All I want for Christmas…

UPDATE – on December 21st, 2012 it was announced that had preserved all of these texts. Read more here.


…is for you to buy a single Flatworld Knowledge textbook, before December 31. And then share it with the rest of the world.

About a month ago news made the rounds that as of January 1st 2013, Flatworld Knowlege had decided to remove free access from their “open” textbooks. This was accompanied by much gnashing of teeth and raising of fists at how FWK had played fast and loose with either the terms “open” or “free” in the past. All of which I agree with.

But then…nothing. As if we were helpless in the face of someone diminishing the Commons. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening. All of FWK’s books are currently published on their site under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. This means that, even with the restrictions, both legal and technical, that they imposed, these books were in the Creative Commons. But because of the technical restrictions FWK placed on the books (they are not at public URLs but behind logins; the content is not easily copyable unless you pay for it) after the gate comes down on December 31 and the licenses removed (because surely they will) unless copies of them are made outside of these walls, they will have effectively been removed from the Commons.

My own efforts to date have been to port web-native versions of 4 books onto the Pressbooks platform (to be clear, this was done ENTIRELY outside of my previous role at BCcampus and on my own pressbooks sites.) They have not gone live yet because one of the things needed for pressbooks to really cook as an open textbook platform is custom book styles and a CSS-driven print engine, which will allow these ported books to come really close to their original.The nice thing about this is that I did this for free (with the exception of the time I volunteered.) I used the free web versions and some handy harvesting tricks (which I’m happy to share) to get the web content off their servers and onto another.

But sadly, time is running out. There are only 17 days before this content becomes lost to the Commons. Thus I urge you to purchase one copy of any of the textbooks on their server and then share it. Sadly, you’ll need to buy the $34.95 version to get the downloadable PDF. The cheaper version is still just the web version which would still need to be harvested.

Buy the one you think is the best or will serve students the most. Or coordinate with others – I have created a sheet of all the FWK textbooks and their status in being placed back in the commons. If you do buy a copy, place a note here (anonymously if you like) that you have. Ideally between all of us, we can cover as much of the catalogue as possible. Also note I am perfectly happy to act as the host for your copy if that is something you feel uncomfortable doing. Email/tweet/comment to me if you want to take up this option.


But why you ask? Don’t the licenses themselves mean that schools who charge tuition will not be able to have their students use this free copies?

Firstly, following David Wiley’s argument, I too feel this is non-sense. Paying tuition is NOT the same as charging for a book, and so it is entirely possible that these can still be used at NO cost by students in formal courses.In addition, unless we actually have opportunities to challenge that FUD, we won’t know if it’s true or not, and keeping these books in the Commons preserves this opportunity.

But on top of that, the whole point (in my eyes) of “open education” is that it is not just about formal learning or formal learners – there is a world of people without access to formal learning opportunities who can still benefit from the Commons.

The other argument I know is “yeah, but if we just download PDFs, all we’re doing is adding static content to the Commons – how un-exciting/un-pedagogically sound is that?” To which I’d say three things

  • PDFs don’t always have to stay PDFs – as I plan to write on in an upcoming piece, being able to decompose or shift previously locked media formats is one of the new digital literacies I think we can learn from the Pirates (arrr!)
  • systems like Evident Point’s ActiveTextbook allow students and instructors to upload an existing PDF and then annotate, discuss and customize it in useful ways, meaning maybe PDFs aren’t the dead end they’ve always seemed like
  • we do the best with what we have – do you have a better idea?

This is not about punishing FlatWorld Knowledge. As cheesy as I think there decision is, it’s their right to make it. All I am trying to do is exercise the rights we currently have to preserve material already in the commons.

So what I’m asking for Christmas is for people in my network and those who care preserving the commons is to take this small step to do so.


21 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas…”

  1. I have liberated ‘Introductory Chemistry’ by David W. Ball – no single PDF download so I am collecting all the files. Couldn’t added to the wiki, but I’ve got it, mark it down.

    1. Awesome Stephen, thanks. I’ve noted it on that wiki page.

      P.S. for what it’s worth – their HTML is actually very nicely marked up – if you copy the innerHTML between the div named book-contents you get the entire page. That plus down-them-all for images had me ripping about a chapter ever 3-5 minutes.

        1. Stephen, great job. Any chance you can share the method you used to create these, as it looks great and clearly you were able to do it very quicky, so I know I’d love to know the secret.

          Cheers, Scott

          1. I downloaded the individual chapter PDFs and made an image copy of the web page with the comments (I used the snipping tool available free in Windows to make the inage). I put them all into a single directory, selected the files I wanted to include, then selected ‘merge into a single PDF’ from the directory window.

            How did I get that option in the directopry window? I notice I don’t have it at home. It might be from Adobe. I do know you can merge multiple PDFs into a single PDF using Acrobat itself – see here:

  2. Brilliant! to quote the great Townsend

    Let’s see action, let’s see people,
    Let’s see freedom, let’s see who cares,
    Take me with you when you leave me
    And my shell behind us there.

    I’m game to take something on but what is it I am doing? If I buy the book before the deadline, can I post my version of it next year (I assume so as the license is what it is at the time of access).

    I might try one of the wordpress platforms too. Tell me more.

    1. Alan, good questions. CC Licenses are not revokable, meaning that the material you download, if it has a CC license on it, will continue on into the next year regardless of what FWK chooses to do after that. That’s the whole point of calling on people to do this before the enclosure is finalized December 31.

      In terms of pressbooks (or other platform) I never got a fully automated method to do it. If you are interested in porting the web version, then a combination of Firebug and DownEmAll will get you the content quite easily, and a quick search and replace on the image paths will fix that. For videos, I had to stretch; any of the regular youtube ripping tools will work for the books that have used youtube, but some of them seem to be using a private flash server. However the FF plugin Download FLV ( works great to grab these and save them locally.

      Obviously, there’s work involved to grab a web native version. In the end I do believe such versions will be more useful, especially if placed in an open book publishing platform (which I like pressbooks for but as I noted in the post, it still has some things missing) but this is why I urged folks to simply buy a PDF as an easy way to get the content quickly.

      Hope this helps, Scott

  3. Put me down for these two:

    Business Communication for Success by Scott McLean

    Stand up, Speak out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking by Jason S. Wrench, Anne Goding, Danette Ifert Johnson,Bernardo A. Attias

    BTW, i tried to edit at the wiki url but couldn’t….

    1. Thanks Joe and others – as you get copies, please do post the URLs here or send them to me or send the URLs by email. I will add them to the wiki (or you can too!) and as we get a more complete set transition this to something less makeshift.

      Great Christmas it is turning out to be, thanks!

Comments are closed.