ads or premium subscription plans required for more advanced features. These textbooks, the company says, are peer-reviewed, edited and highly developed, too, just as you would expect any copy in a school bookstore to be.
Students who don’t want to just read online, however, have several options. For one, print copies of textbooks can be ordered at various price points--$25 for a print-it-yourself PDF; $30 for a printed and delivered bound copy, but in black and white; or $60 for the same thing but in color. More tech-forward students can also purchase ebooks to read on their Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, iPad or any other device that supports the ePub format.
Supplemental study material can also be purchased through Flat World, like flashcards, online quizzes and audio study guides.
As someone who just recently graduated from college, Flat World Knowledge seems like it delivers on some awesome promises. The only concern, for me, is that the startup gives educators free reign in changing the site’s open textbooks. Promoted as a great way for teachers to mold a textbook to suit their course and style, customization options let teachers add, delete, reorganize and edit a textbook’s content at the sentence level. While this is an incredibly innovative and potentially very powerful tool, in the hands of the wrong person, the results could be disastrous. On the other hand, if students are granted complete access to the full text in addition to the edited version, then I have no problem with it.
Flat World Knowledge was not immediately available to comment.
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In 1911, Henry Phipps founded Bessemer Securities to reinvest the proceeds of his sale of Carnegie Steel for the benefit of his descendents. The start-up investment operations were spun out into Bessemer Venture Partners, which now operates out of seven offices around the globe.