I’ve seen this question asked about a thousand times in about a thousand places, so I figured it was time to shoot straight. This topic can have some varying opinions, sometimes controversial about which way is better. But after trying both methods in the last couple years, I’ve discovered it all boils down to a few different factors to consider.
But first, a little intro if you’re new to the world of digital products... (and if you need more, read this.)
What is an open/close launch?
An open/close launch is when you only allow people to buy your course, program, whatever it is, at specific times throughout the year. Usually it’s only open for about a week at a time, and it only happens maybe 2-4 times per year. Sometimes more often, sometimes less often, but it’s always just a short window to buy in. Some people also call this a seasonal launch. This creates two important parts to successfully selling digital products online — urgency and scarcity. We’ll talk more about these in a sec.
What is evergreen?
Evergreen products are the opposite of open/close launches — these products are available year-round. You can buy in at any time, no limit or time frame to wait for. I know what you're thinking: Duh, why wouldn’t I want customers buying my products all year long rather than just for a few weeks? While this sounds true in theory, this method of selling takes away those two parts I mentioned before — urgency and scarcity — so it actually ends up being a little harder to maintain.
Let’s break down the 4 factors to keep in mind as you decide which direction you want to go:
practical — what do you want your work load to be?
A big factor to consider with these two launches is your time. With an open/close launch, you will be working A LOT leading up to the launch, and then it’ll be fairly quite in between launches. This can lead to some high highs and some low lows in your schedule and work load. If you’re okay with fluctuations like this, and if you stay motivated working towards these big pushes during the year, then this type of selling might work better for you.
You might think this means evergreen products don’t take much time at all since you’re not really launching, but this is totally false! Evergreen products still require time, it’s just more spread out throughout the year and has less of those big, intense seasons of work like you have building up to a launch. But the counter to that is that you have to continually work to keep your product promoted and in front of your audience. (There are some different ways to do this, and we’ll talk about that in the point about marketing.) If you prefer a more consistent work load, then this type of selling might work better for you… but we’ve got more things to consider so keep reading!
More reading — How I use Asana to Organize my Time + Schedule
financial — are you okay with inconsistent income?
Like I said before, open/close launches can have some high highs and some low lows, and this is probably felt the most in your bank account. Launches may only come around a few times per year, but each of those times can bring in a significant amount of money. That sounds great, but be prepared for a dry period until your next launch. For example, I’ve had course launches that earned $20,000, but that had to last me 6 months until my next launch. If you’re good at budgeting, and making an influx of income last several months or even the entire year, then this type of selling might work for you.
Evergreen products naturally have more consistent income since you’ll have sales coming in all throughout the year. But that doesn’t mean you’re making $20k every month! Since you’ve lost the sense of urgency + scarcity that comes with open/close launches, then your sales are usually lower on average per month than an open/close launch. Now this isn’t always the case, especially for those who have set up really effective email sequences and sales funnels that generate a lot of sales, but this can come with the trade off of time – it takes a lot of time to set up those systems and a lot of tweaking to make sure they’re continually working. Not impossible, but just another factor to consider. So if you prefer a more steady income, and are okay with putting in the extra work to get it there, then this type of selling might work for you.
marketing — can you create urgency + scarcity?
It’s no secret, open/close launches involve a lot of intense marketing. Since the purchase window is for a shorter period of time, you want to make sure your audience is prepped + ready to buy when the time comes. This means there’s a lot of marketing that happens before your launch even starts. But one part of this type of launching that just comes naturally is the two factors we’ve talked about already – the ones that are oh so important! Urgency and scarcity. Your audience feels those constraints naturally with an open/close launch because they only have a limited time to make their decision. Some businesses even choose to add to the scarcity factor by only allowing a certain number of students to buy in the limited time period – double the urgency + scarcity! If you want your product to have built-in urgency + scarcity, then this type of selling might work for you.
Evergreen products are much trickier in this department. They require continual promotion in order to keep your product in front of your audience all year long. You’ll have to get creative to find other ways to create urgency + scarcity without the time constraint that comes with an open/close launch. I’ve seen people limit the number of students that can come into the course each month, but still offering it every single month. I’ve seen people create mini-launches (or as I like to call them, pushes) throughout the year to help keep momentum up and provide some little pockets of urgency within this evergreen model. (Pssst. This is what I plan to do this year for my course Etsy on Autopilot.) Going back to the other factors – this continual marketing + promotion can definitely eat into your time, and sometimes even be more stressful to try to keep your income consistent. But if you’re okay with this additional effort in your marketing, this type of selling might be for you.
More reading — How to Create Gift Packages to Promote Your Launch
students — which is the better learning experience?
Lastly – the whole point of creating digital products that share your knowledge is to help your students move forward, so this is definitely something that needs to be considered. What is the best way for your student to learn whatever it is you’re teaching? Are you teaching something that requires a lot of your time as they move through the course, or are they kind of on their own? Do you want them to go through the content with the help + feedback of other students, or is it a solo experience? With an open/close launch, you’ve got one group of students all starting at the same time. This can be a big advantage for them, because they have fellow students to go through the experience with. It can also be more natural to update the content of your product in chunks before each launch (which can justify a price increase). Keeping with this start + stop schedule throughout the year is more similar to a classroom or physical school setting, which your students will obviously be familiar with. If you prefer this type of teaching, this type of selling might be for you.
On the contrary, students who purchase an evergreen course are all starting at different times. For some types of content, this won’t matter at all. But if what you’re teaching is better done in a group setting, your students may have a hard time being successful when left to their own devices. It can be hard to stay in touch with students who are all at different stages in your experience. Updating content can be tricky, too, sometimes. You don’t want to be selling outdated content, so keeping it up to date as soon as possible is important. You might also consider the lifespan of your product – is it content that is fast changing? Will this even be relevant in a year or two? But all this can also provide a chance to do some of those pushes we talked about before. Promoting that you’ve added new content or updated your product can encourage an influx of new students. If you feel like your students do okay or even better when working through the content solo, then this type of selling might be for you.
More reading — My Favorite Platform for Building Online Courses
So what the heck do I pick?!
So I know what you’re thinking. Whoa, Kelsey, there isn't a clear winner. I agree, there totally isn't. And sometimes the best way to figure out which factors are deal breakers for you (your time, your finances, your marketing, your students), is to just jump in and start experimenting. You know I’m all for a good experiment! So where do you start? I’d recommend starting with an open/close launch first. This can help you get a good, first group of students, and they’ll help you refine your course and provide great feedback for whatever style of selling you decide to do in the future.
It can seem like one style of selling is more profitable or takes less time or is easier than the other, but that’s simply not true. It all comes down to your personal preference (how do you want your time to be spent and your income to come in?), your marketing style (do you like the highs+lows of launching or would you rather just promote the thing year-round?), and your students and the content you’re teaching (is there a better way for the students to learn this stuff?).
How I use both of these in my business.
Like I said before, I’ve been doing some experimenting with both of these types of selling, and I’ve reached some interesting conclusions. I have two main courses that I sell – The InDesign Field Guide (INDFG) and Etsy on Autopilot (EOA).
I launched EOA in the summer of 2016 and immediately made it evergreen. I had never done an evergreen product at that price point ($150-250ish), so I had no idea how it would do. Read: experiment! 😉
INDFG has been sold via open/close launches since 2015. On the third launch in late 2016, I switched it up and made the course evergreen from that point on. Again, I had no idea what would happen switching to this model after having 3 successful open/close launches.
The results: EOA does pretty well on evergreen, I’m happy with it. It’s not going crazy or anything, but it’s steady and consistent. INDFG, on the other hand, is like the rebel toddler who suddenly won’t listen to mama. (Trust me, I’ve had a lot of experience lately with this kind of toddler.) This course definitely doesn’t do well on evergreen – maybe because it’s higher priced ($400ish), or maybe because it’s more of a tutorial-style course and EOA is a more strategy-based course. Maybe my email sequences that lead into it are terrible. I really don’t know. (Ok, I do know that those emails could be better.)
After trying both, I’ve learned two things.
For one, I miss launching. Haha. I actually enjoyed the rollercoaster of marketing and the highs/lows of income. Weird, because that’s the part a lot of people complain about. See, a lot of it is just personal preference! So it doesn’t take a detective to figure out which course will probably be coming OFF of evergreen and back ON to open/close launches very soon.
Cough… InDesign... cough.
And the second thing I learned? I figured out a formula for which style of launch makes sense in terms of finances. Yep, I'm going straight up algebra on ya, so buckle up. Below you can download my quick formula for deciding which style of selling would make more sense financially for your business. Note: this formula works best if you’ve got one open/close launch under your belt.
Have you experimented with both of these types of launches? Which one do you prefer, and why?
Which factors were most important for your decision?