How Investopedia shifted to subscription revenue with video courses

Investopedia didn’t set out to become a subscription- and commerce-focused publisher. But that’s what it’s staking its future on.

Less than six months after launching its first batch of Investopedia Academy courses, the IAC-owned publisher enters the new year focused on dramatically ramping up this nascent side of its business. On Jan. 15, Investopedia will roll out its 10th course, on cryptocurrencies.

After publishing just nine courses through the second half of 2017, Investopedia will publish two or three new courses per month this year, and it expects to grow the total number of employees working on the Academy to 50 — up from 30 last year.

The video courses, which run a minimum of three hours and cost between $99 and $399 apiece, are part of a bid to diversify its revenue away from advertising for the first time in the company’s 19-year history. The Academy is on pace to earn $5 million in revenue this year, four times the total it earned in 2017.

“This is the big bet. We are all in on this,” said David Siegel, Investopedia president and CEO. “I think that in two to three years, the revenues from Investopedia Academy could exceed the revenues from”

Investopedia earns almost all of its money from advertising. A large repository of evergreen articles, some 200,000 of them, on topics ranging from interest rates to cryptocurrency to individual retirement accounts, attracts a steady stream of referral traffic and display advertising. It also has a content studio for more involved advertising programs.

To find an alternate source of income, Siegel turned his attention to digital education, which is a $165 billion-plus market worldwide, according to Orbis Research. Siegel estimates about 10 percent of that is focused on financial topics, and while Investopedia has to compete with incumbents like Udemy and Lynda for customers, he feels the company is well-positioned.

The company decided it wanted to create the courses in-house, rather than position itself as a kind of platform. Siegel boasts that Academy courses so far have a 96 percent customer satisfaction rate and that the Academy has a net promoter score of over 50 percent.

To build a new course, one of the editorial staff’s subject matter experts will decide on a topic for a class, like options trading, futures or IRAs. It will then scour the internet, searching through YouTube and other platforms, for finance experts with the right combination of charisma and knowledge. Investopedia’s subject matter expert, along with the selected talent and a small team of education product designers, then work out the course’s subject matter.

After a few days of shooting, they spend a few weeks editing the course together. On average, each course takes between two and three months to create.

To promote the courses, calls to action and offers to sign up are put at the foot of Investopedia articles on related topics. They are also promoted through Investopedia’s newsletters and on Facebook, which has taken on an unprecedented amount of importance; while Facebook accounts for less than 5 percent of Investopedia’s referral traffic, it drives nearly 20 percent of Investopedia Academy’s revenues.

“We’re really good at retargeting people on Facebook,” Siegel said.

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