On Blogging and Social Media

To help educators get started with social media and blogging

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Selling your teaching materials online

Posted by Nik Peachey

I'm sure that every teacher has at some point produced something that they have felt has commercial potential, but trying to earn money from your work through a publisher can be a slow, time consuming and ultimately frustrating experience because:

  • Most publishers know what they want to produce and select the people they want to produce it.
  • It is very unusual for a writer to approach the publisher with a project and get it taken on.
  • Many teachers only have time to produce small amounts of material rather than complete books.
So, recently I've been asked by a few people about the potential of selling their work directly to customers online and whereas I can see there are some potential obstacles to this, I think it is a possibility.

These are what I see as the obstacles:
  • Credibility - In order for people to part with their money and credit card information online, they need to be very sure that you are going to deliver a good quality product and that their credit card information is gong to be secure.
  • International payments - Much of the potential market for educational resources is in developing countries and many of the people in these countries don't have access to international hard currency accounts.
  • Copyright protection - Once you have sold your work online how do you stop people from making multiple copies of it and giving it away or even reselling it all over the world?

Giving it a try
If you look at these obstacles and decide that you would still like to give it a try, Tagito might be a possible way of testing the waters and seeing if your idea has the potential to earn you a living.

To use Tagito you will need to have a PayPal account and Tagito will take 10% of any money you make, but apart from that it looks quite easy and straight forward. You just sign up and upload your files (You need to create your PayPal account first).

Tagito then guides you through the process of creating a widget / icon which you can add to your site or blog in order to sell your file. You visitor just needs to click on the file image and they are taken to PayPal to enter their account details.

Tagito supports a good wide range of file types so you aren't restricted to single text documents.
You can see a nice widget on the Tagito site FAQ page that tells you about the average earnings of its users, so this could give you some idea of how much you are likely to make, so be sure to have a look at that and the FAQs before you begin.

If you don't sell anything then you don't have to pay anything, so the financial risks are pretty small. There's a more detailed review of Tagito on MakeUseOf if you want to investigate further.

If you do decide to start selling your worksheets and lesson plans on your blog or site here are a few recommendations:
  • Don't over price -Try for larger numbers of sales. The world is your market place so selling large numbers for small amounts could get you a much quicker profit than trying to convince people to part with large amounts of money online (where most people expect to find materials for free)
  • Don't under price - If you make you materials too low it might not seem worth the hassle of going through the payment process
  • Give free samples for download - But make sure these are consistent with the quality of the materials you try to sell.
  • Make sure that the materials you sell are completely your own work - Don't include other people's images, texts etc even if they are Creative Commons licensed as a CC license doesn't usually extend to commercial use.
  • Make sure the materials you sell are of themselves complete - There's nothing worse than buying something that is unusable unless you to buy something else.
  • Don't give up the day job too soon - It can take a long time before you make any serious amount this way (as the Tagito average earnings chart shows) and sales could suddenly drop off.
I haven't tried this yet, but it is something that I'm giving serious consideration as it enables educators to cut out the publisher and so sell their products much more cheaply.

How about you?
  • Have you tried to sell you work through Tagito or through a similar service?
  • What success / problems have you had?
  • What other services have you tried?
  • How did you decide on pricing?
  • Do you think teachers should be selling their work / buying each other's work?

Please leave a comment or question.


Jason Renshaw said...

Great article!

Particularly liked what you had to say about the potential to work with major publishers, as it's right on the money. I've published a major series with a major publisher, but it was because they came to me and not vice-versa (and they haven't been all that interested in any of my writing proposals since! ~ not because they weren't good ideas; they just basically figure they're the ones supposed to have the good ideas and writers are the ones supposed to make them happen and then do lots of presentations and appearances at conferences to help market them!). Remember that major publishers are very corporate: key decision makers are more likely to have an MBA than an MA TESOL, and don't see far beyond a fat bottom line. Cookie-cutter textbooks that can sell in massive numbers are far more preferable to them than innovative new coursebooks reflecting changes and developments in foreign language teaching and learning.

I've been selling my own materials through my own site (www.englishraven.com) for several years now. Rather than trying to sell individual files, I just charge a very low annual subscription fee and then give the user access to the entire bank of materials. It keeps things simple at my end, but creates amazing value for the user.

My advice is, make good materials, test them in your classroom several times, write good teacher support materials for them, and then upload them to your site. Start off doing so for free, as it will generate a lot of great feedback for you. Once you hit a "critical mass" (say a couple of thousand pages of material), keep a certain portion available for free (there is still a huge expectation out there in cyberspace that everything and anything on the web should be absolutely free, and hell will freeze over before many teachers will be willing to pay for the blood, sweat and tears you put into your materials!), and then make the rest available to members only.

It has worked for me, and makes for satisfied buyers - if they can spend $20-30 for a year and get access to a couple of thousand pages of well documented teaching material, they're happy!

But definitely go ahead and get your stuff out there. Having done my own thing, then worked with one of the "big four" ETL publishers, then returned to doing my own thing again, I can tell you publishing for yourself won't ever make you particularly rich (monetarily) - but it will generate some nice extra pocket money for you, and will motivate you a lot as you interact with the people who use and really like your stuff! And you have this wonderful sense of freedom, innovation, and a great sense of satisfaction that what you are making reflects real classroom situations and needs.

Definitely give it a go!

Jason Renshaw
Twitter @englishraven

Nik Peachey said...

Thanks for your comments Jason. It's great and very encouraging to hear from someone who has 'been there and done it' first hand. I'm interested in how you handle payment - Is it through PayPal? I know a lot of people in developing countries have difficulty accessing PayPal and hard cuurency accounts. Are your subscribers limited to the 'developed' nations?



Jason Renshaw said...

Yes, I use Paypal - definitely the most accessible and reliable, in my opinion.

True, getting customers from the "developing" countries can be difficult, but I think this has more to do with currency exchange rates and average incomes in these countries than the actual buying facility itself.

To keep a sense of balance, I tend to give my stuff to people from these countries for free - if they're willing to contact me, explain the whole situation, and seem genuine. Better that they have these materials and resources than not: shutting them out because they can't afford it (or can't buy it through paypal) doesn't sit very well with me. I've also thought about other ways people could "buy" a membership, perhaps more by way of exchange - for example, they could write a review of the site or a particular set of resources that could be posted on my site or elsewhere around the net. On today's Internet, this is virtually like currency! Even if it's not strictly "promotional", getting people to really think about, assess and make professional suggestions for improvement can be considered a real service to you.

Thanks again for posting the original article - it really is a great way to encourage budding ELT materials writers out there!


~ Jason

Anonymous said...

Hello, Nik and Jason . Your article and comments are very interesting. I belong to a devloping country and usually we cannot pay many training courses or congresses fees, material, etc. due to the currency exchange. I think the way Jason has solved the difference is very clever and wise to widen his market. Thank you for your post and comment.
Nelba Quintana- Argentina

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with Jason in that it is difficult to sell people material over the internet as people believe that online content should be free as a rule. I used consulted EnglishRaven.com 's methodology section when I was taking my training to become a teacher of English and it never crossed my mind to sign up for the premium membership for the reasons you have mentioned above (no access to PayPal from Morocco!!. I however had the habit of clicking on the advertisements that surely generated some cash for the website.

As a learner, I don't see why I have to pay for worksheets that I can as well get for free unless my parents or the company I work for pays the bill! Selling materials works better when it is paper based. Many freelance writers know this tip and they produce a compilation of their best-of in a book once they gain credibility through there site.

Bottom line is that selling your teaching materials online is not a good business (yet).

Yassine Sabir

Johanna said...

Very interesting and accurate post and interesting comments from Jason too. I have to say I don't think I've ever paid to download something. Not that I think teachers shouldn't be paid but because I know there is so much good free stuff and really, as Nik mentions, because I can't be bothered with the hassle of paying.

But I would love people to pay me for my work!! As Nik and Jason have said the publishers rarely want to publish what you want to write, so I have decided to go down the self-publishing print-on-demand route using lulu.com (for my forthcoming Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners - excuse the little plug there Nik ;-) ). So I write the book how I believe it should be (no compromising needed), do all the editing, layout, artwork, cover, upload it to Lulu and they print as many or as few as I want or people order. I can buy an ISBN and then it's up to me to market it. A lot of work but I have complete control over it. The only thing is - I still have to finish writing the book!


Nik Peachey said...

@ Johanna

I think it's great that you are going it alone. marketing, distributing and selling your own products can be quite a challenge, but a rewarding one. More than those challanges though is the challenge of working in isolation without an editor. Having someone to bounce ideas off of can be really useful and it's one of the things I really miss from when I was working in teams of writers or as editor.

As you say though, having complete control to produce what you want and believe in without compromise is great.

How do you buy an ISBN???



Sophie Johnston said...

Yeah thanks for an excellent article. I signed up for Tagito and it is pretty cool so far. Made money from files I made years ago.

Unknown said...

I've been dreaming about doing something like this for quite sometime and your ideas as well as the excellent comments have got my 'wheels' turning again.

Nik Peachey said...

Good luck Holly

Hope it goes well.

Johanna said...

Hi Nik

You are so right about the (self-publishing)challenge of working alone without an editor or deadline keeping you on the straight and narrow! And also as a freelancer there's the big question of what to do when you're offered other (paid) work when you had promised yourself you'd devote your time to the book.

For info about how to get an ISBN (via Lulu) see:


Nik Peachey said...

Hi Johanna
Thanks for sharing the link to ISBN info. That's really handy.
Yes the freelancer problem is one that I share. Have found myself putting off paid work so that I can focus on my blogging! Not really very good for the bank balance!



Anonymous said...

Hi everybody, I am from the Czech Republic, work as a freelance teacher too, and I am going through the same stuff as you here. I find this blog and all the comments really awesome, as it gave me some really good ideas. I was wondering about a few things - for example if I open a paypal account, can I use it for receiving money only? Maybe I will now and then want to buy something via Paypal, but that's definitely not going to be very often. I know it takes a lot of effort to put everything together, promote your stuff etc but the Internet is all yours, so don't give up.
Greetings, Pavla

The Coach said...

Nik, I distinguish between coaching skills and teaching aids. Coaching skills take a long time to learn, therefore, they need a pricetag. Teaching aids, by contrast, are seldom created for anyone other than oneself. In most cases, teachers enjoy sharing them. In fact, most of us feel flattered when someone uses our brilliant creations. :-)

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Blum

I would argue that the ability to write ggood materiuals that other people are able to use is a skill that takes a long time to learn and a lot of time to produce. Why should that commitment and ability not be recognised?

As you say, we sell skills all the time.



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