Open Business Models #ioe12

The question that seems to arise from throughout the course topics is one of sustainability and the open business models topic considers this area in more detail.

When looking at particularly the concept of OpenCourseWare (OCW) there is the concern that it can’t be achieved without major subsidies. The MIT OCW seems to always be quoted, as is the investment figure running to millions of dollars required each year to maintain the initiative.

[Aside: However, this approach seems to be based on maintaining and propagating the existing systems of higher education structures. “How can we get to a (financially) sustainable position of providing openness in education whilst still doing what we are doing?” And if we have seen anything over the last decade or two, existing systems/business models adapt or die. Cable Green in the next topic, Open Policy, makes a valid point that possibly we are asking the wrong question. “What are we trying to achieve?” is the primary and fundamental question. If we are trying to achieve the maintenance of the existing educational system then possibly the answer is different to us trying to expand and open education much more fundamentally to enable access to all who want it. From an institutional or organisational perspective openness is a question of mission and strategy, which includes community outreach, marketing, retention, student satisfaction, etc. Financial sustainability is part of a larger strategic discussion. However, there are moral and ethical issues for the sustainability position of openness to consider.]

So running through the course readings for the Open Business Models.

The Johansen & Wiley, 2010, ‘A  Sustainable Model for OpenCourseWare Development’ article/paper is primarily devoted to analysing the possibility of adapting courses at Bingham Young University (BYU) to create OCWs, and the financial implications of that process to reach financial sustainability.

[The main cost of adapting existing courses is ‘copyright scrubbing’. This is the process of identifying copyrighted content, identifying the rights holder(s), negotiating for rights to use the material(s), and paying any applicable fees. Alternate solutions after identifying copyrighted content are to remove any such content, or to create your own alternative content (still requiring resourcing).]

The paper works through the analysis, drawing on concerns about the potential loss of revenue from participants learning from the open courseware balanced against the potential increased sign-ups to register on the formal, paid-for course enrolments. Examples like that of the Open University in the UK are highlighted, I’ve written about this myself previously.

Figures are calculated within the paper of the revenue levels required versus the costs of adapting to OCW for BYU example courses. It provides a useful resource for institutional policy makers looking to perform a similar analysis.

However, I think my recommendations would be to ensure that resourcing factors are taken into account at the course production stages – record staff time to produce the course. Also, copyright and licensing of material should be considered from the onset of the production process for materials destined for open use.

The other ‘readings’ from the topic centre on book authoring and publishing, be it general of textbook specific. I personally found the Hilton & Wiley, 2011, ‘Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet’ of interest. In this article, 10 authors were asked a set of questions about their views on open publishing and whether there were affects on sales. The general consensus amongst the authors was that they had a desire to increase the exposure of their works; open publishing achieved this by increasing readership to those who wouldn’t otherwise have accessed the works. They felt that there was little impact in relation to loss of sales of people who accessed the open publishing rather than bought the book. Indeed, the authors felt that sales of the books actually increased as a consequence of the open publishing availability; arguments related to accessing the works to see whether they were worth buying, and preferring to read a ‘hard’ copy than off the screen. Since publication, however, sales of electronic copies of books to Amazon’s Kindle eReader have outstripped their ‘hard’ copy sales of equivalent titles. In light of this statistic, it would be interesting to see subsequent analysis of open publishing to eBook format and whether there is any affect on sales.

The textbook model related topic readings relate mainly to The Flat World Knowledge (FWK) approach, of which David Wiley is the Chief Openness Officer; with passing reference to Rice University’s Connexions and Wikibooks. FWK uses a ‘freemium’ strategy, giving away some elements and charging a ‘premium’ for other services, however it doesn’t subsidize with advertising revenue. So students can access full online versions of the textbooks for free, or pay for printed, PDF or audio versions for example.