Analysis of the Online Courses Economy of 2019

Recently, I came across an article on TechCrunch of Knowable, an audio course creator launching $100 for 8 hour audio courses. It was not the concept of an audio course but rather than the rate, $100 is quite steep for an audio course to help you sleep better. But do online courses or specialist podcasts or newsletters sell ? Teachingguide estimates an earning of $4.7M of Jose Portilla for her super-famous course ‘Complete Python Bootcamp’, while the top writer on paid newsletter platform Substack earns $500K a year from reader subscriptions. Masterclass charges $1300 annually for access to courses taught by Penn & Taylor, Natalie Portman, Gordon Ramsey, Hans Zimmer, well-known names in their particular field. Byjus (a $3.6B startup in India) is another big player in India offering courses for children but is mobile first and catering to students heavily.

Everyone must have heard about Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, EdX or dozen other MOOCs as they were something of a range back in 2015, which was declared as an year of MOOC. During its peak, LinkedIn (now part of Microsoft) acquired Lynda to offer renaming it as LinkedIn Learning offering their own courses. Now MOOCs are making a comeback after experimenting with multiple business models to find the right fit – Nano-degrees, university tie-ups, creator courses, job-seeking, certifications, audit fees, all-access monthly fees. Is it working ?

CompanyFY18 Revenue*
Udemy $140M
Khan Academy$44M
Estimate obtained from various sources

$330M by the 3 top players in video course creation fee is quite significant. But MOOCs are not the only way creators have to design and sell online courses, hundreds of smaller players have caught up which offer creators more flexibility in terms of designing the course as well as selling it on their own domain. Teachable, Teachery, Skillshare, Podia, Ruzuku, WizIQ and Thinkific are the niche players which do not target learners but target creators offering them more flexibility, more control, custom domains, custom videos, integrations and more. The business model for them involves charging a fixed monthly fee to creators allowing creators more freedom to set pricing, course structure, certification, quizzes, affiliate management etc.

CompanyAnnual Revenue*
CompanyMonthly charges
WizIQ $                                 25.00
Teachable $                                 29.00 + 5% transaction fees
Podia $                                 39.00
Teachery $                                 49.00
Thinkific $                                 49.00
Ruzuku $                                 75.00
Learnworlds $                                 80.00
Kajabi  $                              150.00
Academy of Mine  $                              500.00

Obviously, in all the companies listed above, I have not mentioned the 800 pound gorilla which commands the lion’s share in e-learning. YouTube. But it has discontinued support for paid subscriptions on it’s channels leaving a huge gap in the market which all the MOOCs and above companies are trying to fill. $50/month (INR 3500/month) is a decent price for the features and the exposure for any experienced out there creator. Depending upon how many learners you are expecting to sign up with amount you are charging, you can either go with Udemy or any of the dozen platforms I have listed.

Patreon is another player which deserves a special mention due to its considerable size and influence. Patreon caters to podcasts, writers, artists, coders, which lets anyone create membership programs as a way of supporting the artists. It’s very customizable targeted towards the creator to create a membership plan who will pay a monthly fee to support the artist and get access to special shows. Who is the highest earner in Patreon ? Chapo Trap House, a political comedy podcast has close to 21,400 patrons paying close to $1.1M annually. CreatorHype has listed the top earners on patreon with the different activities being undertaken.

Self Hosted Solutions: There are various other ways in which creators can deploy their own learning management systems. For example – LearnDash is a plugin based on the popular CMS WordPress which costs only $160 and lets creators deploy LMS on their own website. Open EdX is another option for universities to deploy their own LMS. There are various other open source learning management systems for creators who want more customizations.

Niche Courses: There are even niche offerings like which offers screencasts by web developers to web developers generating revenues close to $3.3M. They have built a complete custom platform to cater to their needs. Treehouse, Pluralsight, Codecademy are all companies with a very niche audience and market but have been very successful so far.

Audio Courses: Knowable is the only platform which I could find spearheading audio-only courses. Its currently invite only and could not find any data on revenue sharing between creators and the platform. But $100 is the average price to register for a course on Knowable. They have an impressive list of courses by recognized leaders in their space

Personalized Online Classes: Juni Learning, Outschool, Classgap, Walden, Codementor and a dozen others offer 1:1 mentorship and private virtual classes. It goes by many names – virtual tutor, personal coach, small group video classes but the premise remains the same. Walden is pretty interesting as it promises 24×7 chat with an expert for anything.

Passion Economy or the Creator Creator Economy as I like to call it has been seen increasing investor funding and interest. It is one of the driving forces behind freelancing and monetizing your unique skills in multiple ways. One of the best ways to capitalize your creativity is through creating courses but as with most online businesses, the top 5% will make celebrity money, rest 20% will make decent while the rest 75% will only have scraps.

Unacademy is the Indian challenger in the race with an educator app for creating courses but it heavily caters to Entrance Exams. There are a dozen smaller startups in India catering to smaller niche segments. But a massive opportunity still exists in India as very few platforms exists uniquely catering here.

The Creator Creator Ecosystem for different types. Sourced from a16z

Interesting time to be creator with so many companies trying to get their attention 🙂


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