Tech giant Amazon is making an attempt to profit from the growing number of teachers who sell lesson plans and other classroom-related materials to colleagues and parents online.
On Tuesday, the company announced a program called Amazon Ignite, which will let a select group of educators sell their online teaching resources via Amazon. The lesson plans and other resources will show up in regular Amazon search results, just like any other product in the vast digital marketplace. Amazon will take 30 percent of the sales of teacher-made resources, plus a transaction fee of 30 cents for items under $2.99.
The name sounds very similar to, but is separate from, Amazon’s collection of free online educational resources, called Inspire. That effort drew controversy when it was launched in 2016, when teachers complained that Amazon was not doing enough to keep people from posting copyrighted materials that they didn’t create and claiming them as their own. In response, Amazon removed the offending materials, took the site down for maintenance, and later relaunched it with what officials said was a more-robust vetting system.
To avoid similar copyright controversies with the new Ignite service, Amazon is making the service “invite only,” meaning that only hand-selected educators will be able to participate. A “request invitation” button on the website points to an application form where teachers are asked what kinds of materials they want to sell, and to provide a website address and “anything else you’d like us to know about your digital educational resources.” The site says that Amazon employees will also “review submitted resources to help protect the rights of creators and ensure the best experience for our customers.”
The new effort to sell online teaching materials should bring far more attention to the items than what Amazon has given to the free educational resources on its Inspire service. For instance, the items in the Inspire service do not show up in Amazon results, so an educator has to know that Amazon Inspire exists to go search for free materials there. As a result activity on the Inspire site for free materials appears to be low, with very few reviews posted for the materials there. Inspire is still technically in beta, even 3 years after its launch.
Amazon would not make anyone available by phone to answer questions about the new Ignite service, but officials agreed to answer questions sent by email. When asked if Amazon Inspire will continue, a spokesperson said only that “Amazon remains committed to innovating on behalf of students and teachers and we don’t comment on our future roadmap.”
Amazon is organizing all of the materials in the new Ignite program in a new “Digital Educational Resources store.” So far the materials there range in price from $3.00 for a packet of exercises on teaching science writing to $29.95 for a workbook on teaching economics. The extra surcharge for items under $3.00 seems to have effectively established that as the minimum price for digital teaching materials on Amazon.
Late to the Market
The idea for such a marketplace is hardly new. The largest example is Teachers Pay Teachers, often called just TpT by its users, which was founded in 2006 by a former public-school teacher.
Teachers Pay Teachers claims to have sold more than a billion online teaching materials through its marketplace. Some teachers have earned more than $1 million selling materials on the site.
Is the company worried about Amazon entering its space?
“From our vantage point, we’re flattered,” says the company’s CEO, Joe Holland. “We’ve been expecting this move for a long time.” Holland is aware that he’ll have to compete with the long marketing reach of Amazon, but says that TpT has become an established brand by virtue of how long it’s been around.
“The big thing is that over the last decade teachers have come to know and trust TpT in the way that’s really hard to replicate,” Holland says.
Teachers Pay Teachers, though, has not dodged the copyright issues that dogged Amazon Inspire. Last year, it faced accusations that users on its platform were profiting from work they stole from others. A New Jersey teacher told Education Week that he found his materials posted for sale by others on the platform without his permission, and at least a dozen other teachers shared similar stories. Holland told EdSurge that “we take intellectual property very seriously” and that it has a “marketplace integrity team” that focuses on the issue.
Plenty of the nearly three million items currently listed on TpT are free or at prices lower than $3.00.
EdSurge reached out to several high-profile users of TpT, but none agreed to respond to requests for an interview or questions about whether they would use the Amazon service. Amazon’s site says that educators are free to post their resources elsewhere as well as on the Ignite service.
Other marketplaces for teachers to sell materials include Tes, based in the United Kingdom. Amazon's Ignite is only inviting teachers based in the U.S. to participate.