Should teachers sell the materials they create?

April 3, 2012

in hot topics

It’s safe to say that the edublogosphere was completely different when I started this site in 2003. Namely, there WAS no edublogosphere  then–all I had was a collection of static pages without a commenting or sharing system. Social media had not yet been invented. Neither had Google. There was no way for my content to “go viral” and search engine optimization strategies weren’t part of my everyday lexicon.

I just wanted to share my teaching ideas, and nine years ago, that’s pretty much the only option I had, anyway. The whole thing started because I was responding to message board posts at Teachers.net and was surprised at how happy other teachers were when I answered their questions about what worked in my classroom. Even though I was still a new-ish teacher, people made me feel like I had something valuable to contribute. I started noticing that people would ask the same types of questions and I was retyping the same types of answers, all the while trying in vain to describe something that would be so much clearer with a picture. So I started my first website and shared my tips and classroom photos. When people asked questions in the message board forums, I now had a link I could share with them that contained some photographs and a carefully thought-out response.

The original mspowell site on free host

Here’s what my site looked like in 2003. I didn’t have my own domain and used a free web server. Updating the pages was a nightmare!

I never for a moment thought I’d make money from sharing my resources. I spent thousands of hours adding new content simply because I loved my work as a teacher and I wanted to help other people. And I wasn’t alone in this venture–there were quite a few other educators who also slowly built out massive sites, all completely, 100% for free.

As the internet evolved, people started suggesting that I sell my materials. At first, they recommended that I put my resources behind a pay wall; later they suggested I sell them on CD-ROMs. More recently, I started hearing I should be selling on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT).

Mspowell.com site

By 2006, the site looked like this. I had a pretty fancy mouseover navigation menu, but still no commenting or sharing system.

These people had a point: who knows how many tens of thousands of dollars I could have made over the past decade by selling what I’ve been giving away? But my original vision for the website was still firmly entrenched in those beginning days when the entire focus was simply sharing ideas. It was the spirit of teaching, I thought.

People also recommended that I write a book, and I did take that advice. I had no problem charging for my first book when it came out in 2008. After all, people are used to paying for books: they’re not free unless you borrow them from the library. Then in 2010, I created the webinar. Although free webinars do exist, mine is the equivalent of a full day’s professional development session, so it made sense to sell that, as well. As always, my website content and downloadable resources stayed completely free.

Original Cornerstone For Teachers site

After I published The Cornerstone book in 2008, I moved from mspowell.com to thecornerstoneforteachers.com and got a fancy flash template, which was still hard to update and is unusable through today’s mobile devices.

Then last fall, I joined Teaching Blog Traffic School (TBTS). Almost every member of the group sells teaching materials they create…and they’re making good money at it. I mean like, GOOD money. Some make enough to cover a car payment each month; some can pay their mortgage, and often after just 12 months (or even less) in the game. The really remarkable part is that they’re getting this kind of money from selling teaching materials for around $3 a pop! With TpT and PayPal each keeping a percentage! Can you imagine?  That’s how great the demand is for high-quality teaching materials. This stuff is selling in massive quantities.

Though I never argued for or against teachers selling materials, just observing the hard work of the TBTS group changed my mind about teachers selling the products they create. I’ve heard many solid reasons for why they sell materials, starting with the fact that no one who is working legally to create high-demand products should even have to justify their work. (Sure, I’ll give you that.) Many argue that it’s common for teachers to have a part time job to supplement their income; the additional money is necessary just to put food on the table. How can anyone begrudge them for taking care of their families? (Yeah, point taken there, too.)

Teachers Pay Teachers growth graph

The world’s tiniest graph image. Sorry about that. It shows how sales on TpT have grown exponentially. The projected sales for 2012 are 900 MILLION. Paul for TpT explains: ”Sales in 2011 were $3,400,000 and we are almost at the same amount for 2012 and it’s only April.”

Others say they want to make money doing what they love most: something that benefits teachers and students. They see creating teaching materials as a noble profession just like teaching is–and of course, teaching is a job which they are also paid to do, and deserve to be paid to do, so this isn’t any different. Just because you’re doing something to help others doesn’t mean you yourself cannot also benefit. (Hmm, yeah, true. And hello, I create teaching materials for a living! The ideas I’m sharing on my site, in my books, and in my webinar/PD sessions are just as valuable as the work I did in the classroom. Maybe even more so because I’m able to impact education on a greater scale and make a difference in the lives of more than just 30 kids a year. So yeah, I’m on board with that point, too.)

But the line of thinking that ultimately persuaded me to believe that teachers SHOULD sell the materials they create is this: why should corporations make all the money? Educators have no problem paying big bucks for reproducible books they get in education supply and book stores. A lot of the stuff that teachers are selling is of the same quality or higher (after all, the publishing companies are paying experienced educators to write the books for them.) Why shouldn’t teachers get the money for their ideas and their work?

Should teachers sell the materials they create??

TpT recently adopted this slogan. Love it.

Recently I found out exactly how much one education publisher paid a teacher for the materials she created for one of their books. She came up with the concept and designed every single activity from scratch; all they did was put it in print, and barely even promoted it.  The amount they paid her was disgraceful, a lump sum with no royalties and no rights to her own concept. Seriously. She could have made 100 times that amount–maybe even more–selling the exact same thing as a PDF document on TpT. Those teaching resource books aren’t cheap. Shouldn’t the person who actually came up with the idea and created the materials keep the majority of the money?

Though my perspective on teachers selling their resources has shifted in a way that I never thought it would, I have NOT changed my mind about the way I want to run my website. My content is free, period. I am, however, rethinking my books as I’ve been watching the trend of selling smaller items for less instead of larger items for more (see Seth Godin‘s post just this week). The idea for my fourth book (yes, I know, the third one’s not even done yet–I’m a planner!) involves reproducible classroom resources. I’ve kind of scrapped the book concept now in favor of dividing up the chapters and selling them separately as printable PDFs. That way teachers can buy only the exact resources they want, and I can save the time and expense that goes into publishing a book. It’s an experiment, for sure, an idea I haven’t totally fleshed out, but I thought I’d let you know how my own plans for TpT fit into this discussion.

Cornerstone website 2010

In 2010, I switched to WordPress and have never looked back. I can add and edit content easily, and visitors can comment and share the resources in one click. I was also able to add a blog to the site so visitors can subscribe.

Wow, this is insanely long. Thanks for hanging in there. This was really important for me to share because I often see a deeply bitter divide between those who think all resources should be shared freely in the spirit of teacher collaboration, and those who think teachers deserve to benefit financially from their hard work. Many people on both sides find the others’ opinion to be unfathomable. I hope that by sharing my shifting perspective with you, you’ll be able to understand the view that opposes yours just a little better.

Specifically, I hope I’ve helped those who support TpT understand why so many educators think the basic principle of it is wrong: it has to do with the early years of teaching websites, when none of this had yet been dreamed up, and we were just a small network of people helping one another for the sake of helping. It also goes back to a pre-internet age, in which teachers freely copied one another’s ideas and there was no thought whatsoever to making a profit from an activity you made for your students. You made stuff because you wanted your students to learn, and you shared it because you wanted your colleagues’ students to learn, too. That’s just as honorable as wanting to make money to support your family.

Cornerstone for teachers website

This is how the site looks today in 2012: a professionally-created header, social media options featured prominently, and my two book babies in the sidebar! I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

I also hope I’ve helped the anti-TpT people understand that teachers selling their products are not operating from a sense of greed. They spend countless hours creating fabulous products, and much of what they make, they give away as freebies. But they’re working on a teacher’s salary, and they see that educators are desperate for engaging, high-quality teaching materials and they’re willing to pay for them. To let big companies and publishers benefit from that demand on the backs of a select few teachers who are paid paltry sums for their ideas? It just doesn’t make sense when you’ve got great resources of your own which can pay for the things your family needs. Why shouldn’t educators be entrepreneurs?

And now, I’ll toss it over to you. Do you think teachers should sell the materials they create or give them away freely?  I’d love to hear where you stand in this whole debate.

 

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John T. Spencer April 3, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I don’t mind offering content for free. After all, I’m selling books, so the blog and resources might as well be free. What bothers me, though, is that my resources that I’ve created are being used by PD / consulting companies that are making money without adequately citing my free resources. The lack of attribution is illegal and unethical. Yet, it’s happened a few times already.

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2 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 10:49 am

Wow, John, that really sucks that you are not being attributed properly by companies. That seems to be par for the course these days. :(

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3 Kerri Heinrich April 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I am glad to hear you take on it all. I’ve gone back and forth about what I thought about it. I read a blog post not long ago that upset me because it was so negative about selling items. I try to offer stuff for free most of the time but things I spend a lot of time on I try to sell on TPT or Teacher’s Notebook. I really like your point about the money going to teachers instead of a corporation. I don’t think I’ll be buying anymore books with units after I discovered TPT. I can find what I need and usually it is more relevant to my class.

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4 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

Hi, Kerri! I remember that blog post well, and that’s what initially got me thinking about this topic. Honestly, I am surprised there was not more backlash on this post from people who think like that. I posted this question on my FB wall about a year ago and there was a definite 50/50 split and some not-so-nice comments. Times are changing. More and more people are receptive and supportive of the idea of teachers selling their materials, it seems.

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5 Liesl April 10, 2012 at 11:58 am

Not sure which blog post you are referring to, but a good ‘blog friend’ of mine recently posted one out of frustration, and she was SLAMMED by so many people that she disabled the comments. Her thoughts were simply these—it saddened her that there were SO MANY things being shared a year ago, without thought of selling those ideas. Perusing blogs was so much fun–like gathering wildflowers—free, and you ended up with a plethora of ideas to use in the classroom. Now, it seems that most blogs only offer links to things that the author is selling–the freebies are few and far between. My friend offers all of her things (and AMAZING things to boot) for free, and she simply was saying that she felt saddened by the change. People were angry at her comments, and instead of supporting her right to feel that way, they criticized, ridiculed and berated her. Not at all what I expected from the kindergarten online community. While I have bought MORE than my share of things from TPT (I purposely am not adding up the amount I spent on the 160 items…yes, you read that correctly…from TPT over the past year and a half), I still am overjoyed when my friend posts–I get to see exactly what it is I will be downloading before I download (one of the biggest drawbacks to TPT) , and they are always free. I have used much more of her things than I have the TPT items. Just a thought….

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6 Angela Watson April 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Kerri, it might have been the same post. What you described is exactly what I saw. Many of the commenters say the post as an attack on TpTers, but I didn’t see it that way at all. I really hope my post helped some people understand why not everyone is on board with the idea of selling teaching materials. Each person needs to make their own decision about whether to give everything away or give away some things and sell others, and respect the decisions of others in that regard, too.

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7 Amanda Post April 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Interesting post, Angela! I started my website back in what seems like prehistoric times (1997) so I can relate to a lot of what you said. Of course, I also remember your participation at the A to Z Teacher Stuff Forums and the early days of your awesome website. :) My focus has always been on free materials, and I found by chance that advertising by the big school supply companies, publishers, universities, etc. can allow teachers who share materials to do it for free and still get paid(!) That’s a source I don’t think the edublogosphere has tapped into yet. A crash in early 2001 caused advertising to dry up for a season and rather than develop a subscription model like other sites were doing, I started selling PDF teaching materials as a way to support my site. By 2002, I had other teachers signing on to sell in my store and those with the highest demand materials were (and are) making good money, too. I never got any flack for running a business, but maybe people kept their thoughts to themselves. I think offering a balance of free and paid materials is nice because it really is possible to do both and still get paid for doing what you love.

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8 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

Amanda! It’s so great to see you here!! I so looked up to you when I first starting out as a webmaster and still do. You have a wonderful business sense as well as a heart for the Lord.

I agree that advertising/sponsors is a great way to make money that most edubloggers are not yet cashing in on. I think there is a fear of “selling out” by having ads. I certainly felt that when I added Google Adsense and definitely worried about it when I decided to start accepting sponsored posts two months ago. I guard my content very, very, carefully, but I see sponsorship as a way to “share free materials and still get paid”…I love the way you worded that!

I do find that there is a lack of education-related sponsors out there, though. There are mommy bloggers with a fraction of my page views who have 10+ sponsors. A much smaller percentage of companies seem interested in advertising on education blogs, and I think that’s a big part of the problem. If more edubloggers were getting approached with decent ad rates, I think they’d be open to doing it.

Your site is a great example of how to balance free resources and paid. There is plenty of great stuff there for those who don’t want to spend a dime, and I think that’s crucial.

Please stay in touch! I emailed you probably two years ago to check in and see how you were doing, but I bet that email address is no longer valid. :-)

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9 Jessi April 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I am a teacher in China. It is almost impossible to get resources here in English that go with my American curriculum (yes I am from the states). TpT and your website have been a Godsend. I don’t mind paying for the resources, because I need them desperately. It also makes me feel that I am not out of touch with the education world. I recently started selling on TPT and I have been amazed at the success I have seen so far. I am not making enough money for a car or anything. It is nice to have a little extra spending money.

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10 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:01 am

Hi, Jessi! Thanks for adding your perspective to this. It’s very cool to hear that the stuff people are doing on TpT (and my website) are helpful for you! If you decide you want to make more money selling your teaching resources, I highly recommend Teaching Blog Traffic School–I can’t overemphasize how helpful it has been for me. http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/free-resources/edupreneurs/teaching-blog-traffic-school. :-)

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11 Sally DeCost April 3, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Being a teacher who hasn’t had a raise in 5 years due to budget cuts, and being a single mom trying to put a kid through college and paying more than the average amount of medical bills, charging or not charging wasn’t really an option. I share most of my knowledge and experience freely on my blog, with lots of freebies at Teachers Pay Teachers, but I really had to start charging so that I could make ends meet! It’s a tough economy and I’m struggling right now, but I know I’ll make it thanks to my teacher friends! That’s how teachers support each other in the 21st century!

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12 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

Hi, Sally! I think your situation is very relatable. I love that you’ve found a solution that works for you! :-)

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13 Mary Ashley April 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I have created and shared resources with my colleagues and I have purchased resources from stores, publishers, and Tpt. I believe that teachers should be able to sell their creations, since it does take time to make the products. I do look more at Tpt than I do at stores and educational supply catalogs- I like the fact that the individual teacher is profitting more on Tpt with my purchase. I like the personalization of the experience- I can leave a comment, ask a question and receive a response from the author/creator! Someday, I hope to get up my nerve and create items to sell on Tpt myself.

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14 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

Hi, Mary Ashley! I have never bought from TpT, but you are very right about the personalization. I didn’t think about how nice that must be for buyers, to be able to ask a question of the person who created a resource prior to purchasing. That’s pretty awesome!

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15 Nancy April 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I too, have changed my mind about buying/selling items on places like TpT. As a purchaser (someday I wish to have enough time in the day to upload and sell some materials), I particularly like:

1) Being able to search for exactly what I need and purchase JUST THAT, instead of buying an entire resource book and hoping that I can use at least 1/4 of the pages to make it worth my while. (It reminds me of how we all buy music online these days – often just a single song download instead of the whole album.)
2) I also love that the $$ goes directly back to the person that created it.
3) On TpT, the reason the top sellers are the top sellers is not necessarily due to marketing & promotion (as books often are) – it’s because they create high-quality materials. Teachers are fickle with their money and will not continue to buy from a seller if the materials aren’t up to snuff!

I love that the teachers on TpT have gotten into the entrepreneurial spirit. I think it lifts the profession as a whole. Great post, thank you.

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16 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:06 am

Hi, Nancy! Your reasoning is fantastic. Though I never thought of it that way, TpT totally mirrors the shift in the music industry. I rarely buy an entire album anymore. Why pay for something I don’t want? And with teacher resource books, I usually use only a fraction of the pages.

I also like your point about the fact that top sellers on TpT truly create spectacular resources. That is NOT the case with professionally published books. How many best sellers have you read (not necessarily education books) that left you feeling like, wow, THAT’S what all the hype was about? I get the sense that is NOT the case on TpT. If a seller’s products aren’t outstanding, they won’t be a top seller, period. There are a few people with noteriety that others would buy anything from based on name alone, but I believe that’s because everything they produce is high quality.

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17 Andrea Kerr April 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Love your take on this subject. I have spent unheard of amounts of money on commercially produced books to use in my classroom. I too joined Teaching Blog Traffic School recently and learned about Teachers Pay Teachers. Trust me, if I had found that website before, I wouldn’t have bought several of the books I had bought. I too provide way more freebies than I do priced items. I have no problem paying for good material, and I have no problem selling some of my own products.

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18 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

Hi, Andrea! I think you’ve got a very balanced view on this whole topic. Thanks for sharing!

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19 Colleen Gallagher April 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Awesome blog post. I agree with all you have said. I started Teaching Heart in 1998 for the same reasons you did start your site. I was on Teachers Net Chatboards all the time and it was great when I could share my ideas via a link. When I started selling CDROMs in 2002, they were a hit and well excepted by the teachers who purchased. When I started selling, I felt guilty often because I truely wanted to help others and share my talents vs. sell them. But the CD’s sold also helped pay web expenses. I choose not to fill my website up with adds and the CD’s helped pay webhosting fees. In 2002 till TPT came along, I was one of the small few that sold teacher created products online. I often got emails of people being upset that what use to all be free was now sometimes not. Most of the emails were, create more emails however and I will buy more. Now I never get the emails saying, “why sell.” I have made it my goal in the years I started selling to offer many free things as well as paid items. I think SOME people do not understand that there is an expense in running a website. I look at it as a job now. TPT, I will admit has made my source of income drop when it was created (since before that I was one of the only few that sold teacher materials I created)… But Good for them for finally realizing what great resources and ideas real teachers have and for creating a site to allow everyday teachers to sell items at – why did I not think of that??? LOL!!! Now, my new question that I struggle with now is do I give in and put my items on TPT as well as my site? I only have to pay Paypal for services right now. So far, I am ok where I am. I think teachers who create quailty materials should be paid for their time and effort. It really is a book of sorts and people who have a problem with it, need not visit their site or TPT.

I really enjoyed your blog post – always enjoy your blog. I wish you continue to share your God given gifts with the world – paid or free! Thanks for sharing!!!

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20 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hi, Colleen! Another one of my “prehistoric internet” buddies! I think of you, Amanda, and Cherry Carl as having been the greatest inspiration to me in my early days of web creation. Oh, and Michael Moore, who has strangely removed his entire digital footprint from the web, unfortunately.

I’m glad you shared that you got some push-back in the early days for selling, but no longer do. Your experience confirms what I was thinking, which is that educators are becoming more open to the idea of teachers selling their materials. Perhaps that is why newer bloggers never worried about selling their stuff. I think of the generosity of people like Cherry who have never sold anything and how she could have seriously made a million by now with all of the fantastic stuff she has, and feel bad for not doing the same. But hers was a personal decision, and each of ours has to be the same.

Interesting that your income dropped when TpT was started. Yes, I do think you should put some of your items there for more visibility. Charity Preston of The Organized Classroom Blog and Laura Candler of Teaching Resources do that, but only have their full product line on their own websites, and drive their traffic to their own sites where they can keep more of the money. That is my plan, as well. :-)

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21 Colleen Gallagher April 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Hey Angela… Thanks for saying I was an inspiration for you – that is an honor! I am trying my best to change with the times. I do have stuff on Teachers Notebook now. I love that they do not profit from sales. I made the $20.00 it costs to join back in 2 days. Someday I may join TPT, but for now I am comfortable with sales on my site and Notebook. Thanks for your reply and see you around the Bloggy world! :)

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22 Tessa Maguire April 3, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I had never really thought about teachers charging for their creations until I found TpT. The way I felt then is the way I still feel now. If someone thinks a paid item is worth enough value to them, they will pay for it. If they don’t, they won’t. Clearly there are enough people that think TpT and the units on there are useful for them in their homes and classrooms or it wouldn’t have found the success it has now. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to support it and don’t have to purchase anything. To each, his own.

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23 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

Hi, Tessa! I had never thought about it, either. Teachers are notoriously cheap and I didn’t think they would be willing to pay for lesson plans. I certainly would not have, as a teacher. I barely paid for teacher resource books. I remember buying them used from eBay, copying the reproducible pages I wanted, and re-selling them! LOL! But I think at $1-5 a pop, the amounts are small enough to justify. Like you said, it’s all about the perceived value. Obviously it’s worth it to tens of thousands of teachers.

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24 billie April 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I LOVE TpT!!! I am grateful, appreciative and stand in awwww of the educators that share their time, talent and resources on their blogs and TpT. I applaud each and every one of you!! Both for sharing such wonderful ideas and making your resources available to purchase. Immediately. In the comfort of my recliner. In my pj’s! I have downloaded many free resources and have paid as much as $10.00 for a unit of study. I consider that a bargain!!! I love TpT’s slogan. As educators, we spend a small fortune in our classrooms every year and with each purchase I make I feel like I am donating to another teachers classroom. Wow… pay mortgages too? hmmmm….GO FOR IT…HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH AND BE PROUD Let the nay sayers spend their precious time and dollars in their local teacher supply store. As for me….I will continue stalking these wonderful blogs and buying exactly what I need from creative teachers who have taken the time to make the resources available to me!!!

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25 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

Hi, Billie! Thank you for sharing that powerful testimony of how valuable TpT has been for you! Words like those are a huge incentive for teachers to keep selling. They believe they are truly helping teachers, and they ARE. :-)

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26 Cheryl April 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

My thoughts have shifted also. I love that teachers that work hard creating materials are able to sell them and make a little money. Like you mentioned, book publishers are a greedy bunch and they don’t care about the authors/creators. Thanks for posting such a thoughtful article on this topic!!!

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27 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:24 am

Hi, Cheryl! Good to know I’m not the only one whose thoughts have changed on this issue. The whole publishing industry is being turned upside right now because of eBooks. If they continue to try to charge the same prices they always have, they will lose, just like the music industry has. We all have to change with the times. And right now, the idea of a $25 teacher resource book in which the author keeps $1 is not going to fly anymore. There are too many other options for those who create teacher materials. They don’t even have to publish anymore–they can just make a PDF, upload it to TpT, and promote it themselves!

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28 Michele J April 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I too am getting used to the idea of paying for materials on different sites. I haven’t purchased anything on TpT yet, but I have looked around. My soap box is I’m leery of posts that start off a blog, but then you realize it was just a commercial for one of their TpT products. I’m usually so put off that refuse to read more from their site. Like commercials on radio or television stations you know they are trying to sell you something. I’m totally okay with that. Just let me know from the beginning that it’s a TpT ad and I’m good to go and you haven’t lost any “brownie” points with me. Surely there are ethical boundaries that need to set up for those types of blog postsl.

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29 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Hi, Michelle! I dislike that “here’s a blog post, no wait, actually it’s a sales pitch” trickery, too. I avoid those types of blogs and choose to read those that post lots of valuable information interspersed with occasional posts that clearly state right up front that they have created a new TpT product and want to let readers know about it.

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30 Jody April 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

As a 40-something student in a school-library program, I’m new to the education world, and I was shocked at the assumption that teachers would ever give away their work product for free. Business people who post free materials online are promoting books or their services as speakers. Professional blog writers who operate “for free” are actually selling advertising (although they’re still loathe to admit that).

I am just aghast at the number of education “reformers” who think that the future of schooling is through “collaborative” information sharing based on teachers giving away their lesson plans, materials, and professional expertise at no charge. Why would teachers so dramatically under-value their time and expertise as to price their labor at zero? It’s ridiculous.

If the future of education is through online collaboration, then the collaborators deserve to be compensated for their work. Of course.

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31 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:28 am

Hi, Jody! This comment thread just gets more and more interesting. I love hearing the perspective of a person with a business background. Once again, businessmen and businesswomen would NEVER be expected to give away all their content for free! And it speaks a bit to the fact that teachers have always been expected to go above and beyond their basic duties with no overtime pay, no compensation for the materials they pay for out of pocket, etc. That needs to change.

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32 Karen April 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

I love the idea of sharing teaching resources for free, but I’m often hesitant to share material, especially on-line because I’d hate to share something that was actually someone else’s intellectual property. Copyright is such a touchy issue, and often the material I put together for my students comes from a variety of sources. It works well for my students, and I’d love to share, but while I continue to use and adapt material created by other teachers, and especially published stuff, I’ll limit my sharing to those within my grade level at my school.

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33 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:33 am

Ah, yes, Karen, good point about copyright! On my Facebook post about this topic (https://www.facebook.com/TheCornerstoneForTeachers/posts/146965682095835), Jeff left this comment:

“All teachers are going to copyright hell.” – Dr. Gayle Olsen-Raymer, Humboldt State

We all borrow one ideas constantly and there are very few ideas that are truly original. The key is to understand how copyright works. I’m no expert, but my understanding is this: no one can trademark ideas, only the way that ideas are expressed. If you are using a basic teaching idea and put it into your own words and spin it with your unique twist, you should be fine.

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34 Jessica Meacham April 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

Like you, and others who have commented, I started sharing online waaayyyy back when. =) It’s amazing how much things have changed the last 15 years (that’s how long I’ve been teaching). I author a website too. It started out as free and will remain as free. It always befuddled me when my website visitors offered to pay or suggested that I start charging. But….I personally just can’t fathom asking people to pay. The things that are added to my site are things I create and use anyway, so I figure just add them and let others figure out if they’ll work for them, or revamp if they wish. Yes….it’s a lot of time and effort, but I enjoy it. PLUS….it serves as a digital archive/file cabinet (for me) of my resources. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accessed my own site to check out a photo or download a file….LOL! Your post has made me think about teachers who decide to sell their stuff, but I still think sharing for free is the best. For the first time ever, I purchased one item from one of those teacher-pay sites this last year and didn’t end up using it. I immediately wanted to revamp it to fit my needs. It just didn’t work for me. I dislike buying something and not being able to use it, and I guess that I feel that way about the stuff I add to my site…I’d hate to charge for it and then have someone have to spend time revamping it (after already paying $$$ for it) or to find out that they pretty much found the download useless for whatever purpose they had intended. By offering it for free, you remove those two possible scenarios. I feel the same way about ads…don’t want them on my site. I don’t mind ads on other sites/blogs, unless they are too cluttered looking and really distracting, in which case I end my visit to the site. With all this said….I DO UNDERSTAND the need for help paying costs for hosting fees. This year, for the first time in 10 years, I had to ask for donations to renew my web hosting fees. I put up a Paypal donate button. Indicated the amount needed for 3-years of hosting, and within 20 or so days I was able to take the donate button down. I felt very odd asking for donations for web hosting fees (because of my mindset of offering things for free), BUT there was just no way I could pay this year without it being burdensome.

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35 Angela Watson April 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

Hi, Jessica! Yay, another “internet dinosaur” joins the conversation! I love it!

I, too, use my site as a digital archive and my blogs as a way to document my own personal growth. These days it also serves as a resume: anyone looking to hire me for PD can find everything they want to know about who I am and my teaching style through my site.

I think buying from TpT is better for teachers who are not the type to want to revamp everything. My personality is like yours: buying other people’s materials (including teacher resource books) just makes me want to create my own original from scratch. But not everyone thinks like that, fortunately.

I dislike the look of ads, as well, but 95% of web content has them now and I guess I’ve gotten used to them. The income is significant enough for me to justify it. I think people understand that the ads on their favorite sites are what enables the webmasters to keep offering free content.

The donation button sounds like a great solution for you. You’ve built a very loyal following and if you can ask for donations a few days a year and make what you need, that’s a great solution. I have heard many people complain about hosting expenses but have never experienced that–I spent about $8/month and people are able to download things freely. I even stream the webinar from my site (a huge bandwidth hog) and that’s been okay. Bravenet has very generous hosting plans–maybe you need a new server?

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36 Jessica Meacham April 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

Angela…EXACTLY! I nod my head in agreement with ALL you have to say in your response! Now…this Internet dinosaur has work to do…have a GREAT weekend! =)

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37 Vickie April 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm

This is a great post…very informative! I am a seller and buyer of products on TpT, and the reason I love it is that you can usually spend less than $10 and get the resources you actually need and will use rather than paying $20 for a book at the teacher store that only gives basic ideas {and then you still have to make/create the actual centers/activities!}. I only sell the things that I make to use in my classroom, and have heard from teachers who purchase my center packs that they buy them because they just don’t have the time to create their own. I also have a blog, where I post lots of freebies and ideas. I agree with the above comment about blogging solely to promote TpT products…very annoying!

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38 Angela Watson April 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Hi, Vickie! Thanks for commenting. You’re very right about the high usability factor of TpT–everything is ready to use. :-)

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39 Paul Edelman April 10, 2012 at 4:48 am

Hi Angela,

I really enjoyed and appreciated this post! It’s great to get an insider perspective and to see the evolution of your thoughts regarding the value of a teacher’s time and creativity. We really encourage ‘free’ as much as paid, too, and I agree that teachers are smart enough to know what’s worth buying and what is not. We have seen that the more you give, the more you get — a formula that will always be true, I think (in our universe at least).

One correction. You noted that the TpT sales graph shows “900k” in sales so far in 2012. Actually, the numbers are in millions! And the 2012 number is showing as projected sales for 2012 as $9,000,000. Sales in 2011 were $3,400,000 and we are almost at the same amount for 2012 and it’s only April. This is just the beginning, too. Only around 6,500 teachers sold items last quarter. I imagine that number could easily be 100,000 within a few years. Just imagine the explosion in available resources (and creativity) that will entail!

If anyone ever has any questions, you can email the customer service team (Dana and Sally) at info@teacherspayteachers.com or me at pedelman@teacherspayteachers.com.

Happy creating, giving and, yes, selling.

Sincere regards,

Paul

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40 Angela Watson April 10, 2012 at 9:57 am

Hi, Paul! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I also appreciate the corrections on the graph–I’ll edit the post. I couldn’t find it anywhere on the web (just in the TpT newsletter that was sent out a few weeks ago) so I didn’t have much info on interpreting it. The graph is a powerful image, and I’m glad to share it! :-)

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41 Teacher Tam April 10, 2012 at 10:14 am

I can’t even believe there is a debate about whether or not teachers should sell the resources they make ON THEIR OWN TIME and WITH THEIR OWN RESOURCES. There is absolutely no difference between the things I buy (and sell) on Teachers Pay Teachers and the books I buy in the store–except maybe that they are cheaper, usually more useful, and that the sales actually benefit the teacher who made them and not the publishing company. ALL creative, resourceful people deserve to be able to make a living from their hard work. Teachers are no different. And, just because you are paying money for items does not mean that collaboration between teachers isn’t happening, because it is happening on TPT and in a BIG way!

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42 Angela Watson April 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Good point about collaboration, Teacher Tam. Just because it isn’t happening in the way we think it “should” be doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

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43 Caroline April 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Thanks for this great discussion! I am a BIG fan of TpT, and I have purchased many activities to use in my Kindergarten classroom. I would much rather buy something on TpT knowing that the money is going back to the teacher who invested time and effort to create it, than to purchase a book at a “teacher store” and only use a few pages. I am a blog stalker, too, and I often purchase TpT items from my favorite bloggers. I have been a teacher off and on for the past 18 years, with a few years at home when my kids were babies. Sites like TpT and Teacher’s Notebook are amazing resources that I wish had been around when I first entered the classroom. I have spent anywhere from $1 to $10 on items on TpT, and very rarely have I been disappointed with my purchase.

It amazes me that there are people out there who think that teachers are “greedy” because they want to sell on sites like TpT. Most teachers that I know, myself included, have spent hundreds (thousands?) of dollars on their own classrooms over the years. I didn’t go into teaching because I am “greedy”, and I don’t think any of the educators who sell on sites like TpT did, either. Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for their hard work? I am grateful that they share their ideas with the rest of us, and I am very happy to support their efforts. I am always excited to read in the TpT newsletter about how many educators are now earning $10,000, $20,000, $75,000, or more. Good for them!

Thanks again for the interesting discussion. I think one of the best things about the teacher blogosphere is the ability to have discussions like this with other educators.

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44 Angela Watson April 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Caroline. Your points make a lot of sense to me.

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45 Christine Marrs April 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I go to TPT often for last minute ideas and I have no problem paying someone else for helping me make teaching easier and more fun. I also like the idea the money goes directly to the teacher and I can pick and choose what I want to purchase. The only disadvantage is I have at times purchased something and then realize it will not work for me. But again, the cost is minimal and I am willing to take the risk.

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46 Mrs. S. April 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I love being able to go on to TPT and get a specific unit of just what I need for just a few dollars. It’s worth it. Sometimes I don’t want to spend hours and hours preparing a power point for a novel unit but I can find just what I’m looking for online in a matter of minutes. And, I can spend less than 5 dollars. I’ve spent almost as much money as I’ve made on TPT buying other teacher’s materials. I’ll be lucky to break even at the end of each quarter.
I’ve also spent a great deal of time updating and redoing all of my own posted TPT teaching materials because I want them to be the best they can be. My son, who is studying graphic arts in college, has been helping me graphically organize all my materials and power points so they have a much more professional look. Not only to other teachers get better products, but I’m encouraged to use these higher quality materials in my own lessons. My file cabinet is full of old, outdated (ditto) worksheets that are literally molding away. A great deal of our teacher’s previously produced work is being lost to the ages. At least this way we can preserve all this knowledge. Money is a powerful motivator to help teachers do exactly that.
I agree with the idea that if a teacher spends time creating a product that is useful to other teachers, the teacher should benefit from it. For the past 20 years, I’ve spent my time creating my own stuff and reinventing the wheel over and over. What a waste of my time, talent and resources! With TPT’s help, I have time to try new things in my classes, read new works with my students and spend my time in a much more productive way using products I’ve purchased from TPT. These products can really “jump start” me to try new things in way that few other strategies have done for me in the past. There are some amazingly creative people out there. I think we need to celebrate the fact that we have produced an educated “teacher” class that is tech savvy and very aware of how students learn in today’s environment. Their products reflect this new awareness whereas textbook companies can lag behind by years!!! I applaud this site and its inventive genius.

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47 Amy April 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I recently discovered TPT and have shared it with the teachers at my school. I love being able to shop from home/school and have the materials I need (want) right at my fingertips. I would rather pay the teacher for the use of their ideas and materials than go into a teachers store to pay for a book that I only need a fraction of. I also have found that the items are reasonably priced according to the time and effort it takes to create the materials. I am grateful that there are teachers with creativity who are willing to share their ideas. As a matter of fact, the ideas I find through blogs and on TPT have sparked further ideas into my head and allowed me to alter material for my needs.
So, if anyone is feeling guilty for selling items, please don’t. I’m willing to pay because I’m grateful that you are being generous in you time, effort, and pricing. I wish I could create materials that were worthy enough to blog about or post on TPT.

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48 Anthony August 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I approached this from a different angle (and forgive the small advertisement). I was getting so miffed at high-paid consultants taking great ideas from teachers and using them for PD. that I just created my own site so that teachers could create their own courses for each other.

I think we walk a fine line between sharing freely and finding the right incentives for sharing high quality original material. It takes a ton of time and energy to do this. In that way I favor teachers making a bit extra for all they do. (Teachers could actually do everything for free on my site if they chose).

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