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Tuesday, October 25 • 1:45pm - 2:45pm
Are commercial publishers friend or foe of open education?

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Are commercial publishers friend or foe of open education? Come challenge five assumptions about the role of commercial publishers in OER.


Are commercial publishers friend or foe of open education? This session will challenge five common assumptions about the role of commercial publishers in the open education movement. The presenter will share lessons learned from the frontlines of the $8 billion college textbook industry, and demonstrate why profit motives and financial incentives can be critical elements in fostering a healthy open education ecosystem that helps increase the mainstream popularity, usage and long-term financial sustainability of OER.

This session will begin with a brief overview of the disruptive business model of Flat World Knowledge, a commercial publisher of free and open textbooks.  The presenter will then challenge five common assumptions about the private sector and open textbooks.


1. Commercial activity is counter to the goals of the open education movement. Widespread use of high-quality OER is a shared goal within the open community. The presenter will discuss how a commercial publisher can play a central role in the creation, distribution and usage of OER that helps move it from the fringes to the center of the national conversation on higher education.

2. If you build open content they will come.  While a few open content sites attract thousands of users, most do not. For many faculty, open educational content is regarded as ancillary to their primary textbook.  The  presenter will walk through the adoption process to illustrate why it takes a publisher with a demonstrated track record in developing and marketing textbooks, along with a significant investment, to compete with the vast commercial catalogs and sales and marketing operations of large academic publishers,

3. The non-commercial clause is not in the spirit of true openness.Copyright holders have different objectives for their creations. While the non-commercial clause isn't suitable for all, for a professional publisher to reach scale and build a sustainable model around open, the non-commercial clause may be not only appropriate, but necessary for long-term survival.

4. There's already more than enough open content out there.  Supply, not demand, remains a hurdle for the mainstream adoption of OER.  There is a distinction between open content and adoptable open content. The presenter will provide examples of the kind of support and supplemental teaching materials faculty expect from a textbook publisher, and the resources required to change the perception, among many faculty, that free comes at the expense of quality.

5. Authors shouldn't profit from writing openly-licensed textbooks. There are many motivations for writing open textbooks. For academic authors seeking to do the right thing for students and be fairly compensated for their work, the commercial open textbook model makes sense.  The presenter will share examples of both first-time and market-leading authors who have embraced the commercial open textbook model as a way to improve textbook affordability and enjoy a more sustainable income stream for years to come.


avatar for Nicole Allen

Nicole Allen

Director of Open Education, SPARC
Nicole Allen is the Director of Open Education at SPARC, a global coalition working to make open the default in research and education. A decade and a half ago, Nicole was an undergraduate student frustrated with the cost of textbooks. Today, she is an internationally recognized policy... Read More →

Tuesday October 25, 2011 1:45pm - 2:45pm MDT

Attendees (1)