ENotes, a site that — surprise — charges for online classroom material

With Wikipedia and the abundant other sources online, one would think the demand for well-researched information would be pretty well met.

ENotes, however, has quietly been building a competing source. ENotes is a head-scratcher, though, because it actually charges for information — a profitable anachronism. It will roll out a number of new features over the first half of September, including a community section where members can create and share content.

The site blends content from a range of educational publishers with its own in-house publishing unit so its content includes both raw source material and its own editorial writing.

When we asked about the difference between eNotes and Wikipedia, Bloomingdale stressed the importance of “100% fact-checked, edited, and written by experts, which is important in a classroom.”

While Sparknotes, owned by Barnes and Noble, is the largest provider of online non-Wikipedia information to schools, eNotes says it focuses on digging deeper into topics, books and authors. The business models are also different: Sparknotes charges for PDF downloads and books, not monthly or yearly site subscriptions.

Started in 1998, it offers study guides, lesson plans and a wide range of reference materials for students and teachers. This is much like Barnes & Noble’s Sparknotes, the market leader.

The Seattle-based company says it is getting more than 3 million unique visitors per month during the school year, although Compete and Alexa suggest lower numbers.

ENotes also says it has around 250,000 registered members — this is significant, because unlike many web companies, eNotes charges all registered users for access to some parts of the site, either $30 a month or $100 a year. It says it is adding 3000 additional users per week now, and expects that number increase significantly when many schools come back into session next month.

Registered users get access to more than half a million pages of premium content, including special access to journal articles, literary guides and critiques, and other services.

The company bootstrapped itself to profitability, it says, starting by providing study notes on Shakespeare, and making sure that these pages were optimized for search engines — this way, student looking for a quick source information would come to their site. In fact, the site appears to have cornered the online Shakespeare market: It owns http://www.shakespeare.com, its Shakespearian research destination site.

As eNotes has grown, it has spread through word of mouth among teachers and students, according to company development director Alex Bloomingdale. Two years ago, the site was getting 70 percent of its traffic through search results but now that number is closer to 55 percent, Bloomingdale says.

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