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Why I Would Not Use Udemy for Teaching Courses

Read Time: 12 mins

More and more course creators are joining Udemy, Skillshare, and even Gumroad these days. I can’t blame them; they offer lovely interfaces and make creating and selling courses a total breeze!

Why then, would I personally not recommend creating and selling your online courses on a place like Udemy? Why would I recommend against doing something that on the surface seems like such a complete no-brainer given that platforms like Udemy have thousands of happy course creators on the platform and probably sell millions of dollars worth of courses?

First of all, what does it matter what I think? Who am I anyway?

A quick introduction:

Hi! I’m Kevin and I’m a course creator of over 10 years. My business partner, Alyssa, and I have been creating profitable online courses that we charge anywhere from $100 to $3000 for. We’ve done all of our own marketing and never hosted any of our courses on any large course marketplaces, like the ones discussed in this article.

Udemy is a Multisided Platform

Udemy and Skillshare can be considered Multi-sided Platforms (MSP) for online courses. They connect buyers (potential students) with sellers (course creators). They are a great business model as they usually take a percentage of each course sale and thus the more of your courses they can sell, the more profit they make.

Multi-sided platform marketplaces can be great for new instructors and business owners in that they already have lots of student/learner traffic coming to their site, which they can easily direct to a course you’re selling. Similar to a business franchise model, like McDonalds, they’ve done much of the marketing work for you, they’ve spent big money on advertising already to get people to come to their website, so theoretically, all you need to do is make your course and start selling!

But is it really that simple?

Seller Beware! (of Multi-sided Platforms)

As I say, MSPs like Udemy can be a great start for new course creators in that they allow you to focus on your product (your course) and not have to worry so much about how you’ll sell your course because by listing your course on Udemy, you get instant potential customers. However, there are some major drawbacks to consider.

Udemy is a Multisided Platform

According to this article from the Harvard Business Review:

. . . platforms sometimes exploit sellers’ dependency in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They raise fees. They change their recommendation algorithms to put more emphasis on price. They require sellers to advertise if they want to maintain visibility in search results. They compete with sellers by imitating their products. They restrict the prices sellers can set elsewhere. And they change their rules and designs in ways that weaken sellers’ relationships with customers.

Don’t Let Platforms Commoditize Your Business, by Andrei Hagiu and Julian Wright

It’s important to consider the long-term implications of hosting your online course on an MSP like Udemy or other educational marketplaces, for the reasons listed in the quote above. As a course creator of over 8 years, I’ve had my experiences with marketplaces such as this and have experienced first-hand some of the downsides for course creators trying to build a sustainable course business on such a platform/marketplace, including:

Problem: Your course sales are completely transparent to the public

Why it matters:

  • You risk inviting fresh competition with your course sales being transparent for anyone to see
  • If your course serves a small niche, especially a niche that’s not on the radar of most other instructors, listing your course on an MSP can inspire new competitors

Problem: The course marketplace takes a cut of all your course sales

Why it matters: A significant chunk of your earnings are taken by the MSP, even when you are the one driving traffic to your course (though less than if they bring your course the traffic)

Problem: Your course is at the mercy of their opaque algorithms for how your course is listed in search results on their platform

Why it matters: They can, on a whim, choose to highlight your competitor’s course over yours (I’ve had this happen to me by the way! It was a shock to one day see my course had gone from page 1 to page 3!)

Problem: Potential customers typically evaluate courses based on price and # of positive reviews

Why it matters: While cut-throat competition between course creators is great for customers and for the MSP platform, it can be exhausting for course creators. As a creator, you’re incentivized to lower your course price to keep up with your competition and to spend most of your time trying to increase the number of your reviews (vs. the quality of them) in the hope of either surpassing your competitors or keeping them from biting at the heels of your success. All in all, online course marketplace platforms have a tendency to turn your beautifully crafted course (which you’ve worked so hard on) into commodities instead of unique learning experiences.

Problem: Your learners/customers aren’t really your customers, they are the platform your course is listed and sold on

Why it matters: Highly successful course creators know the power of a large email list. There’s a saying that if you have an email list of 10K or higher, you’ll always be able to financially sustain yourself. Owning your own learner/customer email list allows you to develop a personal relationship with your list through weekly email updates, gives you the option to leverage that list to sell higher-priced courses to your best customers, and to survey your list about which courses they want you to make. All in all, it’s critical for a successful course entrepreneur. But by hosting your courses on a multisided marketplace platform, you give up the right to communicate and market directly to your learners.

There’s a Better Way: Host Your Own Course

Andrei Hagiu and Julian Wright of the Harvard Business Review go on to suggest:

Even if it is impossible to avoid operating on key platforms, sellers should limit their dependence by investing in their own channels to reach and serve customers directly.

Don’t Let Platforms Commoditize Your Business

I get it though. Platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, and Gumroad are great places for budding course creators to start. They provide not only an easy way to host an online course but promise the potential for instant customers. Who wouldn’t want the confidence of knowing that your newly minted course can be monetized from the get-go?

This is why I recommend that course creators who want to take advantage of the captive audience of learners that MSPs can provide do so with care and a strategic long-term outlook on their business. Instead of creating your magnum opus, your masterpiece course, why not create a mini-course to get your feet wet as a course creator, learn about the process, and test the course out with customers to see if your teaching philosophy resonates with them?

While there’s nothing wrong with using a multi-sided course marketplace platform like Udemy or Skillshare for market research (after all, they’re great places to find out what course topics are hot), I caution course creators in putting all their best material into a course that they’ll feel pressured to sell for $20 when they know the course is really worth $200 or more.

It’s Time to Start Building Your Online Course

Now, as you navigate the intricate landscape of online course creation and distribution, consider a platform that aligns with your long-term goals and vision. This is where Owwlish comes into play – a brilliantly easy online course platform designed for creators of all types. Owwlish provides a refreshing alternative to the constraints and limitations of multi-sided platforms. With its user-friendly interface, Owwlish empowers you to build, customize, and manage your own online course website, free from the potential pitfalls of external marketplace dynamics.

By choosing Owwlish, you retain full control over your course offerings, pricing, branding, and customer relationships. You’re no longer at the mercy of opaque algorithms or competing solely on price and reviews. Instead, you’re free to focus on delivering high-quality content that resonates with your audience and drives real value. Owwlish offers the flexibility to nurture your community, establish a direct line of communication with your learners, and build a brand that’s uniquely yours.

While multi-sided platforms might offer a quick start, Owwlish encourages you to take the reins of your course creation journey. It empowers you to shape your courses, engage your audience, and cultivate lasting connections that extend beyond a transaction. So, if you’re ready to transcend the limitations of traditional course marketplaces and embark on a path of autonomy, growth, and innovation, I encourage you to explore Owwlish – where your courses can truly flourish. Remember, your creations deserve a platform as unique and exceptional as they are.

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Kevin has spent the better part of the last decade creating online courses that help people improve their careers and livelihoods. He had the idea to start Owwlish after failing to find an online course software that offered what he was looking for to create his next online course.

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