Selling Notes

I have two classes where I take great notes: Marketing and Asian Studies.

My Asian Studies class has 60 people and my marketing class has 488 registered students in it. It’s finals time, and I decided to sell my entire semesters notes in each class for $5 bucks a pop.

I expected to make about $15 or $20.

Asian Studies Class:
I sent a mass email to the class, including this link as an example of my notes:

I got about 5 responses in two hours. Unfortunately, my Asian Atudies professor was one of the respondents saying:

“Dear students, I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit shown here, but buying and selling notes is unethical!”

Unethical? Maybe. Illegal? Not at all. I knew I could win this battle, but she was a great professor and I decided to respect her wishes. I sent out another email retracting my offer to that class and apologized for any unethical behavior on my part.

Money Made on Asia class = $0.00

Marketing Class:
I sent out another mass email including this link as an example of my notes:

I got about 35 responses in two hours. Every time I checked my email after that I got even more potential buyers.

Some interesting responses though. I got THREE “fan-mail” letters simply saying

“I don’t want the notes, but you are very enterprising.
Goodluck on the test!”

My favorite emails however were the hate-mail letters I got. I got four of them. This guy could have effectively killed my sales if he had used proper spelling and grammar in his email sent to the whole class:

From: – Coby Jude Sonnier.
“i’ve got notes for free. the whole outline. hit me up and i’ll email it to you cause i could care less about makin money like this guy. its in word so make sure you have it. -coby”

Surprisingly, I still got 9 orders after Coby’s email went out. This next guy offered me one dollar for the notes. When I responded saying the notes were fixed at $5, he wrote back:

From: – Jorge Eduardo Leal Jr.

“No deal, final offer is $2.50 for the complete study note. Considering your probably lack of sales with the study notes, here’s your chance to make a sail.”

My last chance to make a SAIL?? I was selling notes, not preparing for a Regatta. He then responded again:

From: – Jorge Eduardo Leal Jr.

“You just dont get it man,selfish bastard, stop trying so
hard to make money,eventually everything will work out”

Yeah Jorge, NOT trying hard to make money will really rocket me into wealth. Good luck with your strategy. You better start buying lottery tickets buddy.

This next guy was not a man of many words:
From: – Dustin Travis Jenkins

“go fuck yourself”

Very well said. Almost poetic.

SO after shooting a few fun emails back to my newfound friends in the lower echelons of society, I tabulated my results:

Not bad for one class. I also learned that if I had done the exam review and included it in the notes, I could have sold them for $10 a pop easily.

It’s finals time so I must go study, but I hope you enjoyed watching me SAIL my notes!

Coby Sonnier, Coby Jude Sonnier, Jorge Eduardo Leal Jr., Jorge Eduardo Leal, Jorge Leal, Dustin Travis Jenkins, Dustin Jenkins

Blog posted on: May 13, 2005

47 comments on “Selling Notes

  1. Flexo

    Your unethical and a looser. You’re classmates shoud no better then too bye notes but your just incouraging more slackers.

    Just kidding, nev. I’m enjoying your enterprising mind. It’s kind of amazing that some of these folks you write about managed to get into college in the first place.

    I might have been the person to offer my notes for free after your $5 offer, but with decent grammar and spelling. :>

    What would you have done if someone bought your notes and then distributed them freely?

  2. Neville

    Someone distributing my notes for free is always a possibility.

    Had they done it, I would link their name, emails, phone numbers, family names and addresses to my online network of sites and defame the shit out of them.

    As you can already see, the next time Coby, Jorge or Dustin types their email or name into Google…they will pop up on MY site.


    1. Chris


      With all respect I might try your experiment in a European setting?

      For what it is worth feel free to contact me and we can arrange experiments together. Contesting Europe and US findings?

      I salute you >.<

  3. Rebecca Carter

    nEVILle…are these your last finals before graduation? Is this IT for you?? (For undergrad, that is.) Tell us your plans for the future…

    So much has changed since I was in school…and it was only a few years ago! We never had class email lists, the courses didn’t really use the internet, no one had their own laptop, etc! But almost all of my business classes were videotaped (Univ. of Florida) and you could go to the live session, watch taped sessions on campus or on cable at your house…or you could buy them for BIG money at the bookstore before a test. So I’m surprised people freaked out about the $5. But to each his own, right?

    ps: I just realized that I posted on my site & didn’t perform spell-check…but I’m tired, so mistakes will be mistakes, I’m not checking it now! I can live in disgrace with the rest of them!

  4. Flexo

    Well, I suppose revenge is sweet if that’s your thing. By the way, you spelled “grammar” incorrectly, unless you’ve changed it before I’ve had a chance to publish this comment. I’m just looking out for you; I don’t want you to look like a fool like your classmates. :>

  5. Neville

    We have a university-wide system called Blackboard where TA’s and professors post assignments, announcements, grades, homeowork etc.

    There is also a class roster where you can look up student names and send emails.

    To me, revenge is more funny than sweet. The thought of one of these guys stumbling upon my site makes me laugh!

    I’m sure in person they are not so bad, but it’ll be fun to play around with them for now ;)

    And I PURPOSELY spelled “Grammar” wrong to test the astuteness of anyone reading. Ok ok, I messed up!


  6. Cap

    What happened to studying!?

    well nm. i guess they are studying. just er.. with someone else’s notes.

    its sorta obvious that guy needs the help, if he’s trying so hard to negotiate the price on the notes.

    I always like finals, thats when everyone (including me) shows up to class!

  7. Cap

    btw, i just notice that for credit cards.. there’s 3 orders, but you only got $7.00… is that after the fees from your merchant account? or?

  8. FMF

    Nev –

    Here’s an idea that will work even better: Save your old tests from previous classes and sell them to students who take the class next semester. They’ll pay a lot for those. ;-)

  9. jim

    One thing to remember, regardless of whether or not something is ethical or legal will have no bearing if your professor is grading you for something subjective. If you piss him or her off, then you’ll suffer more than if you didn’t make the sale – which is a concept you understand since you didn’t sell the Asian Studies notes.

    The biggest thing to take away from this experience is that if you have an easily executable idea – do it and don’t be afraid of people telling you to “go fuck yourself.” When you start worrying about what other people think about you or will say about you, you’re letting others disarm you.

  10. Neville

    The credit card fees were pretty small, meaning I still wound up with more than $5 after merchant fees.

    The test idea is good, but borders on illegal. I know a lot of frats keep “Test Banks”, but selling them would mix into plagiarism in some way. It’s something that should be legally researched before pulling off….but will make BIG money if you do!

    Very true. There will always be dissenters. I’ve experienced them in every business venture I’ve attempted. I choose to just ignore them or have fun with them (as in this case).

    Too many people worry what others will think about them. I got four hate-mails, three fan-mails and 21 orders. To me that ratio is just about right.

    Besides, my dissenters in this case were….well…you read their emails!

  11. Lee


    While many of your ideas should be lauded for their originality and entrepreneurial potential, I don’t think this is one of them.

    Selling notes is definitely another way to make some extra cash, and certainly a potential enterprise as there is clearly a demand for said notes. On one hand, what is wrong with meeting an unmet need?

    The purpose of higher education is to promote learning, awareness, and the sharing of ideas. Indeed, academia is in many aspects much, much more than a business, fostering the future thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. That said, you are stifling a free exchange of ideas by restricting access to your notes. There are several positive externalities that occur on college campuses: professors engaging students outside of class, synergy created by student teams and discussion, student organizations and events. What would happen if everyone charged for everything?

    Note there is also a cost to this business, and that is your image and/or reputation. Image is obviously of critical importance in any business, and while you may have a savvy appearance by selling notes you may look like the “bad” or “wiseguy”, which may hurt you in other ventures down the line. Ultimately, $100 might not be worth it.

    If you are having some trouble with it, imagine the following scenario. You are in law school, medical school, or graduate school, along with 200 other students. The big final is coming up, and everyone is helping each other, offering resources on the class site, sharing folders, holding study groups. You send an e-mail out to the class, stating you have excellent notes and will sell them for $5. Even more, you will conduct a study group to go over your notes for another $10. What is the ultimate outcome of that situation? How different is it from what you did?

    While it’s not illegal, I think there are definitely better solutions to the one you presented here. I think in the long run you will be better off performing a good self-evaluation here. There are plenty of ethical opportunities for intelligent and informed entrepreneurs, I don’t think it’s necessary or even worth it to engage in anything less.


  12. Joseph DePalma

    ROFL – This is great!! I couldn’t stop laughing when I read this. I understand the process and responses you got completely.

    It’s definitely not unethical by the way… You’re providing a service to underprivileged people. In fact, you could run this as a non-profit, get funding to do it nationwide, and take a generous salary :)

    Nice job with it.

  13. Jonathan

    When I went to school, there was an actual business of selling professor’s notes. You’d get the notes a week after the lecture, and notetakes had to have gotten an A in the class before and were just sitting in to take notes. Of course, each prof had to agree to it first. Of course, people would split the $50 (I think) subscription ten-ways, so I think it shut down.


  14. Anonymous

    Great job! Nothing irks me more than people asking for free notes during finals. I could post about 20 emails of my own just from this semester.

    Devil’s advocate
    Remember that place on 24th that hired professional note takers and sold the notes for…I think $50 or more? Two of my professors kicked their student employees out of class and I believe the company is out of business. It was called Valiant or something, next to Castillian.

    I wonder what would have happened at $3 per day of notes. Regardless, your experiments continue to fascinate me.


    Question: Does this hurt your relative standing in a class graded strictly to a curve? I imagine you don’t care or the money is worth it.

  15. Neville

    Hey Jess (By the way, this guy is the graduated president of the University Investors Association),

    This was a VERY easy marketing class with no curve.

    As for the place that “hires” you to take notes, screw that. If you work for Valiant or whatever its called, they have guidlines for your notes. These were MY notes taken MY way and at MY leisure.

    PLUS I got to deal with 30+ potential customers at once and reap ALL the profit.

  16. Anonymous

    Don’t listen to these haters man. Doesn’t matter how you get the chedda, just get it. If it’s illegal, don’t get caught.

  17. Anonymous

    Nev, buddy… Please scour your blog for equally idiotic spelling errors before berating the hapless sail-boy.

    Vagas is spelled Vegas!

    Otherwise, you have a goldmine of afternoon distractions here. Good show young lad.


  18. Colleen

    Thought you may be interested that at Penn State there is a well established business that does this for real. They pay students (with high GPAs) to take notes and then sell them! They sell notes either for specfic days or in semester packages, as well as sample tests. It is called Nittany Notes- here’s a link:

    1. Miss

      Am I the only one who is going crazy over the thought that selling notes completely defeats the purpose of notes? What good is having notes if you skip the part where you paraphrase the information? Hopefully I don’t sound like someone who just hopes I don’t have to pay for mine, I’m a 4.0 student and I blame my notes. I wouldn’t sell crack in the ghetto I grew up in, and I wouldn’t usher my classmates to end up there by enabling them to avoid the hard work that all those tuition dollars are supposed to guide them through.

  19. Phil Freo

    Great idea. Here at the University of Florida there is an established business called “Einstein’s Notes”. They have a store right off campus where students buy packages of notes before exams. They get the notes by just hiring students with high GPAs. I’ve heard only good things from everyone who has bought from them.

  20. Anonymous

    Education is a journey, not a destination, so I hope students would take their own notes out of interest. Still, its fine to sell them. I don’t believe it is unethical. People need to make their own decision.

    But ethics should be top of the list for any entrepreneur, or else (see Enron, Tyco). Also, being unwise and unethical will haunt you as people will stay clear of you.

  21. Xin


    Great blog. I came across it recently and have found it very inspiring.

    I have not applied for more bank accounts inorder to get my financial in shape. Better separation.

    One quick question, also asked by Ray. I would like to know the program you used for taking notes. The program seems to be called My Notebook but I was unable to find this online.


  22. Neville


    I use Microsoft OneNote on my tablet PC to take notes. It’s the BEST note-taking software I’ve ever used in college.

  23. Travis

    I don’t see selling notes as unethical.

    What happens when a group studies together and shares notes? The same information is pass around.

    Aren’t notes your own work and even copyrightable? The value in good notes is that they are concise and accurate. As such, notes are equal to a tutor.

    Also, besides the content of the notes, the process of accumulating notes could be what the charge is made of and not the notes themselves. An example of this would be books that contain stories from many authors. Surely the person making the book is getting something and not just all the authors.

    BTW, anyone hear of a guy selling his notes named Cliff?

    Finally, look at the role of the teacher (aka tutor). From what are they teaching – books, experience, their notes? Did you not pay for their notes when you signed up for the class?

    Not that you need my approval…recoop your investment!

  24. Anonymous

    The important thing to remember is, there will always be suckers out there to take advantage of. Amen.

  25. Anonymous

    It’s not unethical to sell notes. You provided a service, i.e. you weeded out all the bullshit thrown at you by the professors thereby sparing your classmates from having to do the same.

    And as to the occasional misspelling…there is a difference in being a chronic illiterate and having a brain fart. Everybody has brain farts now and again.

    -John Nagle

  26. Kate

    I probably couldn’t sell my notes (if I could take decent notes!), because I want everybody to do well in college- even those who can’t take decent notes.

    It’s a really great idea, though. There are some students who just don’t care, and never take notes. Come exam time, when they’re really desperate, you can charge lots of money of notes. Just don’t let your professor know, if at all possible. Grades are pretty subjective :)

  27. Manas Karekar

    Apart from the rants and raves here, I think there’s one distinct advantage these Ready-Made Note Shops (sic) have is that they encourage students to take notes properly, just so they could make a few extra bucks (and in college, money is never an extra).

    Nice place you got here.. especially all these “Experiments”.

    Keep it going :)

  28. Angelique

    Read Flexo's first comment and the first paragraph had so many errors it made my brain hurt.

    Anyways, kudos to you for earning a profit off of your notes. Yes, that makes it easier for slackers to not study out of textbooks are pay attention in class, but the notes may make for sense to others who have issues understanding the books and/or instructors.

  29. Anonymous

    Where did you sell your notes? How can I?

    I have never been particularly interested in what other people may refer to as "unethical" enterprises, but I have started taking really good notes that I am sure could really help people, and I don't understand what is unethical about wanting to sell them. Is it unethical to charge money for tutoring or help in a class? Why should it be unethical to sell notes? Besides, I am about as broke as they come, and with all the studying I have to do, I do not have enough time to get a job.

    1. Aaron

      I spoke to my school’s financial adviser, and the reason it’s “unethical” apparently is because the professor of the class that you have the notes for should technically get royalties for each sale you make. =/

  30. Aaron

    Hey! I ran my own notes-selling business just this quarter, and was looking around to see if anyone had done it, and found you!

    I did things a bit differently however. I didnt even sell my own notes. I sold my friends’ notes, with their permission of course, maximizing the number of classes I hit. I sold each set of notes for between $20 and $30

    My way around them copying/redistributing was to print the notes on colored paper, and then deliver them myself or have them pick it up from where I work.

    Next quarter I’m hoping to expand to even more classes and to hire people to deliver the notes for me.

    Anyways, my biggest problem was actually collecting the money. How did you go about doing that? Paypal? In-person? And did you simply just email them the digital file?

    Your site’s pretty awesome!

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