Over my career, I have worked in commercial textbook publishing, managed a joint venture for a for-profit software publisher, worked with state DOEs, and run my own small (but profitable) business. I also have an MBA (though I try not to let that slow me down).
Recently, I have become a huge advocate for OER. Have I lost my business sense or decided that my interests lie outside of the commercial arena? No, I believe that OER can be good business. Here’s why.
- There are viable business models built on open licensing.
Many of these revolve around services and customization (both things the K-12 ed market is badly in need of). Look at Red Hat, the new IBM, and Flat World Knowledge. Read Wikinomics.
- It serves customers well.
Open is about letting the customer decide what best suits their needs and helping them customize products and services to meet those needs. The K-12 textbook market (and arguably the whole educational system) has been about prescribing what schools need, often in a one-size-fits-all way. Most of these models don’t allow for much differentiation of learning, which is sorely needed to address the achievement and engagement gaps in schools. OER, on the other hand, is all about differentiation and customization.
- It serves non-customers well, which may turn them into customers or prompt them to become advocates.
Even those who don’t buy your product or service will be able to experience it and tell others about their good experience.
- Giving customers what they want is good business.
I often hear schools say that they want a new way to do things. They want differentiation. They want modular content. They want to be able to remix their curriculum.
- Not giving customers what they want is bad business.
Ask a teacher or school administrator what they think about their textbooks or the commercial textbook publishing business.
- It better allows customers to spend money for things of value to them.
The K-12 ed market has many mechanisms to restrict free choice in curriculum purchases. Just a few are pricing that ties textbook and ancillary package purchases together, rules that every student must have a paper textbook (regardless of if they’re used), inclusion of (often sub-standard) professional development in book pricing, and packaging of content in enormous 800+ page bundles. OER pulls that all apart so that money can flow to targeted needs.
- The first to market with smart open models will have a big competitive advantage.
- State and federal policymakers are lining up behind OER.
Funding and new business models will follow.
- It’s a better use of public funds.
Millions of public dollars go toward curriculum development and licensing. Most directly, this happens through competitive grants (something that is being emphasized increasingly by the feds). Public funds should go to serve the public good.
- Publishers, schools, and learners need new models.
It’s a fast changing world with many challenges for all of us. Open is a real way to address many of these challenges.
- (bonus) It’s good karma.
Sharing is good. You may argue that this isn’t “good business,” but in my experience, it is.
Please comment and share your additional thoughts.