Boundless, Battling Big Publishers, Rolls Out New Site to Replace Textbooks

A scrappy edtech startup from Boston is emerging today with a new website, new content, and a new resolve to fight the powers that be. Boundless Learning, which started in early 2011, has redesigned its free, open educational content platform for college students, in its public launch just ahead of the new school year.

Boundless has been doing some learning of its own over the past year and a half. (In fact, “learning” is so redundant that the company has dropped it from its name.) It has learned that there is a big market for a free, Web-based alternative to textbooks. It has learned how to present content in a way that’s easier to consume on a laptop or tablet. And it has learned that making a few enemies along the way is OK.

Those enemies come in the form of three big textbook publishers—Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group (Macmillan Higher Education)—that have filed a federal lawsuit against Boundless alleging copyright infringement. That was back in March, and as these cases usually go, not a lot has happened yet. In late June, Boundless filed a motion to dismiss two secondary claims in the suit having to do with unfair competition and false advertising. The goal, Boundless says, is to focus on the primary issue—copyright infringement—where the startup is confident it will prevail.

Boundless plans to file an official legal response to the lawsuit after its motion is resolved (possibly this month). Not surprisingly, the company views the suit as a business tactic used by the entrenched powers to delay and distract those who are trying to innovate. “They’re trying to protect the profit margin on this dying business,” says Boundless co-founder and CEO Ariel Diaz. “Textbook publishers are trying to build bigger levees instead of building a houseboat. They’re just setting themselves up for massive chaos.”

But enough about the legal stuff (for now). What’s also interesting about Boundless is its progress in the rapidly moving field of edtech. Its new site looks cleaner and easier to read and navigate (see left), at least to this reporter’s eye. Boundless now also offers materials for introductory courses in history, sociology, physiology, and writing—beyond its original subjects of biology, psychology, and economics.

Students can go to the site, type in their assigned course … Next Page »

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