Paid sites for online learning thrive, too

CreativeLive and others find that people will pay to sharpen their skills.
Stuart Isett/New York Times
CreativeLive and others find that people will pay to sharpen their skills.

SEATTLE — Anyone who wants to learn calculus, statistics, or ancient Greek history can take free online courses in those subjects at a variety of sites from instructors with distinguished academic pedigrees. For more mundane pursuits, like learning how to paddleboard or build a planter box for the garden, there is an inexhaustible supply of free how-to videos on YouTube, eHow, and other sites.

But if you would like to watch a recording of a three-day course on the minutiae of photographing clients who commission high-end portraits of themselves in lingerie, that will cost $149 on a website called CreativeLive.

While companies like Udacity and Coursera — providers of giant online open courses — are just beginning to introduce courses with fees that count for academic credit, other online learning companies have carved out a lucrative niche in courses on design, photography, and other creative pursuits.


CreativeLive,, and others have tapped into an audience of customers who are highly motivated to hone skills that might help enhance their careers.

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The online courses are usually less expensive than intensive in-person workshops on photography and other subjects and can attract­ top-notch instructors with their promise of big national audiences.

Amanda Picone, a wedding photographer in Babylon, N.Y., bought the CreativeLive course on photographing people in lingerie, a genre known as boudoir photography, because she thought it would enhance her appeal to clients, some of whom want boudoir shots. Picone learned that asking subjects to lift their chins slightly while posing can result in more flattering portraits.

CreativeLive has a twist most of its rivals do not: Courses are broadcast live over the Internet and shaped in real time by input from a small studio audience and the much larger group of people watching online.

About 20,000 to 60,000 people, on average, tune in for the live broadcasts. One exception was the audience for a three-day course by the author Ramit Sethi called ‘‘Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs,’’ which topped 150,000.


In some cases, instructors earn six-figure payments for teaching multiday courses.

In total, CreativeLive has ‘‘paid out millions’’ to its instructors, said Chase Jarvis, a commercial photographer who cofounded the company in 2010. “Creativity is the new literacy,’’ Jarvis said.

The company’s live broadcasts are free, but CreativeLive charges $19-$249 for replays of the courses; 3 to 10 percent of its live audience ends up buying the replays because they weren’t able to tune into the entire course live or want to study it more closely.