You already get your socks, your audiobooks, and the latest binge-worthy television series on Amazon. So why shouldn’t the online retail giant be the go-to-source for lesson plans?
That’s part of the pitch anyway, behind Amazon’s latest foray into K-12, a publishing portal called Amazon Ignite. The platform will allow teachers to sell lesson plans and curriculum materials by topic, in subjects like math, language arts, social studies, technology, and science. And like the rest of the Amazon world, the site will have verified customer reviews, make specific recommendations to returning visitors, and allow customers to preview the material. At least initially, Amazon Ignite will be invitation only.
It appears that Amazon also plans to market the site to parents whose students might need extra help or acceleration. “A parent from Florida might find a set of math problems that will help their third-grader master fractions, right on Amazon.com where they already shop for household and personal needs,” the company wrote in a blog post introducing the new site.
Educators can earn a 70 percent royalty on all sales. For products under $2.99, there is a $0.30 transaction fee per resource sold, according to Amazon.
Does this idea sound familiar? There’s already a similar marketplace for teacher materials, Teachers Pay Teachers. And that site has been very lucrative for some educators, with a top seller earning a whopping $2 million in a single year, and more than 150 teachers getting upwards of $500,000. Thousands of other teachers receive a few hundred dollars a month. Like the new Amazon service, Teachers Pay Teachers also allows for customer reviews and gives would-be buyers a chance to at least partially preview the material.
Is this a good way for teachers—and maybe even parents—to get access to new curriculum materials? Steven Ross, a professor in the school of education and the director of the Center for Research and Reform at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, thinks it has promise.
On the one hand, he said, some may say that Amazon is “just putting stuff out there and getting money” and the materials may or may not be evidence-based. But he sees a real need out there among teachers for high-quality materials.
“Teachers are kind of in a vacuum in terms of what’s available,” he said. “I don’t see anything wrong with teachers sharing information.” Teachers in other countries might work together on a lesson study, he said, but that happens less consistently in the United States. “We don’t have the kind of dissemination vehicle necessary for sharing what’s available. If somebody has a good lesson, why not take a look at it? ... No one is forcing anyone to buy.” And he sees no immediate issue with a competitor to Teachers Pay Teachers.
There are big benefits for Amazon, too, said Adam Newman, a managing partner at Tyton Partners, a consulting and investment banking organization. Running a site where teachers can shop for—and sell—lessons will help the company build a community. That’s something other big tech companies, like Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been very successful at.
“Their end game is to build relationships that drive all sorts of opportunities,” he said. Amazon can use that bond to nudge teachers towards buying supplies for their classrooms on the site, or to the power of Alexa in the classroom, said Newman. “It’s a hearts and minds strategy.”
Amazon Ignite isn’t the company’s first foray into distributing educational resources. Back in 2016, the company launched Amazon Inspire as a place where teachers could share lessons and other ideas for free. But shortly after the launch, some educators said that others had offered up their materials without permission. (Teachers Pay Teachers has a similar problem.) Amazon ended up relaunching the site without the “share feature” which had proved controversial. (More in this story from EdSurge.) Amazon explained the difference between the two platforms this way: “Amazon Ignite is the place for educators to earn money by selling their digital educational resources to Amazon customers. Amazon Inspire is a beta site that helps educators find free, open educational resources.”
Amazon is best known in education for its cloud storage services, which the company says serves 7,000 education customers. And, like other big tech companies, it is working to promote STEM education through the Amazon Future Engineer program, which offers activities for kindergartners through scholarships and internships for undergraduates.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.