Wondering if you should use the subscription model for selling your course? Here’s a closer look at how that works.
One of the first decisions businesses have to make when they start running their online course is what pricing model to use. Should the charge a one-time fee? Sell their courses in bundles? Is access limited after a certain period has elapsed? Or should the opt for the ever-popular subscription model?
This last option has been a preferred selling strategy for businesses for many years now. Subscription courses come with many pros and cons, and aren’t the best option for every course. But they do offer a low barrier-to-entry, which can make it easy for many learners to sign up and stick around.
James Tryon, our training specialist, recently led a webinar on that walks through the technical side of setting up a WooCommerce subscriptions course. Check out his video for a great how-to:
In the meantime, let’s dig a little deeper into how the subscription model works, and whether it’s right for your business model.
5 Types of Subscription Courses
When most people start considering the subscription model for their course, they think of only one type of payment structure. However, there are several ways you can run a subscription, and each of these will have advantages in different situations.
1. Ongoing subscription (billed yearly or monthly).
The ongoing subscription is the most common payment structure, and it comes in two flavors: monthly (like Netflix) or nearly (like Amazon Prime). The yearly subscription tends to be a higher up-front payment, but once learners sign up, they forget about the cost until the next year rolls around. Meanwhile, a monthly subscription tends to be one users will turn on and off as they need. This can work for some courses, but for others it can be disruptive.
A micro-subscription is one that has a time limit—one of 2–6 months. In this model, instead of having learners who keep paying indefinitely, learners can sign up and pay for just a few months. When their micro-subscription runs out, they’re taking off the course. This helps motivate learners to complete the course before their time runs out.
3. Payment plans.
Unlike a micro-subscription, a payment plan assumes ongoing access to the course once the learner finishes the payment schedule. Each payment tends to be larger than that of a micro-subscription (because of ongoing access), but can be more affordable to learners on a budget.
4. Membership program.
Membership dues are a regular part of many organizations, and a subscription model is one way of collecting them. If your online course is partly focused on growing a strong community, where participation is a key value offering, having learners pay a subscription to remain involved is a functional model.
5. Subscription download.
Finally, there is the subscription download, usually on a monthly basis. This model is closer to an e-commerce delivery tool, where learners are regularly given access to a new packet of learning materials. It works well for courses where the learner has regular off-line projects to complete, rather than a fully on-line course.
How would you apply these pricing models to an e-learning course?
Now that you know what your options are, let’s run through some use cases focusing on some popular online courses. It’s possible to set any of these pricing models up using WooSubscriptions, but it’s up to you to determine which will be most attractive to your learners.
1. Language learning.
From my perspective, language learning would be one of the most obvious options for an ongoing subscription model. Language learners benefit from drip-feed content, and without regular practice, it is impossible to master the material. With the standard subscription model, learners have a reason to keep coming back day after day to keep practicing, and are unlikely to walk away any time soon.
2. Music lessons.
It’s been a while since I took any kind of music lesson, but I would love to find the time. A few years ago, I researched online piano classes, and was surprised to find that—like language tutors—many piano tutors also gave online lessons. The question is: what pricing model would work best for someone trying to learn an instrument?
I find the micro-subscription model appealing for this kind of lesson. From my memory of learning piano, there’s a much greater focus on training muscle memory than learning new words or grammar forms. It’s been twenty years, but I can still play Für Elise without looking at the notes.
What if a micro-subscription course let learners select songs to learn based on their skill level? They would have four weeks to learn the song, giving them motivation to practice, but they wouldn’t keep paying a monthly subscription fee for access to lessons they had already memorized.
3. Semester-long courses.
As community colleges move more courses online, some may want to consider offering a payment plan model for a semester-long course. A student who wants to take a course in computer programming, for instance, may hesitate at a $300 price tag for an online course if they don’t yet know how that course will fit into their work schedule.
But signing up for a modular, drip-feed course and paying $75/month over four months might make it easier for that learner to afford it. This is the type of flexible program that a community college could experiment with, whereas a larger university with a more rigid matriculation schedule would not be able to.
4. Critique club.
I have a harder time envisioning how a membership payment schedule would work for an online course. However, one idea that came to me was a critique group, like you might have for a writing circle.
As an instructor, you would still need to find ways to add value to your course, beyond having a community willing to participate in giving constructive feedback. But given that running and managing a community is a job in itself, many members may still be happy to pay membership, especially if you organized other events through the group and used the membership fees to offset the expense.
5. Crafting community.
Finally, in terms of a downloadable PDF subscription, my immediate thought was for something like sewing or knitting patters—almost like Audible for your hobby. You could create a series of project-based classes that learners could choose from, and each month their download included the instructions they need for their next project.
Choosing the right pricing model is an important factor in the success of your course.
As you can see, there are many ways to run a subscription course, but the pricing method you choose will have a big impact on how your learners view the value of your course—and whether you are able to see a sustainable profit margin.
The good news is that WooCommerce Subscriptions offers enough flexibility to make almost any subscription model you can imagine work. Our only caution is that you should be sure not to choose a model that adds too many layers of complication for your learner. After all, one of the most appealing features of a subscription course is that the pricing is easy to understand.