The Pros & Cons of Using a Course Marketplace

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I turned my head for just a second and another course marketplace popped up. Every day new marketplaces are vying for attention, wanting to be chosen to deliver our courses.

It’s fantastic how the barriers of entry to putting knowledge out into the world are getting shorter. In this new world of online education, everyone can benefit from your unique experiences.

These course marketplaces make it easy to get started but there are so many of them it can be hard to decipher which one is right for you or even if you should be using one. Let’s break down the pros and cons of using a course marketplace so you can make an informed decision for your next course.

What’s a course marketplace?

Lets start by first defining the difference between a marketplace and a platform. Because a marketplace is a platform but a platform is not necessarily a marketplace. Confused? Right.

When I say a marketplace I’m talking about websites like Udemy and Skillshare, where your students can browse a wide range of courses. They’re offered in one large catalog and students pick and choose which courses they’d like to take. In these marketplaces your audience is signing up and paying the marketplace itself, rather than you directly.

Alternatively, course platforms like CoachThinkific and Teachable have no way to browse a list of all courses published there. Your courses are separate entities from any others on the platform and your audience interacts directly with you and your school.

Do the differences really matter?

If you’re viewing this from the shoes of a course creator, the difference may seem trivial. Both of them offer the ability to publish and distribute an online course. The process of uploading your content and materials isn’t very different and they both allow you to earn money for your knowledge and effort.

If you’re viewing this as a potential student there’s a difference in the initial experience since with a marketplace they interact with a large platform. This may offer a sense of security but can also be overwhelming when trying to decide which courses are the best quality for their money and attention.

With a course platform the student seemingly interacts directly with the course creator and their online school but it can be hard to find the courses initially since there is no overall repository where the courses can be discovered from.

As a course creator, the nuances and experiences are very different indeed and we’ll get down to the pros and cons in the next sections.

The Pros

Let’s break down the four main positive positive parts of using a course marketplace.

They’re easy to get into

There are few minimum requirements to get into an online marketplace. Their vetting process is rather simple, fees (if any) are low and the majority of teachers are approved with no issues.

They handle the administration details

When you work with a marketplace, they handle the majority of the minor admin items like billing, technical upgrades, security and the myriad other things which go into launching and hosting online courses.

Using them means you don’t have to worry about the technical side and each month you receive a convenient cheque or deposit for your course earnings.

They have a built in audience

People browsing a course marketplace are in the mood to learn – they just have to decide what course to enrol in. A marketplace has this advantage over a course platform because of their built in audience. If you feel your course topic reaches a broader market this could be an advantage for you.

They’re great for validating an idea

If you’re not quite sure your course idea is a good one – a marketplace is a great place to validate your idea with less work and investment up front. By using their platform and support you can get a simple course up and running quickly and be able to gauge interest in your topic.

The Cons

Now we’ve examined the benefits of using a marketplace to deliver your course, let’s look at the disadvantages they bring.

You don’t own your platform

With any hosted service there’s always a possibility terms will change, vetting processes get tighter or you unknowingly violate a term of service. In the event this happens they are free to take down your course or close your account with little to no notice. It’s happened to many before so be aware that if you don’t your own platform, you’ll have to play by their rules.

You don’t own your student list

Most of the marketplaces do not disclose the list of your students and the only way you can contact them is through the course marketplace platform. For many of them, contacting your students outside of their platform is a violation of their terms and services. While this may not be a problem for you, if you do ever want to move to another service you would essentially be starting from scratch.

Competition can be high

The nature of a marketplace is that if your potential students are browsing, your course has to compete with other courses in the same industry or topic. If your industry is popular or competitive then your course has to be very attractive to get the attention and enrolment it deserves.

You can’t control your price 100% of the time

Since you’re using their platform, they control your pricing. At times when a marketplace has a large sale they can undercut your posted price to something much, much lower. At the time of writing this article, Udemy is running a black friday promotion where all their courses are $10. If your course is normally priced at $149 or higher, this is a substantial pay cut for you.

So which do you choose?

It’s up to you whether using a marketplace is a good idea for your courses and situation.

You could enjoy the structure and stability a course marketplace provides or use them as a way to validate ideas for a larger, more involved course. Using them to get acquainted with the process of creating and launching a course is a fine way to get your toes wet and takes much of the pressure off of first time course publishers.

But if you’re serious about courses being a major part of your income it’s best to pass over the marketplaces and look seriously at other options like hosted platforms or self hosted learning management systems (LMS). These will offer you more control over your delivery experience and your student list, plus let you price with confidence.

In the next article of this series we’re going to examine the pros and cons of using a hosted course platform so you can see how they stack up – stay tuned!

What’s your favourite course marketplace? Do you have a preference for one over another or have you had any issues with one in the past? I’d love to hear about them and get your opinion on the subject.

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