Ideas for Open Education Publishing

As anyone who has read this blog can probably tell I do a fair bit of semi-aimless trawling around the web driven by vague ideas for projects I’d like someday to attack but more often than not life gets in the way so they stay ideas and slowly fade away. Some ideas though hang around and gnaw away at you and everything you read seems to somehow connected to them.

Ideas also find themselves merging into one uber-idea that threatens to overtake all the others and this post is an attempt to make some space in my head as this one just keeps on rattling around. It pulls together a number of ideas I’ve written about before along with some ideas I have drunkenly babbled about at geeky nights out and isn’t very unique but is I think worthy of more consideration.

At JISC some of our major preoccupations are various flavours of ‘open’ – access, education, source, standards etc and for me at least I group them all under the top level heading of the ‘open web’ – more for my own sanity than anything else. As I mentioned recently I see the world through the eyes of a Web Manager and break these complex ideas up into pieces that make sense in that world.

I am particularly interested in the open education movement – especially around things like ‘open education resources’ and how that effects the market for traditional learning materials. I especially find the ideas around open textbooks compelling and find the business model that Flat World Knowledge are moving forward with interesting – but I am not sure it goes far enough to exploit the opportunities.

Cory Doctorow is experimenting with a new, freemium based publishing model for his next novel – the eBook & audiobook are free, there is a tipjar style donation model, a $16 print on demand version, then a $250 premium hardback and then a $10k custom written, unique story.

I think this opens the door to a new model for open academic/textbook publishing though I can’t imagine much demand for the $10k option! I was thinking there could be a model that looked something like;

* Free HTML version (including mobile version)
* Free Standard ePub version
* Tipjar/Donations
* Audio book (? don’t know much about this market as never listened to one!)
* iPhone/iPad/Kindle optimised versions $5
* Print on Demand version $15
* Premium hardcover (for libraries?) $40

[Unlike alot of people I know I think the iPad is going to be a huge success and will present an opportunity to shake up the publishing world – especially with the inevitable rise of an Android/Chrome OS Google tablet to challenge it.]

Like I have mentioned before – custom options for elements like covers could be offered plus the ability to pull content from several sources and create custom books.

I would be interested to see if this could work with the Creative Commons Zero License – offering the original text as completely open, remixable content allowing people to create their own version if they wish and relying on the inherent laziness of most people plus the kudos of being the originator of the material as enough to build a business on.

An additional wrinkle that would need to be worked out around this idea would be the need of some kind of peer-review social network to ensure that any text would be of sufficient standard to pass as truly an educational material. The technical side of this would (I think) be relatively straightforward though building a strong and committed community would be no easy task but as the open access model in scholarly publishing seems to have shown not impossible.

Now who would actually produce the content for these mythical open textbooks is another big question and will depend (I think) on how much recognition is given by the powers that be in higher education to the producers of open content. If contributing to the open education movement in this way becomes helpful to career progression in a similar way as being published in a more traditional manner can be then people will start to see this as a viable option for career progression.

Anyway smarter, more connected people than I would have to deal with those issues. My main interest would be creating a usable and attractive technical platform that could handle the workflow from initial collaboration on creating something, to reviewing it, to automating the process for producing the various versions (as much as possible), to getting them out to the right places for them to be downloaded or purchased, to offering detailed analytics to every author/publisher. It would have to embrace open source technology as much as possible as well as the appropriate open standards otherwise it would be a bit of a sham.

I actually think this could actually be quite a small, cottage industry kind of deal. Business models could spring up around particular subjects areas to take advantage of the long-tail and if the platform was opensourced (with perhaps a white-labeled version for the less technically astute) then the key would be arranging the print-on-demand capability (shocking enough I’m still stuck on my dream machine – the Espresso Book Machine) and building the relevant community as authors and reviewers. Probably the place to start would be a community already committed to the idea of open education and willing to experiment and take a risk and then target niche subjects after that.

That is enough of a braindump for now I think. Now at least when someone goes ahead and builds this startup in a year or so and makes a great success of it I can point to this post and prove I had the idea way back when!


  1. Good post and the idea has passed from my left ear through the right. This idea reminded me of Mark Boulton and his five simple steps which started as a series of blog entries (free) of which the comments helped fix any mistakes and provide suggestions. Then last year he released it as a PDF, the sales of which supported a physical copy. This model clearly has legs for some cases. An advantage of a PDF for me, is that I can then have it with me anywhere (stored online) for when I need it but have left the book elsewhere.

    PS.. adding a comment button at the end of each of your entries would be helpful.. i thought the entry comment button below this post was for this one.. 🙂

Comments are closed.