BenchPrep Moves to Subscription Model to be the Netflix of Online Courses

Today Chicago-based test prep and interactive learning startup BenchPrep announced that it’s moving to a subscription-based pricing model, instead of its current per-course pricing. The new model means students can pay $20 per month for web access, and $30 per month for mobile and web access, to get unlimited use of the company’s library of over 70 high school, college and graduate-level courses.

BenchPrep co-founder Ashish Rangnekar said when they started the company in 2011 they weren’t actively working towards a subscription model, but after seeing how students were buying one course and then buying courses related to their original purchase, they realized it would be more valuable to create a frictionless experience where they could easily switch courses and add to their library.

“For every one student who was actually buying these multiple courses, there would have been 100 students who wanted to access those courses but they were not because they had to pay for the next one and the next one,” Rangnekar said in an interview. “We really believe that even when a student only studies for one subject, we want them to have the option of exploring.”

BenchPrep’s courses, which include everything from SAT prep to firefighter exam prep, previously ranged in price from $99.99 to $149.99 per course, so the new subscription plan will provide significant savings for students who want to buy more than one course. The company will still allow students to purchase courses on a one-off basis at their existing prices, and will also offer some professional and certification courses outside the subscription model.

BenchPrep features courses and test prep from over 20 publishers, including Pearson Education, O’Reilly Media, and Microsoft Press, several of which they added in August. Prior to today’s pricing change, publishers got a percentage of the sale each time a student purchased their app. While that will remain the same for individual course sales, for monthly subscriptions the publishers will receive a royalty every time a student accesses that course. Rangnekar said the subscription model has been “a little bit confusing” for content partners. “There are a few publishers who still are not sure as to what will become of it, but they’re trying it out and are on board,” he said. “There is no one else who has done this, specifically in the interactive course world, no one has done it. Because no one has done it for educational courses, there was no parallel.”

Right now the company has a pipeline of about 300 additional courses in development, with about 300,000 students using the platform. Now that they’ve moved to a subscription pricing model, the company’s goal is to partner with public libraries and educational institutions to offer institutional licenses to its platform. They’re already in talks with 14 universities and three public library systems, and are talking to online and charter schools as well, and Rangnekar expects they’ll start to work with them by the end of the year.

As Rangnekar told BetaKit in an earlier interview, a big focus for the company will be on personalized education. The new subscription accounts mean that BenchPrep can personalize content for users based on the courses they’ve accessed in the past, similar to how Netflix recommends movies and TV shows to subscribers. “Netflix has become really good at understanding what the tastes and preferences are,” he said. “We want to do the same thing with education.”

BenchPrep raised $6 million in funding in July, and Rangnekar said that funding will be used for marketing the new subscription model and partnering with institutions, as well as building and launching new courses. While platforms like Apple’s iBooks and Kno offer digital textbooks, and companies like Coursera offer free online courses, BenchPrep is the first company to take this subscription-based approach to test prep and online courses. While students will likely jump at this new all-inclusive pricing, whether publishers are as willing to embrace it remains to be seen.

 

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.

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