Earlier today I had an interesting Skype chat about the possibility of me launching a MOOC for German. During this talk I had a somewhat Faustian inspiration: what if the classic publishing model wasn’t as bad as it seems?
Yes, I know – me on the side of the dinosaurs and selling my soul to the devil. But let me explain. Publishers used to be the ones who disrupted the market back in the days, like the record industry disrupted sheet music. The book print had an equally big impact on society (if not bigger) as the Internet has today. And while the old model might not work in a proven and mature market like books and newspapers anymore it could be a winner in a new and unproven market like online courses.
Publishing online courses, may they be MOOCs or whatever you call them, is still in its infancy. And right from the start we get high quality courses for free like the ones from MIT, Coursera or Udacity. So what about selling online courses?
To me sitting down and developing a complete online course without the prove that I will get paid for it makes no sense. I have lots of stuff on my plate, and I won’t do work in advance without payment anymore. Think I am getting older (and wiser?). Hence, the only bait I would swallow would have $£€ signs all over it.
And I guess, I am not alone. With the exception of the ones specializing in exactly that, every teacher avoids creating course material like the plague. Why do you think publishers can sell textbooks? And why do you think there are people who create them? Hence if you want to get a good teacher to sit down and create a course the benefit must be an offer one cannot refuse. And as laying cut off horse heads in teachers’ beds at night is not legal, and most teachers don’t own expensive racehorses, this benefit is probably an advance on the course itself.
The problem is, the platform that offers this advance needs to be sure to be able to not only get their money back on the sales but also eventually make profit. Which makes discussions like this far more interesting for me.
If the platform is refusing to pay an advance on the course it basically says that they are not sure (enough) to be able to sell the course. On the other hand, they want to tell me that there is no problem for me to sell the course if I do the work in advance. Something does not add up, Watson.
Part of today’s discussion was that the platform is 100% positive to get me 10.000 students by the time I deliver the course. Now, if they are sure that it is possible to get these students to sign up for the course there should be no problem in paying me in advance for the course and then pay me a small percentage as ongoing royalty for every student that will take the course, right?
This kind of model worked very well for some hundred years in the offline world and I think it would be an interesting model for the new online market. Startups nowadays use to have tons of cash lying around which they usually blow on Google Adwords, “social media experts” and so on. But the real problem is to attract great teachers / content creators as you cannot lure them with promises, vanity numbers and marketing talk. And even if you get them to start the project 90% won’t finish it as there is no real benefit in doing so.
Therefore, instead of blowing your money on Google Ads and call center agents that bug your teachers why they did not create a class yet or signed up for the premium feature, take some of that cash, give it to great online teachers and get some great courses in return which you then can sell for a profit.
Not sure if after this post I still qualify for further talks but that’s my bottom line anyway. If you are willing to pay me in advance, we can talk. If not …