At school we recently had a week of classes themed on “the media”, and something that struck me from the conversations I had was that people don’t really consume media in the way that they used to. They either don’t pay for anything, or if they do, they aren’t paying for anything tangible, just for access to a service that provides them with content.
Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, the list of subscription-model content providers grows every year. And it’s not just media providers that have switched to a subscription model. You can have artisan chocolate, tea leaves, organic vegetables, socks, make-up, and pretty much everything else you can think of curated and delivered to you on a monthly basis. What’s more, people are happy to pay for and use a subscription service. For example, Spotify has 48 million paying subscribers who listen to on average 148 minutes of music every day.
To people of a previous generation, this may seem a little odd. In the past, if you wanted to listen to a new record, or read a new book, you would have to buy it from a shop (or perhaps loan it from the library). It could have been that you were spending the same amount of money as today – perhaps you bought one album, movie or book per month, which is roughly the same as what Spotify, Netflix or Amazon charge for a monthly subscription to their service. But if, after a few months, you decided to stop buying records or books or movies, you’d still have the ones you’d already bought sitting there on your shelf. If you stop your subscription to Spotify or Netflix, you lose access to the content you previously enjoyed.
This does not seem to be a concern for the majority of millennials, for whom the monthly payment seems to be a way of life. Recent reports highlighted that a surprising percentage of the cars on British roads are not technically the property of the registered keepers, instead part of lease-back and other contract finance arrangements.
What I’d be interested to see is if this model could be applied to English language learning. There are already apps and podcasts that have paid subscription-only services: babbel, the LanguagePod101 series, and many others. However, they are focussed on the particular resource that their app offers.
My thoughts were whether there was a way of extending this to the teaching of English classes. I’ve worked in schools where they have given the option of paying for a course in monthly installments; but again this was simply a way of spreading a fixed cost for a single service over a more manageable period. What I mean is that a student would enter into a subscription for English language tuition, and in a similar way to how Netflix or Spotify offer unlimited streaming, students would then be given access to an array of teaching material and resources, which would include lessons with teachers (either online or in person).
To my mind, there would be a number of advantages to this business model. Teachers and institutions would benefit from a fixed, potentially more stable income stream compared to students paying for classes only when they turn up, or for a single course. There might also be more chance of securing long-term business, especially if the learner experience is up to scratch. It might also provide a more cost-effective way of catering for more niche business without compromising more general students and courses.
Of course, there are downsides to the model, and it isn’t automatically a path to profit, at least not initially. Spotify, for example, makes losses of around $500m despite its large subscriber base and strong branding. It could also be argued that there’d be a higher churn of customers in this model, which would not be ideal for teachers planning classes, but there would be the added boost of occasional or casual users that the industry loses to apps and podcasts.
It would undoubtedly require a long, difficult slog and incredibly high levels of flexibility. However, there is the potential for long-term growth.
What do you think of this model? Do you think that this would be appropriate for an English Language College or online teacher? Let me know in the comments or on social media. @efl_david