OER are not able to generate revenue so they can not be a business model
OER, same as open source, can create revenue in many different and successful ways. From services like search engines or platforms built around resources, selling custom versions or providing implementations. From a business perspective OER projects are more like startups that build products around data than final publishers focused on selling a final product. Resources like data can flow freely but at the same time they can ignite a lot of new revenue streams and possibilities for many more then just publishers. Right now OER are at the verge of mass adoption, first few companies and projects are successful and other test, fail and start new projects. Many of new projects struggle not because of money but obstacles from old business models and time is needed to find the best ways and solutions for new business models build around OER to coexist with others and grow to scale.
Companies like Boundless, which provides ready-to-use online content, study materials, and assessment items (raising – as they claim – nearly $10 million in venture funding1) are already proving that OER are a great model to build upon. In the US Textbook Media and Flat World Knowledge (the two largest commercial providers of free textbooks) utilize the “freemium” strategy. They considered which goods can be given for free and which services are available for a price. Textbook Media offers advertised versions of e-textbooks free of charge and paid version that is not supported by advertisements. Flat World Knowledge in its basic approach, give e-textbooks written by recognized authors with established reputations for free while supplemental materials (like digital flash cards, teachers material, PPT presentations, study guides) are available for purchase (Hilton & Wiley, 2010). Many other examples of commercial re-use of resources from Wikipedia and public domain are also there. Same as with open source, we tend not to see the value and business behind it, but we pay for hosting almost everything on the Internet on Linux servers, we buy Android phones and use Firefox.
Want to know more?
Exploring the Business Case for Open Educational Resources, Neil Butcher, Sarah Hoosen, COL 2012
Hilton J. L., Wiley, D. (2010), A sustainable future for open textbooks? The Flat World Knowledge story, First Monday, 15, 8,
Steven Melendez, Why Can’t E-Books Disrupt The Lucrative College Textbook Business?, Fest Company,