Update: They’ve reversed the policy on this, and this post is no longer valid.
In case you missed it, Udemy has “dropped the other shoe” and announced changes to it’s pricing structure (link no longer valid).
Udemy has changed so much in the past 6 months, hasn’t it?
There is a consistent thread through much of how Udemy has changed over the past few months, and to me there is one incident that defines “why” all of these changes are happening.
Exactly on Thanksgiving Day 2015, a massive controversy erupted. Someone had stolen a course from pluralsight and posted it to Udemy. The original author, incensed that someone had stolen his work and put it up for sale, posted his grievance to the web about how Udemy was stealing their work for profit, and it became an international incident. Stories about Udemy being a home to pirates appeared all over the web, and in prestigious places like the BBC.
Except, it wasn’t 100% fair. Indeed someone had stolen his course, but it wasn’t Udemy that stole it. Like any business on the web, Udemy acts when it’s notified of pirated content on its site through the DMCA process, as they are required to by law. The author hadn’t given Udemy much time to respond, and Udemy got a black eye over essentially nothing. However, Udemy had the global lynch mob’s attention that week and the facts couldn’t stem the outrage, and it must have been painful for all of Udemy’s employees.
I believe it was a defining moment in the history of the company.
That incident gave Udemy executives and investors a real scare. Udemy’s reputation been attacked on many fronts that week not just the pirated course in question, and Udemy having a good reputation was essential to the future of their business. Udemy for Business is trying to strike deals with companies, and the Partnership team is trying to work to make deals globally. Once you have a bad reputation, it takes time to build a new one. And so Udemy had to get to work.
Recovering Udemy’s reputation became job #1 in December 2015.
First up, re-focusing on trust and safety. They already had a trust and safety team, but they needed to get serious about rule enforcement.
In December, thousands of fake reviews had been removed from Udemy in a bulk cleaning. In January and February as well. Strikes now had force. Some instructors who’ve abused the system for a while were kicked off Udemy entirely. In 3 months, there are not many courses on Udemy that you can point to as obvious scams. One has to say that a lot of the obviously bad stuff has been removed at this point.
Incidentally, this is one reason why courses about guns were recently banned.
Second up, instructor verification and stricter review process. Just try to upload a course today with a Lynda or pluralsight logo in the bottom corner, and see if it gets approved. I’ve seen instructors asked to prove their courses really were theirs. And some instructors are being asked to verify their identities again even though they’re live on the platform. This ensures the Thanksgiving incident doesn’t happen again.
Third up, student reviews. One major knock against Udemy has been “all courses are 5-stars”. The old review system was basically useless. Students could not use the star rating at all in selecting courses, and so buying a course was hit or miss. Yes, there was the 30-day refund. But I’m sure the person who refunds does not go back and buy another Udemy course. Once burned, twice shy.
And now, pricing. Go out to the wider web and ask about Udemy, and anyone who knows will tell you never to pay full price. How many instructors signed up because they thought every Udemy instructor must be a millionaire? (4000 students times $300 each = $1.2 million, wow!) How many students that paid full price ended up either refunding or regretting paying so much when almost no one else was? Do they become raving fans of Udemy after?
Again, if a student has a bitter taste in their mouth after their first experience, refund or no refund, that’s not good for any of us.
Underlying Udemy’s business model is trust. Students must trust Udemy. Instructors who try to game the system with fake reviews undermine trust. Pirated courses and PLR content undermine trust. A perfect 5.0 course review score on every course in a category undermines trust. And listing a course for $300 when Udemy frequently sells it for $10, and the instructor themselves will sell for $1 also undermines trust.
It’s all about trust.