The Udemy Promotion Debate

Udemy’s Black Friday Sale recently took place.  All courses on the platform were listed for $9.99 and if you purchased a course you received a free credit to purchase another one on Cyber Monday. A great deal for consumers.

But what about instructors? Is Udemy’s Black Friday sale a great deal for them?  Udemy’s seemingly endless promotions have been the subject of controversy, with many users and industry followers claiming that Udemy’s “real” online course prices are never really achieved. Rather with its very frequent promotions, Udemy has trained consumers to wait for its next promotion to buy courses.

On the other hand, enrollments are a key factor in building and promoting an online course business.  Promotional campaigns like Udemy’s Black Friday sale are of course aimed at increasing organic course enrollments and obtaining more traffic and users of the platform. Investing to obtain enrollments, such as discounting your courses, makes sense.   Thus one could argue that promotions such as Black Friday can be viewed as the cost of building your business.

So which is it? Is Udemy’s Black Friday sale good or bad for instructors, and why or why not?

An Analysis of Udemy Black Friday Data

We at Teachinguide have been wondering about this, especially in view of probable further seasonal promotions to come on Udemy – a New Years or January sale event, or even a Christmas or Boxer Day event is highly likely.

So we examined the course enrollment data in our Teachinguide database to determine how various courses and course categories fared after Udemy’s Black Friday sale.  We calculated the average weekly enrollment for thousands of courses for the five weeks before Black Friday week. Then we compared that average to the number of enrollments during Udemy’s Black Friday week.

In this article, we’ll reveal some insights derived from our analysis of Udemy’s Black Friday week course enrollment data. We hope they’ll provide an idea of you can expect from Black Friday or a similar sale for your courses.

Below is a summary of what happened to the number of weekly course enrollments for major Udemy course categories during Black Friday week. The numbers highlighted in red are the highest and lowest figures.

Udemy Black Friday Sale Results

Course Category Average Weekly Enrollments % increase Black Friday Week Lowest and Highest Decrease/Increase and Subcategory
All courses on Udemy 33.18% -28%   Dieting

+562.63% Interior Design

Development 15.46% -4.19% Software testing

+35.55% Development tools

Business 49.22% +20.10% Entrepreneurship

+119.32% Business Law

IT and Software 7.22% -5.74% Operating Systems

+498.98% IT Certification

Design 57.91% -10.77% Design Thinking

+562.63% Interior Design

Personal Development 65.60% +3.56% Leadership

+148.22% Memory and Study Skills

Marketing 20.42% -13.09% Branding

331.28% Public Relations

Music 112.65% +56.5% Other

+147%  Instruments

Office Productivity 44.56% +14.83%  Other/Not specified

+152.26% Apple

Languages 87.03% -15.28% Arabic

+376.36% Japanese

Health and Fitness 55.58% -28.33% Dieting

+228.32% Other/Not specified

Teacher Training 1.28% -11.38% Educational Development

+89.16% Instructional Design

Photography 29.63% -23.63% Photography Tools

+187.76% Commercial Photography

Lifestyle 138.91% +6.15% Travel

+292.09% Pet Care & Training

Academics 105.06% +63.51% Social Science

+140.23% Humanities

Test Prep 76.16% +46.23% Grad Entry Exam

+119.21% College Entry Exam

Other 23.86% No subcategories

 

What does this data tell us about Black Friday’s impact on course enrollments and instructors’ revenue?

1. Enrollments increase significantly

As you might intuitively expect, sales in every category increased – on average about 33%.  Moreover, just 16 out of the 136 subcategories that Teachinguide examined experienced a decrease in sales during Black Friday week when compared to the 5 previous weeks’ average.   On the other hand, 79 out of the 136 subcategories increased enrollments by over 50% in just one week. Most of the remaining subcategories hovered around the average of a 33% enrollment increase.  Not bad at all.

Let’s look at some of the extreme cases. There are many influences on class enrollments. Unsurprisingly, “Dieting” showed the largest decrease over Black Friday with an enrollment decrease of 28.33%.   This decrease comes as no surprise frankly.  In the USA, where most Udemy enrollments occur, Black Friday occurs the day after Thanksgiving, the national holiday that centers around eating a large meal that kicks off an entire month-long season of holiday eating and parties.  We would thus expect this category to see a dramatic increase in sales after New Year’s when Thanksgiving and the holiday season is over.

On the other hand, the largest categorical increase in enrollments is by an order of magnitude –  562% for the Interior Design category.  We dug a little deeper into the subcategories for Interior Design to see what was driving this growth in enrollments.

In the subcategory Color Theory, since just one course exists in this category, that course grabbed a lion’s share of Udemy traffic growth going from an average of 123 enrollments a week to 608 enrollments on Black Friday week.  Revit, another subcategory with just 1 course offered, skyrocketed from 377 enrollments per week to 1,083 enrollments during Black Friday week.  Finally, CAD and 3D rendering classes also did very well. Being such a specialized field, these course enrollments had just a handful of weekly enrollments before Black Friday.

Capturing just a few more eyeballs on Black Friday thus had a huge impact on enrollment growth for these courses. For example, Sketchbook went from an average of 12 enrollments per week to 61 during Black Friday Week, an increase of 408.3%.

The moral of the story?  If your course is a very niche topic, or has little competition, Black Friday is probably going to significantly impact your base of enrollments!   So, the weeks running up to Black Friday may be JUST the right time to launch a new course if you are thinking of creating a very niche course.

2. Black Friday is great for “Hobby” related courses

The largest average growth in enrollments was for the “Lifestyle” category, with the topics Pet Care and Training boasting a 292% increase in enrollments, and Arts and Crafts 193% increase.  In the “Food and Beverage” subcategory, there were numerous niche courses such as Thai cooking that went from no or very few enrollments to over a dozen or more. One Moroccan Cooking course went from 4 enrollments to 393, a 9725% increase!

It makes sense that while many people would love to take a course on their preferred interest or hobby. But because these courses are not likely to “pay off” in terms of future career or job earnings they may not want to pay top dollar for a photography course. Many people would rather choose to wait and take advantage of a huge Black Friday sale to go ahead and enroll in some “hobby” courses.   Thus, if you are creating courses in this category, you definitely want to take advantage of Black Friday and similar large profile sales periods.

3. Free courses also benefit

For the record, free courses benefit from Black Friday traffic too.  A course called “4 easy and quick meals: with no meat” that was listed for free in July 2018 and has no ratings or reviews  doubled enrollment Black Friday week.  For that instructor the increased chances of getting his first reviews and ratings is quite beneficial.  Many other free courses showed significant enrollment increases over Black Friday week, thereby benefitting from the sheer increase in traffic to the site for Black Friday.

4. Neglected or poorly rated courses may not see increased enrollments

In the example of IT Certification, a category which skyrocketed nearly 500%, let’s look at a course example that in the 5 weeks prior had no sales, and did not garner any new sales during Black Friday week either.  It’s called C Programming, golden step to become software developer.   The course has over 1600 enrollments and a 4.2 rating. So why didn’t it earn even 1 additional enrollment on Black Friday?

We are unsure because this category is quite popular.  However, the last time the course was updated was over a year ago. The last student review given was 7 months ago.  The moral of the story is that if you are not following the basic Udemy advice to keep your course updated, your students engaged and giving reviews, and to keep promoting and updating the landing page and course description, your course will not do well. Not even on Black Friday.

5. It is unclear what impact Black Friday will have on instructor income

Enrollments are one thing, but what about actual income earned from all these new enrollments?  Let’s not forget that Udemy takes 50% of all organic course purchases made directly on the site through their promotions. Are instructors better off, neutral, or the same, earnings-wise after Black Friday at a course price of just $10?

Here are three different outcomes of instructor earnings after Black Friday versus before. For the sake of comparison, we assume that all purchases are made through the Udemy website without promotion on the part of the instructor (when they get 97% of course fees), so we assume in the examples below the instructor shares 50% of the course sale revenue with Udemy.

Case 1: Earn more income after Black Friday

Let’s take a look at the course called Customer Avatars: User Focused Strategy. Prior to Black Friday it was averaging about 6 enrollments a week at a price of $50, for a total average income of $300 per week, so $150 for the instructor.   On Black Friday week, the enrollments increased to 352 enrollments for a total income of $3,520, or $1,760 for the instructor. Clearly the Black Friday promotion is a winner for this instructor, garnering a nearly 6000% increase in enrollments and a 10-fold increase in income. In this case, a big promotion such as Black Friday served to “reawaken” enrollments and put this course “back on the map”.

Case 2: Black Friday has a neutral effect overall

In the case of the course The Ultimate Shopify Dropshipping course, the instructor was averaging about 60 enrollments per week before Black Friday at  a top price of $150 per student – amounting to ~ $8,850 per week in sales.  On Black Friday week, the instructor enrolled 887 students at $10 per student amounting to $8,870 in sales that week, so roughly the same.  In this case, although the instructor earns about the same in revenue, he has enrolled a significantly higher number of new students, something that should pay off down the road. Thus, income-wise, Black Friday sales are neutral, but there is still additional enrollment benefit.

Case 3:  High value courses may lose out some, or quite a bit

Now let’s look at a more expensive and presumably more valuable course such as The Web Developer Bootcamp.   In theory, it is normally priced at $199. With average enrollments per week of around 1,875 before Black Friday, assuming those enrollments were at the regular price of $199, the instructor could be earning a whopping $373,000 per week! Now it is highly likely that not all 1,875 of those enrollments was sold at $199, but only the instructor would know how many of these were.  On Black Friday, enrollments rose to 5,105 enrollments which is highly significant growth. However, at $10 per student, this amounts to total sales of “just” $51,050, or $25,525 for the instructor.  That’s a major loss of weekly income!

One wonders if the huge increase in enrollments is worth it?  Well, the answer depends largely on whether and how often the course sells for the top price of $200.  We would wonder, if you are already enrolling nearly 2000 students a week and earning most of that money through your own promotions, perhaps Black Friday may not be such a good deal??

The Black Bottom Line

Clearly, Black Friday has highly significant enrollment benefits for nearly all courses.  It’s difficult to put a value on this.  However this benefit must be weighed against the uncertainty about whether an instructor will earn more, about the same, or much less than usual during that week’s promotions.  Whatever the case, as a Udemy instructor, you don’t have a choice to participate in Black Friday or not.

How then can you make sure you have the best chance of ending up like our case #1, coming out ahead for both income and enrollment?  We’ll attempt to answer this question in our next article, in which we will address the question: How should you prepare for the next big Udemy sale to maximize enrollments and profits?

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