Gearing up for GSBI
I’m really fortunate to be able to participate in this year’s Global Social Benefit Incubator at Santa Clara University. It’s a two-week program that seeks to help socially beneficial projects develop sustainable business models, which is exactly where we are with both the MIT OCW project and the OCW movement. We can see that there are benefits to making all of this material available, but it’s not clear if there is sustainable revenue to be generated from doing it.
The preparation work is extensive, and already I’m facing two dilemmas that I don’t expect will go away very quickly. The first is project-specific, in that I would like to find sustainability models that don’t trade on MIT’s reputation. Schools of equal stature will enjoy similar opportunities, and there are probably sustainable revenues to be had in this area, but I’d rather come up with sustainability models that work for a wide range of well-known as well as regionally and locally influential schools.
The second dilemma is that I am seeing as I get into this that sustainable revenue will probably come from audiences other than our target ones, which is kind of an odd situation. MIT OCW’s mission is explicitly to provide free access to educational materials from all of MIT’s classes to learners and educators around the world for non-commercial purposes. Given this commitment to keeping all materials freely accessible, there are very limited opportunities to develop revenue streams from these audiences, nor, I think, is there much interest in doing so.
This means looking to secondary beneficiaries of the project’s existence, such as booksellers and publishers whose wares are in effect promoted by the site. We’re already running a pilot of the Amazon affiliates program to determine what revenuers might be generated. This split between providing free content to our main audiences and developing revenue from secondary ones is going to be an ongoing tension, though, I can see.
Anyway, as I said before, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work through these issues in such a well-structured and demanding program, and am really excited to be working with the representatives of the other fine projects involved. I hope to come back to the goals of some of them here soon, as they are all really amazing.