An Open Letter To Udemy

Dear Udemy,

You probably don’t know me that well. With only 5000 students and 6 courses, I’m only a small fish in a big pond compared to some of the other instructors out there. However, despite how much you claim to value every instructor on your platform, we have had no say in the interesting string of changes you’ve chosen to force upon us this past year.

I have been able to grit my teeth and adapt when changes started occuring, understanding this was your platform and that our interests were aligned. Unfortunately however, the recent string of changes has led me to believe that Udemy’s new motto is “if it’s not broken, then break it!”

The truth is, you’ve been implementing features that nobody has asked for, and ignoring areas instructors actually care about. A perfect example of this is your new review system, which prompts users to leave reviews after as little as 5 minutes of watching. You claim students will have their minds made up within 10 minutes, but this does not mean it is appropriate to ask for a review of the entire course so early on.

This decision has led to not only annoyance by students who don’t understand why they’re expected to have an opinion of the entire course after the first two videos, but by instructors who are now receiving low quality reviews – either because the student hasn’t been able to actually get into the course yet, or they simply want to stop being prompted.

This decision did not go over well in your Udemy Studio Facebook group, and to this day I have not seen a single instructor support this decision. Let’s all agree that more reviews are a good thing, but this was a terrible way to go about getting them.

Other terrible decisions included banning courses on topics you do not agree with, removing the ability to have PDF lectures, and making it harder for instructors to send students to their own websites.

Pricing RegulationsEmblem-unblock-denied.svg

Here’s the thing that’s causing me to unpublish 5 of my 6 courses from your platform at the end of the month.

The free market has proven to be the most efficient way of doing business in the history of the world. If products aren’t selling, instructors will either build value in their products, or they will lower their prices to better match the value the course provides. This self-correcting aspect works for both parties and generally leads to both satisfaction for students and instructors.

However, you’ve decided you wanted to kill that, and force instructors to price their courses between $20 and $50.

I am not mad at you, because I understand that this is your platform. However, I think that this was an incredibly stupid decision and the wrong way to go about fixing your pricing inconsistencies.

Let’s be real here – you’ve done this to yourselves. Your staff members have admitted this over and over again in Udemy Studio. Your goal is to have more consistent pricing, but the only reason this is an issue is because you’ve been handing out coupons left and right for years, and now students do not buy until they have one. You have trained students on your platform to behave this way, preventing organic sales from happening when the student actually wants to buy the course, and coaxing them to wait for a coupon instead.

This was evident by the numerous instructors begging in the studio for new coupons to be released so they could ‘make sales again.’

Was it weird to see a $300 course discounted to $10 with a coupon? Yes. But forcing pricing restrictions on instructors was not the way to go about fixing this.

This Doesn’t Work For Many Instructors

You claim that 90% of sales on your platform are under $50. Given the model you’ve chosen to use over the past few years, this makes sense. However, that still means that 10% of sales are over the $50 maximum pricepoint you’ve now set.

Where do you think these higher priced sales are coming from?

I don’t have the data, but I’m willing to bet they’re coming from people like me – marketers that actually have a following and know how to sell the value of our courses. Marketers that do not need to lower price because we know how to actually demonstrate the value of our courses.

Bloggers, marketers, entrepreneurs with a following that they’ve spent months or even years developing credibility with, a following that is willing to pay far above what another instructor may be offering for their course, because they know, like, and trust us so much.

You have forced this segment of your instructor base off your platform, because $50 for our work is ridiculous. I love the volume of new students you send to our courses, but I have made more selling through my website at the higher price points than I have on your platform.

I will miss it dearly, and I fear for those instructors who have become dependent on it. Because clearly, things can and will change overnight that will impact people’s businesses.

In the mean time, I will continue selling my courses for $97 and will focus on recruiting affiliates to match the volume and traffic Udemy previously provided me. Who knows, maybe this is a blessing in disguise?

Giving Up Control

Bloggers – every time you become dependent on another platform for one aspect of your business, you are giving up a lot of your own power. This is clearly a very dangerous road to walk.

This is why I have always been so against relying on Google to send you traffic, or depending on a platform like Adsense to make you money. These are not your platforms. You can not control them. In one night, the company could completely change things, or even ban you from the platform completely.

If you’re dependent, you’re in real trouble.

Would I still recommend Udemy as a place to publish your courses? If you want to price under $50, sure. If you don’t mind not having access to your student’s data, sure. But if you want control, you’re far better publishing on your own website, or at least using a platform like Thinkific or Teachable.

I highly recommend reading the article I published just days before Udemy’s pricing changes called “Udemy vs. Self Hosting – What’s Best For Your Online Course?” Despite Udemy’s new pricing regulations, most of the info there is still relevant and applicable.

Finally, you’ll want to be sure to hop onto my email list. I don’t do sales often, but I will be having a launch sale when I finish moving all of my courses over to my site. So if there was ever a time to pick them up, it’d be then.

Conclusion

Whether you’ve been publishing courses for years or you’ve never even considered the idea, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Was it right for Udemy to force pricing restrictions on instructors?

Will this help or hurt Udemy in the long run?

And finally, did it even make sense to publish there in the first place?

Instructors are having mixed feelings regarding these changes and some are actually quite positive, so I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

–  James McAllister

 

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About James McAllister

James is the owner of Help Start My Site. He started his first blog at the age of 11, and has since gone on to start several successful businesses. Here on HelpStartMySite.com, he shares his knowledge that brought him to where he is today. If you want to connect with James, like him on Facebook .

Comments

  1. Hi James,

    Thanks for this letter to Udemy on our behalf. It says it all and so succinctly.

    Last year I decided to create a course to sell on Udemy to both reach a widest potential audience – Udemy’s student base and to build my email list. Then Udemy stopped instructors from being able to send students to a sign-up page once they’d enrolled. I decided that the huge potential client base made this into not as big an issue as I first felt it to be. So, I pressed on with creating my course.

    But my biggest beef is the inconsistency in approving videos used inside courses. Depending on who you get on the day reviewing before approving courses, etc. you can get turned down, or accepted, on what seems flimsy reasons. Poor audio is one common reason for not getting approved. But this seems to depend on who’s reviewing and on what equipment they’re reviewing a particular video.

    I’ve heard of videos with poor lighting, where the instructor seemed to be hiding in the shadows, get approved. And of a perfectly lit and viewable video where the instructor was audibly clear and well lit, not get approved. There seems no obvious reason for this.

    My other concern is that they seem to let some courses in that are not high in quality, while not accepting others that are. The only reason I can see for this is that the not so high quality courses have high student numbers. Of course, these maybe the result of the instructor using the option to offer their course for free to a length of time to attract students, I’m not sure.

    The hard work I put into my course (which I haven’t yet completed due to reviewing my own potential success) seemed to have been in vain. My only reason for still considering Udemy as a viable platform is there vast student base.

    Whatever the case, this is a great post with a topic I’m sure has a wide audience.

    Cheers James.

    – Tom

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    • Hey Tom! Great to see you again.

      Those changes were very frustrating to me as well. We have to accept that they are not really ‘our’ students, they’re Udemy’s students and knowing Udemy I am willing to bet they will get even stricter in this regard heading into the future.

      The review process has been fairly smooth for me, but I’m not doing any actual filming. I know their requirements there are a lot stricter and have only gotten moreso since I originally started publishing on their platform.

      You are exactly right regarding quality as well and it’s confusing. There was one guy on there that literally has 200 copies of the exact same course with different titles and descriptions. Obvious fake reviews. I contacted Udemy and heard nothing back.. meanwhile this guy and his fake reviews are sitting in the top spots in various categories. Ridiculous.

      I really do think they are working to improve their faults, but I’m not sure they’re going about it the right away.

      If there is anything I can help you with, or any questions you have that I can answer that will help you make your decision, please do let me know!

      Thanks Tom!

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  2. Wow. You tell it like is James!

    Although this change is causing disruptions to people like yourself, in the long run – as you say – it will probably be the best thing. You’ll be setting up your affiliate program so you can finally control the game (actually, you will OWN the game)

    I remember when Google shut my adwords account 5-6 years ago. At the time it was a disaster – most of my traffic and leads were coming from them. So I was in a bad situation whereby I was dependent on one company for most of my income. Not good. But I regrouped, found new paid traffic sources and put more energy into organic methods.

    A couple of years later I started having my best years.

    All good

    Thanks for airing this, James

    Kim

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    • Hey Kim!

      I really am hoping this is a blessing in disguise. I will miss the revenue Udemy brings me for a while but I’m sure I’ll make up for and surpass it relatively quickly. You were telling me to get my courses on my own site months ago and well, you were absolutely right.

      Sounds like you know very well what it’s like. I hate being dependent on anybody or anything, I like having control. It’s the safest route to go, and our experiences have gone to show that diversifaction is important for this reason.

      Here’s hoping for a bright future! Thanks Kim!

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  3. Hi James,
    Sorry you’re having to go through this disruption because I know just how much hard work you’ve put into your Udemy courses.

    I toyed with the idea of using the platform but was put off (a) because I’m not a “video” person but more importantly (b) because – as a course purchaser – I very quickly learned to wait for the heavy discounts. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? So I didn’t want people just waiting for discounts to buy my course.

    In the end I’ve gone a completely different route from developing my own course and thank goodness I did, because I would have been furious to be messed about like you have been.

    It makes no sense to me to place an upper price ceiling when you have courses selling on Udemy at higher prices.

    It’s good that you’re raising awareness of this issue.

    Good luck with the “move” – I know this will only be a temporary setback for you, and you’ll soon have your courses set up where you can have better control.

    Joy – Blogging After Dark

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    • Hi Joy!

      It’s certainly been interesting but ultimately I’m sure this will end up being for the better anyway. I like having control. I hate relying on other companies for anything, and this move was inevitable. I will certainly miss out on the revenue stream for a while but I’m sure it will be built back up pretty quickly.

      I already have everything moved over and the new system is great. I’ll actually be recommending this to instructors with an audience heading into the future because it’s great for me as the course creator and the students who I’ve surveyed so far like it as well. Not 100% done, a few minor things to add still, but close enough to know this setup is a winner.

      But hey, I still think you should make a course. I know product creation isn’t totally your thing but it’s hard for me not to push the idea since they’ve been so lucrative for me. Of course, if what you’re doing now is working and you’re happy with it, that’s all that matters right?

      Always nice to talk with you Joy!

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  4. I can feel your frustration through your writing James, I have no courses on Udemy but I have purchased many of them.

    I will say as a student and customer, Udemy’s marketing has gotten so aggressive that every email makes me want to unsubscribe.

    Those nagging rating requests before we even get started. Stupid.

    Honestly, I didn’t realize so many changes were happening over there but it explains a lot.

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    • Hey Brian!

      The changes have been frustrating for instructors and students alike it seems. Many instructors in the Facebook group have been complaining that people are leaving poor reviews simply because they are annoyed with the rating requests. Udemy does nothing to remove these reviews either, so all we can do is hope students change it later.

      I know they have a lot of data to work with but sometimes the numbers do not tell the whole story. I’m leaving one of my courses on there so I suppose I’ll continue rolling with the punches, but man, I really don’t think their old system was broken in the first place.

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  5. Michael Selim says:

    Thank you for your message. I totally agree with you. Recent changes are horrible for instructors, and students, but they don’t care. They have 8M+ list of buyers. They can keep making millions out of those so they have nothing to worry about. And they know that new instructors will keep coming. Udemy is obviously working for the benefit and profit of one side only. Themselves. even if what they’re doing will cause disasters for current instructors. The ones responsible for their entire business. This is huge red flag. And looks like it’s a stable – long term – policy at Udemy. Basically I can see that I can’t and shouldn’t trust this company.

    Until their last price changes, I was thinking seriously about selling my courses with them. But now it would be waste of time and energy. Better publish my courses on different platforms. Someone I can trust that they will be working with me, not against me.

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