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How to Think About Course Pricing

By Brendan | 2020-11-22
🌱 This is a living document. We're still learning, and may revisit this piece over time. Suggestions for how we can make it better? Please comment below or send us a note.

Introduction

In this guide, we explore possibilities for how to think about cost and pricing for an online, cohort-based course. Aside from how a course is structured and facilitated, this is one of the most important logistical details to consider, as it's a core factor in determining both who (and how many) learners will enroll, and to what degree the course will be sustainable for you to facilitate.

This draws both from our specific experience with courses on Hyperlink so far, and from our understanding of the wider landscape of online learning, digital products, communities, and more.

Our intent is both to lay out some useful lenses for thinking about pricing a course in the broader sense, and specifically help Hyperlink creators figure out pricing.

Approaches to Pricing

Pricing is more art than science. There are lots of ways of thinking about it, and we recommend considering several!

The most important principles to balance are a combination of a) a price that you feel is fair compensation for the work required and makes it sustainable for you to do, and b) a price that participants feel is reasonable and matches the value expected from the course. Some specific lenses for thinking about this include…

Time-Based Pricing

A simple heuristic: consider how much time you expect to spend creating and facilitating the course, and how much you'd like to earn per hour spent.

How much time will you spend in the course sessions? Preparing for the course? Working with learners asynchronously (feedback, discussions, office hours)? How many learners do you anticipate? A rough total estimate of time you expect to spend, along with the number of paying participants you expect, together will give you a general idea of how different price points might translate to the value of your own time.

This is most useful for establishing a rough baseline, a minimum floor for what makes sense given your best guess expectations about time involved and number of students you'd like to enroll.

Since this lens focuses on your time rather than what students expect and are willing to pay, it's not the best way to ultimately decide on price, but can be a helpful starting point.

Value-Based Pricing

How much tangible value does your course deliver? If only this were a straightforward calculation!

This can be very hard to articulate, particularly given the range of possible courses β€” some may have outcomes that translate at least to some degree to a dollar amount (e.g. a course teaching specific career skills), while others are much harder to define.

It's likely that if you can point to specific value your course delivers, this will translate to some latitude in pricing it higher. This lens can be somewhat amorphous and aspirational, but worth considering as you design your course and think about how to communicate what it's about.

Market-Based Pricing

What do (more or less) comparable courses cost?

Sometimes this can be hard to find β€” maybe there aren't any courses quite like yours! β€” but it's usually possible to find some that are at least in a similar ballpark. Look at other courses that are, say, a technical-skills workshop, or a reading-heavy seminar, on similar topics to yours.

Factoring in the range of length and expected time commitments β€” and what you're able to tell about the quality of the course β€” what sort of pricing do you find? It will likely be a range, but it can be very useful to know if that range is, for example, $100-200, or $1k-$2k, to start getting a realistic sense of the possibility space and competition, which will factor into learner expectations as well.

We think it's worth aiming for the higher end of the market, particularly for the more active, intimate, live cohorts that define a Hyperlink course. Aim to create a learning experience better than anything else out there, and you can (within reason) charge a higher price to match.

Gut-Based Pricing

Sometimes after considering a range of possibilities, you'll want to go with your gut. What intuitively feels like an appropriate price to you? What would you personally pay for a course like this?

Keep in mind, this isn't always a particularly useful lens; sometimes when you know something well, you undervalue that particular knowledge or skill considerably!

But you do tend to know better than anyone who your audience is, how different prices might feel to them, and how your pricing may come across in the wider communities or fields in which you participate. And sometimes this may override other considerations.

Pricing Factors

Here are some additional things to consider when thinking about pricing:

Price Elasticity

How much does a change in price correspond to a change in demand? In other words: if you double the price of your course, does that mean half as many people will be likely to join? What about the inverse? When it comes to courses, the dynamics may not be what you expect.

There aren't any hard and fast rules here, but learning is different from commodity goods. Sometimes a low price can actually signal lower quality, and a higher price might mean more demand, not less. Or it might mean less demand in terms of absolute numbers of learners, but a higher proportion of learners who will take the course seriously.

Flexible Pricing

Are there ways of allowing people to enroll in the course at different price points? This is commonly done with things like member pricing, scholarship rates, discounts, tiers, or bundles.

One simple way to offer flexible pricing is by using Hyperlink's discounts feature. You can create discount links to apply scholarship pricing, and make this available to learners, either by sharing the link directly (honor system) or asking them to email you (lightweight application process). You might consider offering a special student rate, or more broadly making a reduced rate available to folks in countries with different purchasing power or who otherwise can't afford the full rate.

Course Qualities

Other aspects of your course may factor into what pricing makes sense. Kevin Kelly's post Better than Free is useful for framing a variety of intangible forms of value for digital products.

These include immediacy (will this course help you solve a problem right now?), personalization (will this course address your individual needs and goals?) and embodiment, closely related to community (will this course help you connect with interesting people and build real relationships?). A related one: concreteness (will this course leave you with a specific tangible output?)

If you can identify some of these and show how they apply to your course, you may find this helps in more clearly demonstrating its value to prospective students.

Examples

There's quite a range of shapes, sizes, formats, topics, and pricing structures β€” for courses, workshops, salons, and seminars β€” on- and offline.

Broadly speaking there are two main categories of courses, those based primarily on content (e.g. watching a sequence of videos) and those based on a live group experience (working and learning together in a cohort). Hyperlink courses are, of course, the latter, and these types of courses tend to cost more than purely content-based courses, though there's substantial variation in both.

Content-Based Courses

  • $10s: on the low end, things like ebooks / discount courses where you watch a few videos
  • Low to mid $100s: comprehensive video courses, sometimes with a community component
  • Mid $100s to low $1,000s: courses with a significant amount of content in multiple formats, and often a community component or even personal feedback

Live Cohort-Based Courses

  • Low $100s: courses on the shorter side, often more introductory, less intensive / individualized
  • Mid $100s: medium-length courses, with relatively small cohorts (common range on Hyperlink)
  • High $100s to low $1,000s: longer, more intensive
  • Mid $1,000s on up: intensive premium courses, often very specialized e.g. advanced professional training

To give you some concrete numbers: so far most Hyperlink courses tend to be priced in the $100–$300 range. These are typically courses ~4–6 weeks long, with an upper limit of ~10–15 learners.

For courses that are particularly specialized, teach specific valuable skills, or are a bit longer we expect the upper limit may be considerably higher, say $500–$1,000 or more.

One thing to note is that several courses have started on the lower end for their first cohort, as a way to beta test and ensure a full initial cohort, and successfully increased prices for subsequent cohorts. For example you might try an initial price of $150, and if it sells out, try bumping it to $300 for the second cohort.

We also suggest picking a price at the higher end of what you're comfortable with, so that you have room to offer scholarship rates (e.g. 50% discount for students or others who need assistance) and still make it viable overall.