SparkNotes, originally part of a website called The Spark, is a company started by Harvard students Sam Yagan, Max Krohn, Chris Coyne, and Eli Bolotin in 1999 that originally provided study guides for literature, poetry, history, film, and philosophy. Later, SparkNotes expanded to provide study guides for a number of other subjects, including biology, chemistry, economics, health, math, physics, and sociology. SparkNotes does not charge users but instead earns revenue from advertising.

Type of site
Study guide
Available inEnglish
OwnerBarnes & Noble
Created bySam Yagan, Max Krohn, Chris Coyne, and Eli Bolotin
Alexa rank 3,904 (September 2018)[1]
LaunchedSeptember 1, 1999[2]
Current statusActive

Barnes & Noble acquired in 2001 for approximately $3.5 million.[3]

History was a literary website launched by four Harvard students on January 7, 1999. Most of TheSpark's users were high school and college students. To increase the site's popularity, the creators published the first six literature study guides (called "SparkNotes") on April 7, 1999.[2][4][5]

In 2000, the creators sold the site to iTurf Inc. The following year, Barnes & Noble[5] purchased SparkNotes and selected fifty literature study guides to publish in print format. When Barnes & Noble printed SparkNotes, they stopped selling their chief competitor, CliffsNotes.[6]

In January 2003, SparkNotes developed a practice test service called SparkNotes Test Prep. This project was followed by the release of SparkCharts, reference sheets that summarize a topic; No Fear Shakespeare, transcriptions of Shakespeare's plays into modern language; and No Fear Literature, transcriptions of literary classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter into modern language.[2]

Other features

SparkNotes Test Prep provides content and services related to the ACT, and AP, GRE and PSAT/SAT I and II standardized tests. Barnes & Noble sells printed versions of the test prep study guides, as well as SparkCharts and other printed study materials, in the United States and at Chapters in Canada.

The website also includes a section students can use to search for colleges.

SparkNotes has moved into educational publishing with books, such as Poetry Classics and FlashKids, a series of educational books for Kindergarten to grade 8 students. They also provide exercises for high school teachers.

The free SparkNotes mobile app for the iPhone/iPod and Android[7] offers:

  • 50 pre-installed study guides in the app library
  • Hundreds of study guides available for viewing online
  • The ability to download any study guide to the mobile device for offline use
  • The ability to share what one is studying and one's status by checking in with a customized post to Facebook


Because SparkNotes provides study guides for literature that include chapter summaries, many teachers see the website as a cheating tool.[8] These teachers argue that students can use SparkNotes as a replacement for actually completing reading assignments with the original material[9][10][11] or to cheat during tests using cell phones with Internet access.

SparkNotes states that it does not support academic dishonesty[12] or plagiarism.[13] Instead, it suggests that students read the original material, and then check SparkNotes to compare their own interpretation of the text with the SparkNotes analysis.[9][14][15][16]

In January 2019, site developers announced a complete redesign of the SparkLife section of the website in order to focus more on literature related content. This announcement was met with a negative response from SparkLife users due to the removal of user-made accounts, blog posts, and comments.[17][18]

See also


  1. " Site Info". Alexa Internet. Archived from the original on 2016-02-02. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  2. "A Brief History of SparkNotes". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2008-02-04.
  3. "Barnes & Noble inc, Form 10-Q, Quarterly Report, Filing Date Jun 18, 2001". Archived from the original on May 15, 2018. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  4. Martin, Stacy (5 September 2004). "SITE". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco: Hearst Communications Inc. Archived from the original on 31 January 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2006.
  5. Borja, Anais; Lester, Amelia (18 October 2001). "The Rise and Success of Sparknotes". The Harvard Crimson. Harvard: The Harvard Crims0n Inc. Archived from the original on 13 December 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
  6. Bowman, James (8 August 2003). "Murder Most Foul". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  7. "SparkNotes Mobile Apps". Archived from the original on 19 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  8. Simnauer, Lauren; Dumler, Christie (20 June 2007). "There's room for sparknotes, too". The View. Zip Publishing. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  9. Eger, Andrea (22 February 2008). "Students love study guides". Tulsa World. World Publishing Co. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  10. "Competition for CliffsNotes arrives on the scene. Later, a popular study supplement called "Kramnotes" were put into circulation. Today they serve as one of Sparknotes top competitors. – in print". The Christian Science Monitor. 25 June 2002. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  11. Saltz, Molly (2 January 2006). "No, it's a cheap shortcut that does no one any good". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon, United States. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  12. "About SparkNotes". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  13. Kestler, Justin. "Help:The Plagiarism Plague". SparkNotes. SparkNotes LLC. Archived from the original on 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  14. Miller, Erin (2 January 2006). "Is SparkNotes worthwhile? Yes, used properly it can enhance our education". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon, United States. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  15. Nguyen, Kim Ngan (2 October 2003). "SparkNotes A Hit With High School Crowd". The Denver Channel. Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  16. Formato, Brynne (5 February 2004). "A quick study: online sites speed up reading". The Mirror. Fairfield, Connecticut, United States. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  17. "Coming Soon: The New SparkNotes Blog!". Sparknotes Blog. 2019-01-24. Archived from the original on 2019-01-31.
  18. "Sparkler Posts » A MESSAGE TO SPARKNOTES EDITORS - please take time to read if you see this". 2019-01-31. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
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