They did indeed come up with a useful (if not quite new) approach. Their original idea (exactly like ours) was to offer free electronic versions of their textbooks as well as inexpensive paperback editions.
Our textbooks are just the ones we have written, and all of them are mathematics textbooks. FlatWorldKnowledge hoped to have all college textbooks in all areas available in their model.
It's a great idea for the students. Free PDF files. If you also want a paperback, then buy one for a reasonable price (not the $100 or more the major publishers want). It's also a great idea for authors. The royalty from the big publishing houses is pretty small anyway, so why not bypass them and give the students a break. Many students just use the free version -- some (enough) buy the paperback.
As it turns out, though, perhaps this "new" idea is not so commercially viable, or, if it is viable, it is just not profitable enough for most entrepreneurs.
FlatWorldKnowledge has now announced:
"Starting January 1, 2013, we will no longer be providing students with free access to our textbooks. Yes, the free Web format is going away, but our mission to provide high quality course materials at affordable prices remains as strong as ever. Students can read a complete online textbook with our Study Pass product, which includes note-taking, highlighting and study aids, for only $19.95. Our prices remain significantly lower than the $100+ that students are used to paying for other commercial textbooks."
So it seems it is up to individual academics (like us) to get quality study material directly to students for free and accept the fairly modest compensation for paperback versions that on-demand publishers like CreateSpace offer.
Any thoughts on this?