Can This Be the K-12 Edtech Marketplace That Finally Succeeds?

This post was written by Tony Wan, and originally posted on on July 24, 2019. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

In 2012, First Book, a nonprofit that provides affordable learning materials to kids in need, approached the publishers of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and asked: Can you make a bilingual version of the popular children’s book? At the time, the publisher sold English and Spanish versions separately.

As part of its pitch, First Book made an offer that the publisher couldn’t refuse: It promised to buy 30,000 copies of the bilingual version. To date, it has purchased more than 100,000 copies (and the publisher has sold many more in retail stores).

That First Book can sway publishers to produce new materials speaks to the growing influence of its community of 430,000 teachers, tutors and social workers who serve students from low-income backgrounds. Founded in 1992, the organization regularly surveys its network about what materials they want and shares this information with publishers.

That’s how First Book first learned about the demand for a bilingual version of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” says Jane Robinson, its chief strategy and financial officer. And the fact that the publisher obliged marked a “breakthrough point where we realized that we actually have power in the market.”

Now First Book wants to apply this model—where teachers drive demand for educational materials and shape the market—to the market for digital learning products. To do that, it is partnering with Games and Learning, a for-profit company, to build a new marketplace for online educational materials, particularly games.

“Our goal is to create a trusted source where parents and teachers can find, buy and adopt quality digital content for their kids,” says Michelle Miller, CEO of Games and Learning.

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