City re-introduces $30M Amazon contract for e-book marketplace
The city Department of Education is re-introducing one of its largest contracts, a $30 million prospective deal with Amazon to provide students with an e-book marketplace.
The deal, notable for its significant expense and relatively rare collaboration between the city and a major technology company, was stalled last summer over concerns about accessibility.
Advocates said the design of e-books would prevent blind or visually impaired students from accessing the marketplace, and the city postponed a vote on the contract last August.
Now, a revised version of the contract is up for a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy next month.
The contract will remain $30 million over three years, with an option to renew at $34.5 million for two years.
Amazon will not charge the city for creation of the marketplace, and will earn 10 percent to 15 percent commission on DOE-contracted content.
If approved at the April 20 PEP meeting, the marketplace will be phased in over five years, beginning this fall.
Spokespeople for the DOE and the National Federation of the Blind said all Amazon's school marketplace contracts have been revised to better accommodate blind and visually impaired students. While neither organization furnished specific changes to the contract, both said the National Federation of the Blind will be involved with building the marketplace.
According to the city, an e-book marketplace for its 1,800 schools will help the department cut down on the decay and loss of physical books, along with space problems associated with storing hundreds of them in schools.
And, education officials said, an online marketplace will prevent any one book publisher from monopolizing book deals.
The contact will be divided between contracted content — largely textbooks — and non-contracted content — books and texts selected by individual schools. Non-contracted content can be purchased directly from Amazon.
Content will be available on a number of devices, including phones, Smartboards, laptops and tablets.
DOE contracts have come under particular scrutiny in recent months after advocates raised concerns over a $1.1 billion technology contract that was eventually shelved. DOE contracts are often quite expensive, considering the enormous size of school system — 1.1 million children.
City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan has led the charge to investigate large department contracts, and recently joined the Council's education committee.
"The DOE is pleased to have brought Amazon and the National Federation of the Blind to the table for an agreement that will improve e-book accessibility for students with disabilities," Corrine Rello-Anselmi, a deputy chancellor, said in a statement. "Pending approval by the PEP, blind and visually impaired students in New York City will be able to benefit from the e-book marketplace. This is also an important step forward for the blind and visually impaired community nationwide.”