The Market Maker Business Model

BY Jeff Cobb


An attendee at one of our Webinar’s on learning market trends told me afterwards that one of the trends we identified made her quite worried. Fortunately, she was in a position to take action. Her organization – quite wisely – keeps a pool of surplus funds that can be allocated to special initiatives. She immediately went and made the case for funding, and received it.

What got her – and apparently her organization – worried enough to take action quickly? The rise of the eSME (that is, the entrepreneurial Subject Matter Expert) and, in conjunction with this rise, the emergence of the Market Maker business model.

You can read about the rise of the eSME in my earlier post on the subject. The idea is also at the heart of Leading the Learning Revolution. But what’s the “Market Maker” business model?

The Market Maker provides a platform that makes it very easy for subject matter experts to create, publish, market, and sell online educational content. That content is usually some mix of video, audio, and PowerPoint – basically tools that leverage what most SMEs do when presenting at conferences or seminars. More sophisticated platforms also include tools for attaching assessments, evaluations, and social interactions.

Some key examples include:

There are many others. They are popping up all over the place. Many, like Udemy, are casting their nets broadly at this point, but we can expect to see an increasing number that focus on niche markets – like, for example, the niches that many associations exist to serve.

So what’s the upside for the SMEs and the Market Makers?

While most subject matter experts with even a small amount of tech savvy can create and publish digital content pretty easily these days, effectively marketing and selling is another story. Developing an audience – particularly a paying audience – can be a daunting prospect. My bias is that it is more than worth the effort, but I also understand that many SMEs want a safer and, frankly, more convenient route for getting started.

The Market Makers provide just that: they do the work of aggregating enough expertise and cultivating enough of an audience to provide SMEs with a built in marketplace. Thus the term “Market Maker” to describe this business model.

The Market Makers generate revenue, in most cases, by taking a percentage of the eSMEs sales – an arrangement that motivates the Market Maker to market effectively. In some cases, Market Makers also charge an initial or ongoing fee or provide add-on services for a fee.

SMEs are willing to give up the percentage and/or pay fees because, presumably, they have a lot better chance of reaching and selling to customers within an established marketplace. They also get to focus on their core competency – their subject matter expertise – and leave most of the operational and technological concerns to someone else.

Of course, what got the Webinar attendee so concerned was that Market Makers can look very attractive to SMEs and can lure away SMEs that might otherwise devote their time and effort to association educational initiatives.

She also realized that the Market Maker model is one that many, if not most, associations should be embracing. Having secured funding, she will be looking at what it might take to forge a different sort of relationship with SMEs and potentially provide a platform and marketplace similar to the ones the companies listed above are providing.

What about you? How attractive does the Market Maker model look to you, and can you imagine pursuing it in the coming year(s)? Please comment and share your thoughts.

  1. Jeff,

    I agree with you. Entrepreneurs are going to find ways to connect subject matter experts (eSME’s) to their markets and fill a market need where one exists.

    Associations are in the position to win big here. Associations already have the market’s attention (member’s attention). If they decide to take a much larger Market Maker role the critical piece for success is matching the eSME offering to the content members really need. The association can take a positive mentor-like position and make themselves and the eSME’s far more successful by being the voice of the member ensuring the content delivered is what the members want.

    Another added benefit is associations can fill any gaps in their own subject matter offering; members won’t have to go searching for quality content from the competition because their association will cover their needs.

    Thanks! I enjoyed this post – insightful!

  2. Jeff Cobb says:

    Amanda – Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts. Great points. I agree this really is a situation in which “Associations are in a position to win big” – assuming, of course, they move relatively quickly. I like that you position the association role as a “positive mentor-like position.” I think that is exactly right. This is about a different sort of relationship with SMEs than organizations have had in the past (at least in my experience). One that ultimately creates a lot more value for all involved.

    Thanks again for adding your insights. – Jeff

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