Amazon Top Pick for Contract to Create N.Y.C. Schools’ e-Book ‘Marketplace’

Associate Editor

Tablet_in_hands_for_jpgAmazon Digital Services Inc. would create a comprehensive online shopping source for e-books and digital content available for New York City schools, under a $30 million contract that is expected to be approved next month, the city’s department of education confirmed Thursday.

The proposed agreement would create an online presence with many capabilities, as teachers and principals make purchasing decisions in the district with 1.1 million students. Educators could recommend and rate the materials they buy via the “storefront,” much as Amazon consumers do. Students also would be able to rate content. Teachers could view what content their students are accessing, and track their use. Content created by teachers could be uploaded and published, too.

Purchases on the marketplace could be made under various licensing terms, from limited-use to perpetual. And, the city’s education department has specified that educators would have the option of purchasing e-textbooks by chapter, according to the official “request for authorization” of the contract, which was published in a Capital New York article Wednesday.

Amazon would be responsible for underwriting the cost of developing the secure web platform under the terms of the proposed agreement. Purchases from the platform could reach $4.3 million in the first year; $8.6 million in the second; and $17.2 million in the third year of the contract, which comes with a two-year renewal option. The city schools’ Panel for Educational Policy, which is comprised of 13 appointed members and the chancellor, will consider the contract at an Aug. 26 meeting, according to the city’s education department. The city schools’ contracts selection committee unanimously chose Amazon’s proposal from a field of 14 submitted by various vendors. 

“New York City’s e-book and e-content marketplace for schools will be the first option of its kind,” Devora Kaye, the press secretary for the city’s education department. said in a written statement. “Schools can use it to provide students with better and newer reading materials, faster than ever before.”

The new marketplace is expected to address major concerns of schools, including:

  • Lack of sufficient space for textbooks and primary resources
  • The physical decay and loss of books
  • The inability to compare options and prices
  • Being prohibited from exchanging book licenses with other schools and classrooms.

Students would be able to access the content provided from any device using their individualized profiles, with a single-user sign-on. They could access downloaded content offline, annotate and highlight passages, and use a built-in dictionary, among other capabilities.

Procurement, Pricing Changes With Amazon Agreement?

The unveiling of an online marketplace built by Amazon could change the procurement picture for instructional materials in the district, which is looking for cost savings and more pricing transparency.

The department of education calculated that its total trade book expenditure for fiscal year 2012 was $23.8 million, and for textbooks, $62.4 million.  It estimated that adoption of the storefront by schools would be about 5 percent in the first year, 10 percent in the second, and 20 percent in the third year, but cautioned that since this is a first-time adoption, it will be difficult to accurately estimate.

“Teachers can opt to use it if it works for them,” Kaye said in a brief phone interview, reflecting the philosophy of Chancellor Carmen Fariña that education succeeds when teachers and principals are empowered to make decisions for their own classrooms and schools. Amazon would be required to provide educator training in how to use the storefront as part of its contract.

Phil Martin, who directs Digital Promise’s education marketplace initiatives, said there is uncertainty about adoption of a new service like this one, but he credited the city with doing its homework in the early stages. “They used a pretty rigorous process to end up with this solution,” said Martin, who was the project leader from Digital Promise on a procurement study released last year in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education and the Education Industry Association.

Price transparency and easy access to insights from peers and other stakeholders could increase the chance that “the right stuff gets into the hands of the right teachers and students,” Martin said in an interview. Students and the district also benefit from teachers sharing information with one another about what works, and the city schools could save money, he added.

Built-in flexibility is another benefit Martin identified. That flexibility includes provisions that increase the ability of teachers and those who support them to move licenses where they are needed, and to buy pieces of content rather than the whole package. 

Even after the Amazon site is fully operational, educators will still have an opportunity to purchase materials in print, as they do now, the department indicated in an email. 

Publishers whose content is not already listed on Amazon will not be required to do so, but given the city’s market share, the department expects those with city school contracts, and those without contracts, to “make even more affordable e-content available through this marketplace in the coming years,” a New York City department of education spokesman wrote in response to an Education Week inquiry. 

The department will “retain its ability to create agreements for the purchase of materials elsewhere,” the request for authorization explained.

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5 thoughts on “Amazon Top Pick for Contract to Create N.Y.C. Schools’ e-Book ‘Marketplace’

  1. I applaud any initiative that promotes the use of digital learning content within education settings. I have attempted to locate information about accessibility requirements for the necessary digital devices and content in order to support learners with disabilities and have not yet been successful. This is a great opportunity to implement a program that supports all learners, right from the start, and I am hopeful that those responsible for developing the RFP considered this important issue. My hope is that I have simply not yet discovered those requirements.

    Chuck Hitchcock
    Director, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials at CAST

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