Udemy’s Sudden Switcheroo Reveals A Dark Truth About The Creator Economy

The course platform is prepping for an IPO. Creators should proceed with caution.

Create an online course, put it on a marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare, let the tech platform do all the marketing, and ride off into the sunset with the passive income. That’s how this creator economy thing works… right?

Not exactly. Earlier this week, exclusive reporting came out from The Information that deserves your attention if you’re looking to make money on the internet.

 

Udemy is a massive course-hosting platform. There’s a course on Udemy for almost everything you could imagine, and many of the courses are incredibly well-priced.

Udemy’s Sudden Switcheroo Reveals A Dark Truth About The Creator Economy – Post Outline

>>> Creators Are Being Paid Less

>>> Let Big Tech Work With You, Not Against You

I’d say I’ve scooped up about a dozen courses over the years, mostly tutorials for apps like Final Cut Pro or Google AdWords. At around $20/pop, how could I resist? Online courses are the retail therapy of choice for ambitious millennials.

 

With everyone being stuck at home for the last 18 months, it’s no surprise that Udemy has been crushing it, and now they’re priming to go public. The company is already a unicorn three times over according to valuations from last November, but the word on the street is that the company will aim for double that valuation in its IPO — somewhere in the range of $6–8 billion.

 

Companies have to get their financials tight and right ahead of an IPO, both to withstand regulatory scrutiny and impress investors. So to make the P&Ls a little sexier, Udemy tweaked the way creators are being paid.

 

If you’re an aspiring creator or entrepreneur… it’s worth paying attention to what just happened here.

Udemy normally offers a 50/50 split on course revenue. As a result, creators were sometimes making tens of thousands of dollars a month.

 

But according to The Information’s reporting, that’s now changed:

 

“Starting in the beginning of May, Udemy changed the formula determining how much of the tuition fees paid by students ends up with instructors. The company said when announcing the change that it would not have a “notable financial impact” on instructors. But several Udemy instructors who talked to The Information said their pay had been slashed.” — Aidan Ryan, The Information

 

This brings me to today’s brutal truth:

 

Big tech platforms don’t actually care about you.

 

I mean, sure, these pass-through business models need creators to supply content in order for them to exist.

 

But if you really think a platform — which has often taken many millions of dollars and years of development to build — will continue to cut you your check when better profitability is on the horizon… you are mistaken.

 

This happened on NewsBreak. It also happened here.

 

It kinda happened on Facebook, too: posts on Facebook business pages used to reach all their fans, and nowadays they’re largely a pay-to-play marketing vehicle.

Creators who lean heavily on algorithms to make a living need to tread carefully. As soon as you develop traction and begin establishing an audience, you’ll also want to be thinking about how to protect yourself from algorithm tweaks or monetization changes.

 
 

So go on, then — throw your temper tantrum

 

And make a scene about a platform isn’t paying you what it used to, that your content isn’t getting the distribution it used to, and that it’s “not fair”.

 

Big tech doesn’t give a shit.

 

You were never in control in the first place, and millions of other young, scrappy creators are waiting in line to take your place.

 

As soon as you peace out, you’ll be replaced within days or even hours.

 

Big tech platforms don’t actually care about you.

 

If some, most, or all of your creator money is coming to you from a platform… that will be short-lived.

 

There is a silver lining, though.

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Let Big Tech Work With You, Not Against You

What big tech is amazing for is finding and growing your audience as you’re getting started online. Unless you already have a huge audience, you’ll have to use big tech to some degree to find your readers, listeners, or viewers.

 

Once you have these fans… your focus as a creator or online entrepreneur should be to bring them over to one or more of your own properties.

    • Do you have a podcast? Encourage your followers on big tech to subscribe.
    • Do you have a website? Give your big tech followers a reason to go check it out.
    • Do you have an email list? Get one — now. (Y’all know I can barely get through an article these days without jumping up and down about email at least once, so here it is.)

“But how do I convince people to come over to where I’m at?”

 

You promote it! But we like to promote with style and class ‘round these parts. So here are a few tips to help you protect yourself from big tech’s inevitable profit grabs while also not devolving into slimy, soul-selling tactics.

      • Help your readers help themselves. Offer your best, crunchiest, most helpful tips and insights on your own properties. Instead of begging and pleading with readers to follow you, attract them to your properties instead with value and clarity.
      • Study what works on your platform of choice. Too many people fail in the creator economy because all they do is create, and they never make time to study what gets distributed well. Choose your big tech platform — maybe just one to start — and then learn the landscape to better understand what goes viral and why.
      • Blend expertise with personality. Your personality has more weight than you might think with readers these days. Almost no information is new on the internet anymore, so the way you present old news matters more than the news itself. Be interesting! (Example: I promise to give you more Rupaul’s Drag Race GIFs than any other business writer here on Medium — scout’s honor.)
udemy-instructor

This certainly won’t be the last time a big tech platform adjusts compensation for the sake of profitability. That’s why you shouldn’t wait any longer to start developing your own audience.

 

Decide on a property that appeals to you, direct readers to it every chance you get, and you’ll be safe and secure when tech giants veer off in new directions.

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏼

 

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Nick Wolny is a media and marketing strategist for entrepreneurs. Named a “40 Under 40” by the Houston Business Journal, he’s a contributor for Entrepreneur and Fast Company and a technology commentator for NBC and FOX with over 60 live TV appearances.