Edupreneur Resources, Podcast Articles | Sep 11, 2016
Why teacher-authors don’t give everything away free (& neither should you)
By Angela Watson
Founder and Writer
Every now and then I get a comment on one of my books, printables on TeachersPayTeachers, or the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club that says, “It’s a shame that teachers charge money for everything now. I remember the days when teachers would give everything away for free.”
Sometimes they even add insult to injury by saying, “If you really wanted to help teachers, if you really cared about kids, you wouldn’t charge for this,” as if anyone who wants to make a difference is supposed to do it for free and the only people who deserve to get paid are the people who AREN’T helping others.
Sometimes I just ignore the comment, and sometimes I try to educate the person. But this is something that I wanted to take the time to address here for two reasons:
1) I think there are a lot more people thinking this than those who actually say it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my long-time podcast listeners and blog readers have actually thought along these lines themselves, but don’t want to be rude so they don’t speak up.
2) I wanted to have a blog post that I could point people to so that I’m not explaining the same thing over and over again. I’m going to speak my peace on this topic here today, and then share the link to the article whenever I see these types of issues raised in conversation.
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“I remember the “good old days” when teachers gave everything away for free–it’s such a shame that everything’s for sale now.”
I started teaching in 1999, so I remember these days very well.
I also remember the pitiful quality of the resources that were being given away for free.
10-15 years ago, we were mostly creating simple Word doc worksheets with no beautiful fonts or graphics, because we didn’t readily have the ability to create images and such back then. I gave away very simple worksheets and forms. The more interesting things I was making for my students–math games, center materials, and so on–weren’t created digitally so there was no way to share them. I made materials using markers and pens, and then took photos of them, and other teachers would look at the photos on my website and hand-write and draw their own.
That doesn’t sound like anything I’d want to go back to–would you?
The reality is that the resources we used to give away for free bear little to no resemblance to the beautiful, elaborate, comprehensive, ready-to-use resources that teachers are selling today.
I’m embarrassed by the quality and appearance of the things I used to give away on my website, which is why I pulled most of them off. The bar for quality has been raised significantly since the days when teachers gave everything away for free.
“Why pay for something I could make myself?”
If you have the ideas, talent, tech skills, and above all, the TIME to do it yourself, be my guest! But I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into creating high quality materials, much less turning one’s own classroom resources into something that is useful and adaptable for other teachers.
When I created a form for my own classroom use, I couldn’t just upload that to TeachersPayTeachers and expect it to make sense to other educators.
First, I had to create a beautiful cover design that would catch people’s attention and explain what the product is. Teachers are too busy to read through the descriptions of thousands of documents online to find the one they need–a cover page that lets them see what they’re getting is essential.
Something that might only take me a few hours to create for my own classroom use could easily take 30 hours or more (and cost $20-$150) to prepare for other teachers.
This means I had to look for and purchase attractive fonts, graphics, and clip art, and buy software, programs, and tools beyond Microsoft Word in order to make the covers (and of course, to make the resources themselves more modern-looking and engaging for students.)
I then had to take well-lit, attractive photographs of the resource so teachers could understand how to use them and assemble the resources more easily.
I also had to create a preview file so that teachers could see what they’re getting, and not have to download (or purchase) dozens of different things hoping to find something that would meet their needs.
In addition, I had to write out instructions for how to use the resource, creating options for adapting and differentiating it for different classroom needs. After all, I didn’t just want it to work for MY students; I wanted it to work for other people’s students, too.
Then there’s the issue of accuracy. If I’d made a typo or mistake in a resource I used in my own classroom, I’d just tell the kids to mark the correction on their papers and move on. But there was no way I was going to embarrass hundreds of teachers around the world by having them download a resource with mistakes in it, and I was not okay with the idea of exposing thousands of students to resources that weren’t error-free. So before making it available for other teachers, I had to have the resource professionally edited.
This is just a fraction of the amount of time, effort, and expense that goes into making a resource available for other teachers to download.
Sometimes I go through this process and make the item available for free on my website or TeachersPayTeachers. But if I’ve spent dozens or hundreds of hours working on a resource to make it of excellent quality and truly useful in a wide range of classrooms, I feel totally justified in charging a couple bucks for it.
If you’d rather make all your own resources yourself from scratch in your spare time, I totally support you! My resources are available for those who don’t want to (or can’t) do that. I had one teacher tell me she tutors for $35/hour, and sees it like this: she can tutor one child for one hour and use that $35 to buy resources, or she can spend fifty hours working for free in order to make everything herself. For her, the time saved is a no-brainer.
“I hate when something is free, but they advertise something for sale at the end of it.”
I had someone comment once that they were annoyed at the end of my webinar when I gave what they felt was an “infomercial for products.” This person said they had been following my (free) blog for 10 years, had signed up to participate in my (free) book club this past summer, and regularly listened to my (free) podcast. This person also got 45 minutes of (free) professional development through the webinar. And yet she was appalled that I had the audacity to explain in detail about The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club at the end of a training on work/life balance.
I suppose it is fair to call what I did at the end of that training an “infomercial.” An infomercial is essentially a paid product announcement that helps offset the costs of all the other programming that doesn’t talk about things for sale. Similarly, there are commercials on radio, TV shows, podcasts, online streaming networks like Hulu, and so on. The commercials and infomercials make it possible for you to get the rest of the programming for free or a very low cost.
Take this podcast, for example. It takes me on average three hours a week to produce a single 15-minute episode, and that’s just for the aspects of the program that I do myself. I also:
- pay an editor to transcribe and edit the blog post, and help me create images for the blog post
- pay a podcast engineer to adjust the sound and make sure that the audio is good quality
- pay a monthly fee to my podcast host provider to make the audio available indefinitely to everyone on every device at no charge
- pay a huge monthly fee–we’re talking four figures here–in web hosting to make the blog post and transcript available
- pay hundreds of dollars per month to my email service provider so that I can send out free notifications to any teacher who wants to be notified when there’s a new episode or post
So, “free” really means that it’s free for you.
I absorb the costs associated with this podcast because I want to be able to offer it to teachers and encourage them every single week without asking for any compensation. The podcast and blog are something that I love to produce. In fact, I’ve been sharing free resources on my website since 2003, and the podcast is only the latest in a long line of resources that I create simply to help people because it’s something I feel called to do.
All those “free” resources that teachers love aren’t really free: someone is paying for them.
Occasionally on the podcast, I’ll mention a book, teaching resource, or online course I’ve created, or insert an affiliate link (where I get paid a small portion of the purchase price for anyone who chooses to buy). I mention paid products in the podcast only when I have a resource that is relevant to the topic–it’s designed to not only help offset the costs of running the podcast, but also to provide more value to you as a listener.
I actually love when I’m reading or listening to something that’s been truly helpful and the person lets me know where I can purchase a book or some other resource that will give me more in-depth information. I consider that a service, even if it is also self-serving. Everyone benefits! And so I hope that when I mention related paid products here in the blog/podcast, you’ll choose to see them the same way: as an optional resource you can purchase if you want more help and support for the topic at hand, or something you can skip if it’s not needed.
“Teachers are paying out of their own pockets–if you really wanted to help them, you wouldn’t charge for it.”
This is the criticism that bothers me the most, because there’s an implication that I care more about making money than I do about helping teachers. There’s absolutely nothing going back in my 14 year history of supporting teachers through this website that would indicate I’m in this to make a quick buck. I didn’t go into teaching for the money, and I certainly didn’t go into creating teacher resources for the money!
Where did this idea come from–that anyone who wants to make a difference is supposed to do it for free? So the only people who deserve to get paid are the people who AREN’T helping others?
So I have to make the assumption that this isn’t a personal criticism based on my track record over the past decade and a half, but more of a general implication that people who want to help kids should do so from the goodness of their hearts rather than charging for it. And that’s a hard thing to understand when the criticism is coming from a teacher–i.e. someone else who gets paid to do things that help kids.
Sure, classroom teachers go above and beyond what’s required of them contractually and don’t get paid for everything they do, but neither do I, as I think I’ve established. For the bulk of the work you and I do–our core hours and responsibilities–we are compensated, for our time, our talents, and our expertise.
If you don’t work for free, why would you expect anyone else to?
I’ve even had people suggest that I make the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club completely free of charge. (No one who is actually a member has ever suggested this, because they see the amount of work I’ve put into it, but I do hear that criticism occasionally, and people don’t see the legitimacy of charging teachers to coach them on work/life balance.)
The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is something I’ve spent hundreds of hours creating. I also have a team of eight part-time people working for me (plus a full time web development team), and together, we provide website support, answer emails and questions from members, moderate discussions, help format the club contents, prepare the audio, and so on. The club is 52 weeks of professional development worth 104 continuing education credits. It costs me thousands of dollars every single month to maintain web hosting, the email provider service, and all the other resources for club members. I offer the club for just over a hundred bucks.
So, yeah, I do feel a little insulted at the suggestion that my eight team members, web developer, and I should be working for free, and this should somehow be a volunteer effort we all dedicate hours of our lives to every week.
Here’s the thing that happens when people volunteer or work for free: that work always comes second to the paid work, because they have bills to pay. Volunteer work and hobbies get scheduled into whatever time a person has leftover when their paid work is finished.
The work that I do in supporting teachers isn’t done in my “leftover” time. It’s one of my top priorities in life. It’s part of my calling, my purpose, and something I want to continue doing full-time.
If I were to offer the club, my books, or all my printable teaching resources for free, I wouldn’t be able to devote hundreds of hours to these things as I do currently. They would have to be side projects that I work on whenever I have nothing else to do, while I spend the majority of my time focusing on something that will help support my family financially.
At that rate, the club materials might have gotten finished by 2023, if ever, and the quality and support would be lacking because I highly doubt I could convince a team of other people to help me for free. In order to make something of this magnitude work, people have to be compensated for their time, energy, and talents, and there’s no shame in that.
“I see a lot of things given away for free–how come other people are able to do it?”
If a teaching resource appears to be given away for free, there’s one of three things happening:
1) The free resource is made by a person who makes things whenever they have time as a hobby. Most people don’t have a lot of time for hobbies and volunteer work because the job that pays their bills has to come first by necessity. So if a person is giving away all their resources for free, you can expect that there will be a limit to the amount of time, energy, and resources they can devote to it. I ran my website as a hobby for six years without making a dime. Most people who do this will eventually get to the point that I did, and realize that there are lots of easy ways to recoup some of the time and money spent, and that once you are making a little bit of profit, you can do a better job and create more things to help teachers. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to create free resources in their spare time after teaching all day (particularly if you yourself aren’t giving back to the teaching community by doing the same.)
2) The free resource is being used to advertise a paid product or get you interested in something they hope you will eventually buy, in order to help offset the costs of making that free thing available. When this is the case, you’ll see paid product mentions embedded in the resource, and if you want to show support to the person who made that free thing and get even more helpful resources from them, you can choose to purchase something. This should not be viewed as “money grubbing” or even an annoyance. It’s part of the price you pay when you’re not paying any money.
3) The free resource has a sponsor (usually a corporation.) Some of the “free” trainings, printables, and websites available are in fact paid for by organizations or companies who want to get their name out there, be seen as a supporter of teachers and schools, and get a significant tax write-off for their business, among other reasons. So before you jump to the conclusion that there ARE free resources with no product promotion in them, remember that teacher-authors do not generally have the backing of a multi-million dollar company who can absorb the costs associated with making that “free” resource available.
“I don’t see any reason to pay another teacher for curriculum–we’re not talking about something professionally created, like a book that I’d buy at a teacher store.”
I’ll tell you a little secret about most of the companies that publish teaching materials: those resources are made by teachers, too, but the teachers themselves keep very little of the profit.
A teacher-author is likely to get paid pennies on the dollar for what the publishing company earns from the sales of their teaching resources. (By the way, this is true for “regular” books, too–most authors earn less than $1 per copy of their book sold, unless they start their own publishing company as I have and cut out the middle man.)
Many companies that publish teaching resources don’t even pay royalties: they give the teacher a small flat payment up front, and then the company continues to earn money every time the resource sells for years to come.
So the teacher–the person who came up with the idea, classroom-tested it, wrote about it, and created all the resources for it–ends up earning chump change while the publisher takes all the rest. The teacher gives up control over the title, cover, and even the content to a large degree, and allows the corporation to make the majority of the money. I have friends who have done this and said they actually feel embarrassed about the final product that was published, because it’s so far removed from what they actually do in their classrooms.
This is one of many reasons why so many educators now are creating their own teaching resource stores and not relying on a big corporation to publish for them. For that reason, I think you should feel really good about choosing to support a fellow educator directly by purchasing through places like TeachersPayTeachers.
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“But teachers can’t afford to buy teaching materials! This is all for the good of the children–we should collaborate and share freely.”
We all know that teachers aren’t provided with everything they need in order to teach well. And I empathize with how difficult it is to scrape together money for classroom materials on a teacher’s salary: after all, I was in the classroom for 11 years, and even with a master’s degree, I never got above $36,000 on the pay scale.
I don’t begrudge ANYONE who feels like they, personally, can’t afford to buy teaching resources. That’s why I continue to make so many materials available for free!
My problem is with those who feel entitled to being given everything for free, simply because they teach children.
I refuse to see any teacher as a victim, as someone to be pitied, or as a charity case. The “teachers can’t afford it–everything should be free” argument is part of a larger victim mentality and entitlement problem that seems to be pervasive in some circles. It’s a complaint, and it’s not solution-oriented. After all, if everything should be free, then every teacher needs to get on board with making all these free resources available so the burden no longer falls on the shoulders of just a few people.
No one who has complained about me charging for my expertise, time, and resources has had a substantial collection of original, quality resources that they themselves make available to teachers online at no cost.
True collaboration is a two-way street: it’s a relationship where BOTH parties are contributing or giving in some way. If you’re just downloading free stuff without contributing to the teaching community in any way, you don’t want collaboration, you want others to do the work for you.
Expecting other teachers to continually make everything for you to download without giving your time, money, or resources in return is incongruent with the spirit of collaboration.
The truth is that many people who say teachers should share freely really mean OTHER teachers should share freely. They want OTHERS to do the work, and they’re not going to give back in any way with their time or their money. They’re stuck in this martyr mentality, where just because they’re a teacher, they’re doomed to be poor forever and we should take pity and give them everything for free. It’s a pretty sad way to go through life, in my opinion, and I’m not going to enable it.
I deserve to be compensated for my talents, time, and energy. In fact I think every teacher does! I’m tired of the mentality that just because you care about kids, you have to work yourself to the bone and not be properly compensated for it. We can’t change the salary scale in schools, but we can certainly create our own businesses on the side and finally get paid something close to what we’re actually worth!
“Why not get a job where you aren’t making money off the backs of your fellow teachers?”
Yep, I’ve actually heard this question more than once. And I have a better question in response.
Why is it okay for teachers to work the evening shift at Starbucks or Target, or sell leggings or makeup for a multi-level-marketing company…but creating quality resources for other educators is somehow not a skill set worth paying for?
If someone’s side business (or full time business) improves their teaching practice and benefits kids, we should all be on our feet applauding! Selling resources on TpT is just as valid as all the other jobs that teachers take on.
Those who create resources may be doing so in exchange for teachers’ money, but they’re giving teachers back something that is perhaps more precious and limited: their time. By purchasing ready-to-use resources from other educators, teachers are essentially able to buy back their evening and weekends so they can take better care of themselves.
Any resources that give teachers more time to spend with the people they love is inherently valuable beyond the price paid, and anyone who sells those resources should be proud to do so.
“If I paid for a resource, I own it, and I can share it for free with anyone I want.”
This one is a HUGE misconception that’s held by many teachers, including the ones who fully support teacher-authors in theory. Here’s what I want you to know.
When you purchase an eBook on Amazon Kindle or a curriculum resource from TeachersPayTeachers, you do not own that book or that resource.
You own one license to use that resource.
There’s a very big difference–don’t miss this. As the author, I alone own the copyright. The resource is still mine.
In exchange for paying me a few dollars, I have given you permission to access the resource for your own personal use.
The author still owns the resource. The buyer owns a single user LICENSE to access the resource for personal use.
You have NOT purchased the ability to share it with every teacher in your grade level.
You have NOT purchased the ability to upload it to a shared Google Drive folder to make available to everyone in your district.
And you have definitely NOT purchased the ability to adapt the resource and then sell your own version of it!
You’ve purchased a single license for personal use only.
“Why can’t I share something I purchased with my friends? I don’t want to be rude and tell them to go buy their own copy.”
I know that sometimes there’s peer pressure for teachers to share resources with one another, especially those who are used to the “old days” of buying teacher resource books and passing them around to the whole faculty to photocopy. Copyright restrictions tended to be looser with physical books, because only one person could have it in his or her possession at a time. With digital resources, if you post it to your class or school website, it’s now public on the internet for literally billions of people to access for free.
Just as it’s illegal to download music you haven’t paid for, we have a collective responsibility to teach others that it’s illegal to use and share teaching resources they haven’t paid for, and help shift the cultural norms in our schools.
So digital copyright restrictions almost always specify SINGLE USER LICENSES, and if you violate those terms, you’re breaking the law. We need to change the norms and cultural standards around sharing digital teaching resources.
It’s not fun to be the “stickler for the rules.” I get it. But this is a moral, ethical, and legal issue, and you’re obligated to make the right choice, especially as a teacher who is a role model to young people who are still learning about digital copyright.
You might be doing a colleague a favor by illegally sharing a resource from TeachersPayTeachers, but you’ve canceled out that “good karma” by stealing from the teacher who created it.
The good news is that you can buy additional licenses for your friends very easily and affordably on TpT: most additional licenses are half price, or even more.
So if a teacher friend sees something in your classroom and wants it, tell him or her, “I got the license to use it on TpT, so I can get you a license at half off!”
Then go to “My Purchases” in your TpT dashboard, and click on “Buy Additional Licenses” for the resource your coworker wants. You can add it to your cart at the reduced rate, and have your co-worker pay you back. Easy (and ethical.)
The TL;DR version of it all
When you hear a fellow teacher lament that everything isn’t just shared freely anymore (or pressure you to give them copies of things you paid for and they didn’t), these are the key points I hope you’ll remember:
1) It really wasn’t the “good old days” when teachers shared everything freely because they had no way to earn extra income by creating and selling resources directly to teachers, and their only choice was to create resources for a big publishing company who compensated them at a fraction of what they’re really worth.
2) The quality of the resources that were given away years ago in no way compares to what’s being made available for purchase today.
3) Something that seems easy to make yourself probably took dozens of hours to create, and required the purchase of fonts, graphics, clip art, and product creation programs/software.
4) Anything that appears to be free is actually coming at a high cost in time and/or money to the person who created it.
5) A product plug or infomercial in a free teaching resource is designed to tell you about useful resources that will help you extend what you learned for free; letting you know the paid resource is available is intended to be a service to you, and choosing to purchase it helps offset the costs of making the free things available.
6) If all resources were given away for free, they’d be created as a hobby whenever people have time to make them; because teachers have very little free time, there would be a fraction of the resources available and the quality wouldn’t be nearly as good.
7) True collaboration is a two-way street; it’s a relationship in which both parties are contributing or giving in some way. Expecting other teachers to continually make everything for you to download without giving your time, money, or resources in return is incongruent with the spirit of collaboration.
8) No one should be expected to work or run a business for free, and just because your business helps teachers and kids does not mean it’s unethical to require payment for it (as anyone who is paid by their district for classroom teaching should attest to.) If someone’s side (or full-time) business improves their teaching practice and benefits kids, we should all be on our feet applauding!
9) When you pay for a digital teaching resource or eBook, you do not own the resource: you own a license to access the resource for your own personal use. Out of respect for the hard work of the person who created it (not to mention digital copyright laws), you cannot share the resource with people who did not purchase their own license.
10) Just as it’s illegal to download music you haven’t paid for, we have a collective responsibility to teach others that it’s illegal to use and share teaching resources they haven’t paid for so that we shift the cultural norms in our schools.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to listen to or read this very lengthy diatribe which has clearly been a long time coming. Though I’m sure it comes off as harsh in places, please know I am incredibly grateful to the teachers who understand where I’m coming from, and feel that my talents are worthy of their hard-earned money.
I am appreciative of every dollar teachers spend on my resources–they help me keep the free resources going for those who can’t (or choose not to) purchase anything from me.
I’m appreciative of those who aren’t able to afford any of my paid resources, but faithfully read my blog, listen to my podcast, and help spread the word to their friends about the work I’m doing.
And, I’m appreciative of teachers who respect copyright and don’t share my paid resources with people who haven’t purchased them.
I love the work that I do supporting teachers and creating resources for them and their students. To everyone who has offered their support over the last 14 years (through their time, money, word-of-mouth, or kind words), thank you for making it possible for me to do what I love, and I hope that the resources I create make it easier for you to do what you love, too.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!
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I loved your diatribe! Don’t get down about the users. Keep on following your passion and you can’t go wrong.
It’s really unfortunate that everyone thinks anything made for a teacher should be free. It’s indicative of a bigger problem that undervalues the work all educators do. It’s why teacher salaries in the states are so low.
I mean, would the people complaining about you charging for your products agree to teach school for free? Absolutely not.
Roy, I think you’ve hit on an important point about the deeper issue here, which is that teachers’ time and talent are not recognized as a whole in our society. The mentality is this: If the incredibly difficult work teachers do in the classroom for students isn’t valuable enough that they should be compensated properly, why in the world would classroom materials created by that teacher be worth paying for?
Hopefully we can rise above that mentality as educators, starting by valuing ourselves and one another. Teacherpreneurship is an opportunity to be compensated at a level that’s much closer to what we’re worth than our teaching salaries. And when we buy from one another, we’re supporting a teacher-to-teacher economy. We’re showing that we respect and value the time/effort of fellow teachers. This helps create a shift in thinking from a very grass roots level, rather than sitting around waiting for society to respect teachers and pay us what we’re worth. It’s very empowering when you choose to see things from that perspective.
We want our time to be valued as educators, why not value the time and effort of those who create quality work to help us! I appreciate those who create some fabulous lessons ( especially notebook ideas!!) and who hasn’t needed a great sub plan when they’re sick?! Thank you to all those who have helped me with lesson planning and thanks Angela!
You’re welcome, Sandee. Thanks for adding your perspective. There are so many resources out there that I never would have thought to make myself, nor had the time, energy, talent, or background knowledge to create.
You say that TPT sellers are “exploiting a market.” I see it as TPT meeting a need.
Perhaps it is you that has gone to the “dark side?”
I usually listen to every one of your podcast episodes, but I skipped this one, only for one reason: I don’t need to hear it explained why a person would charge money for their own intellectual property. It is absurd for anyone to criticize you for charging money for any of your WORK. You clearly work hard and care a lot about teachers, students and education in general. You have every right to charge money for any and all services you offer. I find the entire counter argument….baffling and rather insulting. Would anyone be angry with a lawyer for charging his/her advice on legal matters?? Would anyone be angry with a mechanic for refusing to just give away his/her services for free?? Why on earth would anyone expect a teacher to offer all of their expertise at no charge. Such thinking is patently sexist, toward a field that is largely female, and is absolutely obnoxious.
Besides, you do offer quite a few FREE services, such as your awesome podcast and groups on Facebook. I am currently reading “Unshakeable” and enjoying it very much. Keep up the outstanding work Angela, and yes it is WORK as you well know. I thoroughly enjoy the podcast and all your great free resources and am more than willing to pay for those that come with a fee—you and anyone else working hard to create and sell their resources should not be criticized for it. All the best!
I appreciate your support more than you know. I think your first sentence says it all: “I don’t need to hear it explained why a person would charge money for their own intellectual property.”
This is a phenomenon that seems to be fairly unique to teaching. Anyone outside our niche that I talk to about this tends to have the same reaction that you do–they’re stunned and bewildered that this is even a discussion.