Since the advent of digital ancillary content in the 1990’s, educational publishing has employed a series of increasingly complex pricing and product strategies. Pricing practices have included: (1) discounted print + digital bundles (2) custom discounted print products for institutional purchases (3) high-priced stand-alone digital or print products (to encourage bundle purchases) (4) excessively high-priced new print titles (to encourage the purchase of more profitable integrated products).

Traditional educational publishers have been equally resourceful when it comes to addressing the production constraints inherent in the traditional author-franchise model. The same content for a single course, for example, may be repackaged into multiple similar, and equally high-priced products. There’s a reason for the tooltip on Amazon pages asking “Why is ISBN important?” There are often so many versions of the same product it’s easy to buy the wrong one!

In contrast, other content and services industries trended toward presenting consumers with greater price and product transparency. A monthly subscription for Hulu or Netflix provides the same features and services and costs the same regardless of where you live in the United States. The same for Amazon Prime, Sling, Spotify, and Pandora. When these companies try to make changes clandestinely, or without prior feedback from their customers, there is inevitably significant public outcry.

Such consistency and transparency are also found with platform applications such as Slack, Box, and Hubspot. In addition to a single product for a clear price, these companies also give consumers detailed, easy-to-access lists of features and services.

Clear product features, clear services, and consistent/transparent pricing.

What is quickly becoming the norm in other content and services industries is also the aspiration of 21st century educational publishers.

21st century publishers believe that transparency — in the form of clear and consistent company, product, and pricing information — is a cornerstone for genuine consumer trust and business success.

What does that look like?  At a minimum, it includes:

  • Transparency about company culture, structure, and core values
  • Transparency in company business models, product pricing, and content access
  • Transparency in content design, development, and purpose
  • Transparency related to operational design and process
  • Transparency of learning philosophy and convictions about the design and elements of successful learning solutions (or environments)

At EdBooks, we are committed to product, pricing, and company transparency. Here are some things we think it’s important to know about us.

Our Company — EdBooks is a for-profit company. Our goal is to provide a proven,  sustainable business model for publishing of affordable learning content in the 21st century.

We are passionate about affordable learning. It has been the focus of our company from the beginning. EdBooks Founder and Managing Director, Vance Fried, is Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Oklahoma State University. He wrote Better/Cheaper College in 2010, and later put those ideas into action by building a prototype of an online Economics curriculum. In November 2016, Vance brought Rob Reynolds (CEO) and Stacy Zemke (CTO/CCO) on board to shape a broader vision for sustainable, affordable learning content. The result of their combined efforts is EdBooks Stackable LessonsTM technology and a $19 mediabook that gives students high-quality content that they can keep for life.

EdBooks is also committed to a positive company culture that is defined by five core values: (1) Integrity, (2) Transparency, (3) Respect, (4) Agility, (5) Resilience. We believe these values are key to personal and professional success, and we work to make them a part of our workplace culture and business practices.

Our Product — EdBooks products consist of stand-alone lessons that are collected into modules and courses (using our Stackable LessonsTM design). We create our lessons using a combination of original content (written by subject matter experts), open content that has been edited to give our products a single style and voice, and curated content — embedded images and curated Web resources that are available via links in the Toolbox for each lesson. On our website, we provide access to product Tables of Content, product feature information, and a free printable lesson for each product listed. In addition, anyone (instructors, students, administrators, curriculum and learning designers, industry analysts, or other industry colleagues) can access demonstration modules of our products simply by providing their name, e-mail address, and institution/company affiliation.

Our Technology — EdBooks technology consists both of our Stackable LessonsTM content technology and our learning platform. Our Stackable LessonsTM framework design consists of layers of: (1) information design (taxonomies and thesauri that will transition into an ontology), (2) Content intelligence (content blocks, content metadata, content usage data), (3) Content templates, (4) Content APIs.

As part of our commitments to affordability, openness, and scalability, we have opted to build our learning platform on top of the existing open source WordPress content management system. WordPress is used by more than 27.5% of the top 10 million websites1 and provides a foundation that is easily scalable and extensible. To provide our different learning and administrative features, we use the free LifterLMS plugin (free), and a variety of other free and commercial plugins (we have a forthcoming post with more detail on our platform and will provide a complete list of plugins and costs with that post) The total cost of the combined plugins we use is less than $300 per year.

We have also worked with Dennis Hall of Learning Templates to develop a number of extensions for the Lifter LMS plugin: (1) LifterLMS Student Notes (a journaling tool), (2) Lifter LMS Lessons Preview, (3) LifterLMS Widgets, (4) LifterLMS Quiz tool (for expanding quiz and survey tools). These extensions will all be available for free from the Learning Templates site and via EdBooks.

We also employ the open source/free Learning Record Store (LRS) Learning Locker. Learning Locker, along with LifterLMS xAPI and H5P xAPI are an integral part of a framework designed to give learners ownership of their content and performance records.

Finally, we use Reclaim Hosting to host both our company website and our courses.

Our Publishing Philosophy — Our publishing philosophy is to provide the amount of core information for each lesson concept that someone needs to know and can actually learn — i.e. process, internalize, and apply in some relevant fashion. Our publishing model is real-time and dynamic — we publish lessons as soon as they are completed and update them constantly. Our content is never “finished.” It can and should always be improved through continuous editorial review and user feedback. We seek and welcome voluntary feedback for every lesson, from instructors, students, and life learners.

Our Content Licensing — EdBooks designs and publishes content in partnership with TEL Library, which will have its official launch in October). In order to support EdBooks’ goals of affordable learning solutions, broad content reuse, and a sustainable business model, our content is licensed as CC BY NC SA. We recognize that the NC (non-commercial) part of the license will seem restrictive to many in the open content community. However, as we balance our goals of affordability and delivering premium content and services at a single, sustainable price, we feel this license makes the most sense.

Our Pricing — Our mediabook products cost $19. For that price, students receive access to their course content for life. They also receive printable and accessible versions of each course lesson. Students will also retain ownership of and access to their notes and learning performance records. Finally, this price includes instructor assistance with course setup (including learning design assistance), as well as support for both students and faculty for the duration of the course.

Of course, part of being transparent is being willing to answer questions people have about our company, products, and practices. It also means providing regular updates and engaging in dialogue with our community. As a company, EdBooks is committed to being transparent in these ways. As company CEO, I am always available to provide information or clarification about our company or to engage in dialog about our products. I can be reached at rob dot reynolds at edbooks dot pub.

1“Usage Statistics and Market Share of Content Management Systems for Websites”. W3Techs. February 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.