Last Updated Dec 30, 2009 3:04 PM EST
That's only partly because of the obvious -- that Bookshare, which is operated by Benetech, converts books via Braille and Daisy to make them accessible to anyone who is "print disabled."
Even though the estimated proportion of the U.S. population that technically qualifies as print disabled is small, about one to two percent currently, any step toward making books accessible to them will also benefit millions of other people in the process.
That's because those learning English as a second language, have various reading or learning disabilities, or whose sight is slowly failing will also be helped by this move. Plus more and more of us will be falling into one or more of these categories as time goes on.
Flat World said it is supplying its books to Bookshare in XML, which makes the conversion process to accessible versions quicker and cheaper, by sidestepping the expensive scanning and proofreading stages.
The lesson here for media industry execs is that the technologies your company employs ought to always, as a best practice, be made accessible to the most vulnerable among us. For startup companies, this concept also needs to be baked into your product from day one, because it is much more expensive to retrofit it later on.
In my earlier coverage of Flat World Knowledge, I've taken note of its disruptive business model, which is challenging the three big textbook companies by widening access to affordable digital textbooks in ways that benefit students, professors, and universities -- in other words a win, win win.
Add to this the Bookshare deal, IMHO, and you have a big winner for society at large. Expect the rest of the textbook industry to follow this lead next year.
Flat World Knowledge: A Disruptive Business Model