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Udemy Is Far from Perfect but It Is Getting Better


Udemy recently made a few changes to their platform when it comes to pricing, here's my opinion on those changes.

Quick Jump: New Pricing Strategy | I Spoke to a Udemy Human on the Phone | Problems That Still Persist With Udemy | Where Do I Stand Now?

You may have read my previous article on why I was disappointed with Udemy’s platform as an instructor a few months ago.

Since then a few things are scheduled to be changed on Udemy’s platform in early April 2016 and I’d like to talk about a few of those changes and how it relates to my current opinion of their platform.

New Pricing Strategy

Udemy previously let you pick whatever price you wanted for your course as long as it was at least $9 and no more than $300.

This created a huge gap in prices, and it’s partly why I initially chose $149 as my first course’s price. I saw people with tens of thousands of students who were charging $299 for their course.

I also saw a bunch of courses in my course’s niche that were priced in a similar range as mine. I naively thought I would be selling thousands of copies at that price point.

That didn’t really work as planned, but it’s ok.

Courses Now Have a Much Lower Price Cap

Starting in April 2016 instructors will be forced to price their courses between $20 and $50, in $5 increments. So that means you will no longer see courses for $49, or any number that doesn’t end with a 0 or 5.

I’ve been selling my Docker for DevOps course for $49 for the last few months now so overall I’m not too negatively impacted by this. I could choose to pick $50 or experiment with even lower prices.

Udemy is now providing metrics to help ease into picking a new price. They are showing you what your average sale price is for a course. This will account for all discounts that either you or Udemy ran which resulted in a sale.

Fixed Price Discounts Will No Longer Exist

One of my biggest issues with Udemy was how they ran $10-15 fixed price promotions pretty much constantly. This really killed any chances of generating organic or self-promoted sales at your listed price.

It seems like Udemy is listening because now they are ditching the entire idea of fixed price promotions.

In fact, I couldn’t help but grin a little when I read this from Udemy’s blog post that goes over the updates:

We’ve heard directly from you, our instructor community, that fixed price deals train students to wait for the lowest price and lead to an erosion of your average selling price.

We heard from our instructors that deep discounts were unsustainable and trained students to purchase only at the lowest price.

The above quote almost felt like they were talking directly to me because in my previous blog post about Udemy, which managed to cause a slight ruckus by trending on HN for a few hours, it used the same terminology:

Udemy students are trained to only ever buy courses for $10.

My post’s premise was basically all about how students are trained by their platform to only buy courses for the lowest possible fixed price discount, so I’m really happy they listened and made this change.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only instructor who ever had this problem.

Percent Based Promotions Are Here to Stay

Instead, Udemy is going to run percent based promotions which will max out at 50%. They didn’t mention a low end, but chances are it will be in the 10-20% range for their own promotions to students.

Why Can’t We Have Percent Based Coupons as Instructors?

I still don’t understand why they are forcing instructors to continue using fixed price coupons.

Their coupon UI is still really bad. It will take hours to update all of the old coupons due to this and the same problem will exist in the future if course owners want to change prices.

I Spoke to a Udemy Human on the Phone

Since the above changes are pretty drastic, Udemy has paired up instructors like you and me to Udemy employees who help manage instructors.

I found this to be pretty funny because if you open a support ticket, you’ll always be informed that Udemy doesn’t have a phone number to reach a human but now suddenly they can support calls from tens of thousands of instructors.

Anyways, the phone call was really positive. We scheduled a 30 minute call and it ran on for 45 minutes because I asked a billion questions.

A Couple of Main Points From the Conversation

I just wanted to share with you some of the biggest concerns I had. Keep in mind that none of these answers are super official.

It was just a casual conversation between myself and a Udemy employee whose job was to answer any questions I had about their platform.

Everything here is paraphrased based on questions I asked and answered received.

Will the Lack of Fixed Promotions Slow Down Sales?

I noticed most of my sales came from fixed price discounts, so I was concerned that with them being removed then perhaps my course would stop selling so well.

I was informed that Udemy will continue to send out percent based promos, but they won’t be issued as aggressively as fixed based promotions.

The idea of this price change is to phase out the whole “training students to only buy discounted courses”.

Should I Sell My Course at Its Average Sale Price?

In case you didn’t know, Udemy takes 50% of your sale so any drop in price is a pretty large hit since you lose so much right off the bat.

On paper it would make sense to price your course around its average sale price but there is a bias here because prices were constantly and drastically lowered by the fixed price promotions.

What will likely happen for me is I’ll sell the course for a bit less than its current price but I haven’t decided on an exact amount yet.

Problems That Still Persist With Udemy

Yep, there’s still problems!

The New Review System Is Toxic

I’ve lost all form of valuable feedback from students due to this.

The new review system prompts students at various points in the course but it completely disrupts the learning experience since it’s a pop-up that interrupts learning.

Students are just quickly clicking stars without thinking to remove the annoying review prompt. This is natural because we’re training to ignore pop-ups on the internet. They are the worst thing ever for a positive user experience.

My Average Course Rating Has Dropped From 4.9 to 4.5 in Just a Few Weeks

The worst thing is that students are leaving these reviews with absolutely no feedback at all, and students aren’t replying to my requests for additional feedback on their reviews.

So now as an instructor I’m getting all of these numeric reviews where students are rating the course a 3 but give no feedback.

I’m left wondering what caused such a poor review and have 0 clue on how to fix it because prior to this new review system students almost always left informative reviews when they finished the course.

There used to be an aggregated anonymous feedback dashboard which actually gave good feedback, but that’s been completely removed since I guess it would be prompting students too often for information.

Well Off Courses Have a Stupidly Big Advantage Now

Any course that’s been on their platform for a long time and has hundreds or thousands of reviews now have an unbeatable advantage for ratings.

It’s no mystery that all courses are going to go down in ratings from this change but if you have thousands of 4.8+ reviews, then it will take a much larger amount of slightly worse reviews to take down your average.

This is a huge issue IMO, and sure it will eventually fix itself over a few years but having years of an unbeatable advantage is pretty broken.

Additional Issues

A lot of my previous blog post was unaddressed such as Udemy branding your videos with watermarks without your content and heaps of other things, but that’s a story for perhaps the next Udemy related blog post.

Where Do I Stand Now?

Overall the pricing update is a very good start and so far I have no complaints with it other than maybe $50 is questionable for a top end price.

That basically means niche courses have no chance of working on Udemy because you can’t even pick a higher price and then just self promote your own course.

It’s pretty obvious they did this to circumvent instructors using their platform in this way, and to also bring down course prices to maximize their revenue by capitalizing on more courses being sold for cheaper prices with the lowest odds of a refund.

I’ll continue to use Udemy for current and future courses but I’m certainly branching out to using other platforms as well. Especially platforms that give me control over how I can interact with students and more attractive revenue splitting percents.

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