Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Response to quora question about Udemy

This is a response to a question on Quora: How much money did I make in my first year on Udemy?

This question depends so much on when I started, how many classes I had, and other factors that it isn’t worth answering with numbers. My topic is game design, a niche, so I’ve never made the vast sums some instructors have.  I will say that I make less now annually, despite having many more classes.

Udemy has turned online non-degree teaching into a low-brow, commodity market, and that’s not the kind of class I make. I conceive of a class as a sort of online book (or part of a book), a treasure-trove of information, not as an entertainment or a bagatel. I discourage the not uncommon notion of the Age of Instant Gratification that a 30 or 60 minute class can tell you “all you need to know” about a topic. That’s a ridiculous idea that fundamentally rests on the also-ridiculous notion that there’s a “secret formula” or set of secrets that you can quickly learn to become an expert at something.

By changing the pricing standards twice, and by constantly engaging in what I call kamikaze marketing that reduces all classes to $10 (unless the instructor opts out), Udemy has shoehorned virtually all classes into a $10 market. Instructors price classes where they want, but can only discount them 50% (instructors earn more per registration from their own coupons than from Udemy’s sales). So many make their classes $20 (and consequently short) and discount to $10 constantly. I am in process of doing this myself with a second account, but only ut of necessity. I had to use a second account because you cannot choose to have some of your classes in the kamikaze marketing sector, and others not.

Commodity marketing of courses can be an insult to the intelligence - a “$199 course” for $10? , really? - but that doesn’t seem to make any difference to the typical student.

I make more now from Skillshare, which is subscription based, and I think subscription based online non-degree teaching will ultimately prevail over the kamikaze. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A messy failure?

In early 2014 I was recruited to offer online courses at LFE.Com. Not seeing any advantage over my existing platforms, I declined.

But I still get some of their emails, and a few days ago I received notice that they’re shutting down. This is supposed to be orderly, according to a second email, enabling instructors to choose to allow members to download courses. But whenever I go to LFE.COM I get searchfusion - as though the website no longer exists. Same result two different days with both chrome and mozilla.

LFE was like Udemy in that it sold individual courses, there was no subscription. Given how my Udemy revenue has collapsed, I’m not surprised to hear of a similar enterprise throwing in the towel. I still think that subscription will win in the long run, that Udemy has killed the goose by driving prices down to $10 for everything, but who knows?

Added note: my reply to Zeev G. didn't get through: "The recipient server did not accept our requests to connect. Learn more at https://support.google.com/mail/answer/7720 [lfe.com"

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Udemy problems and Amazon rumors

Following the poorly-considered price changes on Udemy at the beginning of April, my Udemy earnings are about a quarter of earnings in the three months before the changes. I believe a big mistake was limiting course prices to $20-50 instead of $10-80 or even $100 (in other words, in line with books prices). I never participated in Udemy's kamikaze marketing, or in affiliate marketing, so limiting the maximum discount to 50% made no difference to me. Yet Udemy-driven sales have dried up nonetheless.

You might want to read "Growing Pains at Online Education Startup Udemy as Amazon Rumors Swirl"


Speaking of Udemy, the article ends: "It seems there’s no end to the funds pouring in to bankroll the company. But for instructors trying to make a living, it may be another story."

I still suspect the long-range future of online courses of this type will be on subscription services (LinkedIn bought primary practitioner Lynda.com, before Microsoft bought LinkedIn). 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reactions to Completely Free Classes

I've been offering online audiovisual classes for more than two years.  Most of my Udemy courses (https://www.udemy.com/user/drlewispulsipher/) cost modest sums, $39 (with coupon) for the most expensive, in line with book prices.  (After all, they're oral books, practically speaking.) One offering is free with a coupon, another is absolutely free.

I've found that the hardest critics are the people taking the absolutely free course. The ones using a coupon to take a course for free are much like the ones paying for a course, in their ratings.  It's as though the free(loaders) are looking for TV, looking to be *entertained*; the poor ratings typically refer to production quality (which is not TV quality, no more than any classroom instruction), while the good ratings refer to the content.

The absolutely free course consists of videos from my free YouTube game design channel, which I state up front. I get fairly-rare criticism on the channel, but not like this offering on Udemy.

I'm told that in the business world, customers don't respect or value what they're given for free. Perhaps the same thing is happening here.

The moral? My intention to have no more free-without-coupon courses has been confirmed. There will be more collections (not really courses) from my Channel, but free by coupon only.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Marketing, or Teaching?

Teaching on Udemy can be a trial for an actual professional teacher (or a retired one, in my case).

Fundamentally, Udemy is run by marketers and the marketing mentality, not by teachers. The people in charge see metrics, they see dollars, they see number of users per month, they don’t see education, or even just training.

Though recently there have been turns for the better, such as banning some of the most egregiously questionable classes such as “Get rich quick” and weapons training.

Another place where this marketing orientation is obvious is in how they treat courses.  Courses must be approved. They focus on appearances rather than on quality of information. For example, the standard advice is to write a script for each video, which I think is really bad advice.

Thanks to 17,000 classroom hours of experience, I do fairly well recording screencast and voice together.  If I screw up sufficiently I'll cut it out or do it over.

But usually I don't have to edit anything.  Of course, I do not want to be television-slick, because that's not how the messy process of education works and not how the real world works. I’m not competing with television presenters.

We need to stop pretending that learning is easy, that it's much like rote memorization; conveying that to students is a LIE, unless you are only training people to follow steps.  That works only in the simplest kinds of problems.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Traffic stats for online education and training platforms?

I'm currently being recruited by the Coursmos platform.  Unlike most recruiters, this one has a track record in the online "micro-learning" (max 3 minutes per segment) industry. I've decided to try to find some traffic figures (from http://www.trafficestimate.com/).  Note that these are visits, not unique users.

Coursmos.com has received an estimated 141,900 visits over the last 30 days.
Skillshare.com has received an estimated 1,781,500 visits over the last 30 days.
Udemy 20M monthly visits
Lynda 12M

Courses.com about 20K
Edx.org has received an estimated 8,144,800 visits over the last 30 days

Coursmos' traffic is the kind that Skillshare and Skillfeed *used to* get. Which is better than most, of course.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Udemy “rushes to the bottom” once again

Udemy has finally figured out that their kamikaze marketing, which is to say huge discounts and an affiliate program that leaves instructors with almost nothing at times, has only facilitated a “rush to the bottom” of prices in a manner typical of digital products (products that can be copied infinitely at practically no cost). They appear to blame this discounting on the instructors, but I think Udemy leads the way, and that can be seen in instructors like myself who do not participate in the crazy marketing or in huge discounting and manage to sell our courses for reasonable prices.

Unfortunately, Udemy’s new strategy is to squeeze the prices of all online classes into the range of $20-$50 in five dollar increments, with no discounting of more than 50% allowed.

The idea that a limited maximum list price is miraculously going to establish trust in a course selection rife with crap, with get-rich-quick schemes, with vague junk, is difficult to understand.  Hardly surprising that Udemy talks to instructors frequently about production quality, sometimes about "engagement", rarely about actual quality of course content.

This affects me because five of my courses were less than $20, and one was more than $50, and actually selling for nearly its price. If I lower the price of that course, I will lose money on each sale. What instructors are told is that they might sell enough at the new price to make up for the lower prices.

It's that whole "I'll make it up in volume" mentality that  led to the massive discounting in the first place!

Much of the discussion about this amongst instructors and with Udemy representatives is at cross-purposes, because there are two quite disparate groups: one group participates in Udemy's kamikaze marketing (huge discounts) and affiliate network (where the instructor gets a very small piece of the pie). Udemy has always encouraged instructors to be part of this first group, and you must opt out if you don’t want to be part of it.

The other is a much smaller group of people who opted out of these "deals" and stuck to a pricing model more akin to books or even to business-priced training. 

The first group sells classes at an average of less than $15, the latter sells at prices close to the actual list price. The first group often doesn't understand when the second says that the $50 price ceiling is going to take money out of their pockets, because the first group is rarely able to get so much for a class no matter what the list price - list prices run to several hundred dollars. 

The former simply don't understand that it isn't necessary or inevitable to sell courses at $10-15. The former group has been participating in the "race to the bottom" pricing we've also seen in video games (as an example - it’s something else, like online courses, that can be offered for nothing because it costs nothing to make another copy).

It’s the same “get rich quick” mentality that has stained Udemy for the two and a half years I’ve been associated with it.

Udemy doesn’t entertain the thought of allowing the classes that were selling for more than $50, to retain their higher prices.  As usual, everyone must conform, all-or-nothing, “devil take the hindmost.”

Unfortunately, the people who *avoided* the kamikaze marketing and the inflated  claims that Udemy and many instructors institutionalized, the people who are already doing things "the right way",  are the ones being punished by this arbitrary upper price limit. As my own example, the10 buys in January and February for my $59 course have been at $55. To reduce that LIST price to $50, and still be able to offer coupons, I'd be losing $9-10 per sale using the new price scheme. Given the niche nature of that class, I don't see how it can be likely to get significantly more student volume.

Matt Trigg put it this way: “You're just trying to drive instructors who don't use Udemy promotions off the site then. Have you been taking business advice from Donald Trump?”

Cynics (perhaps) would ask this: Is the goal to stop extreme discounting; or is it to make it hard for instructors to offer significant discounts so that a larger proportion of $$ sales will be organic (full price), which is to say, more sales will make Udemy $$$$ (instructor-discounted sales make nothing for Udemy)? When legitimately "expensive" courses are forcibly reduced in price, the instructor clearly has less coupon leverage. That's the elephant in this room.

I’ll give Udemy credit, they have people talking individually to instructors who are unhappy with the changes. I talked with one for over half an hour. But there’s no prospect of change.

How will this work out? The instructors who can sell at higher prices are going elsewhere, or dividing their courses (I’m doing the latter). Udemy will look better for avoiding the astronomical pricing that was attached to some courses (I recall seeing $399). 50% is still a very large discount. I have no idea whether overall sales will improve.
"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest."Mark Twain
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle