The Genius of Masterclass

I don’t normally feel moved to make product suggestions to people but … reflecting on the year so far there is one that I’ve gotten so much out of, I just feel it’s worth a suggestion. That product is Masterclass…(*) you may have seen it pop up in Facebook ads and clicked them away. So to save you trying to figure out the website, here’s my take:

The site is a collection of very personal curated classes by people at the very top of their fields.

The content is somewhere between a TED talk (inspirational, well thought out but ultimately unsatisfying beyond a single big idea) and a Udemy or other on-line course (long, with course-work, often a little hard to be truly inspired). You can put the videos on whilst making dinner or cleaning up, and get a lot of depth and color without feeling the need to get out a workbook. There is also enough content in each one to be genuinely insightful (generally they are 20-25 videos of 10-25mins each).

The classes are by incredible people. From Bob Woodward on journalism, Paul Krugman on Economics (which first hooked me), Annie Leibowitz on Photography, Neil Gaiman on writing and so on.

In many ways, the classes are mini autobiographies that give you insight into how each of these people has approached their craft.

The subscription is definitely not cheap: $85 for a single class or $199 for all access (all 60 instructors) for a year. They have also added monthly subscriptions $39.99 since I signed up:

  • The single class option is really not worth the money in my opinion. While many of the classes are excellent, it would be hard to see a genuine “outcome” from them and this lacks the breadth which is what makes Masterclass so valuable in my opinion.
  • The annual subscription currently allows you to access all instructors. This is where the real magic kicks in. So many of these folks are at the top of their fields and in some areas such as writing, there are 10+ instructors – each with key insights.
  • The monthly option didn’t exist when I signed up (or was well hidden!), but given that the real joy is in browsing many of the instructors I fear it might add too much of a ticking clock element.

$199 is a lot of money, and there is a nagging frustration that if one doesn’t renew next year then the content won’t be accessible anymore. Still, companies need business models and have to sustain themselves. One would hope in the long run they will be able to offer cheaper access to older classes. The content is gold.

So why is it worth it? For me, the real pleasure has been in listening to humans who have genuinely achieved mastery in their fields. Listening to Frank Gehry and Steve Martin is deeply fascinating even though I’ll never be an architect or a comedian.

On the unlimited subscription, Masterclass has pretty much replaced all other video content for me this year and I’ve listened to maybe 15-20 classes. Some of the real standouts:

  • Bob Woodward on investigative reporting
  • Neil Gaiman on storytelling
  • Paul Krugman on economics
  • Steve Martin on comedy
  • James Suckling on wine Appreciation
  • David Axelrod and Karl Rove (yup!) on campaign strategy
  • Dr. Jane Goodall on conservation
  • Will Wright on game design and theory
  • Armin van Buuren on trance Music
  • Gordon Ramsey on cooking

So, although I’m generally someone who wants “content to be free” and not locked behind a subscription agreement… and I recognize that the “all in” subscriptions are a lot of money… I’d say, think about treating yourself (or having someone treat you!).

As I said, I generally don’t recommend products, but reflecting on this year I really felt some of the masterclass tutors stories added something to it.

Image from Frank Gehry Masterclass (8 spruce street class).

(*) Full disclosure: I also know one of the early investors in the company, but that’s not the reason for writing this either: I’m sure they’ll do fine without my endorsement!

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