Why ClassPass, the flagship of online yoga (and overall wellness) class booking platforms, does anything but good for the spirit of yoga and the stakeholders in this industry.
ClassPass is an American online platform that was born in 2013 and is designed to act as an intermediary between individuals and sports and wellness professionals. Whether you want to do yoga, aqua biking, try cryogenics, dance at a Zumba class, punch a boxing bag, or even get a massage, ClassPass likely has an address to suggest near your location. Their app now brings together more than 30,000 fitness clubs across nearly 30 countries around the world, swallowing in their path other similar applications like the German Urban Sports Club or the French Gymlib (who are nonetheless doing very well, no need to shed any tears).
The uberization of yoga
Playing on the intermediary economy system like Uber or Amazon, ClassPass bridges the gap between the local yoga studio or gym x or y (provided, of course, they are partners) and the application's members (you?). The benefit? For yoga studios: it simplifies bookings and reaches more customers. For customers: it helps find any class with a click and for less money.
Their packages, based on a credit system, range from 15 euros per month (9 credits equivalent to 3 classes) to 109 euros per month (85 credits equivalent to 30 classes). Whereas a yoga class costs on average 20 euros in the studio for a 150 euros monthly subscription. But most importantly: the first trial month is completely free and without commitment. The more people you invite to join the app, the more points you accumulate. So, I was able to use ClassPass and attend yoga classes for free for several months.
Like Uber or UberEats, which act as intermediaries between taxis and restaurants with their customers, you are using a service that is supposed to simplify your life and costs less. Spoiler: for this to work, there's no magic, just people behind it who pay the price of pseudo-gratis (hint: the teachers or studios for example, just like Uber drivers or Deliveroo deliverers). Except that the game's players quickly get caught in the trap: the studios that refuse to partner lose a lot of visibility and are very likely to get swallowed up by the steamroller.
More loose loose than win win
Their storytelling is identical to the Silicon Valley giants: ClassPass was created by Payal Kadakia, a young American working woman who, one day wanting to take a break from her demanding job, was "frustrated" (the word used by the site) by not finding a plethora of activities to her liking in less than three seconds. This reminds us of the particularly capricious profile of California-made startup founders who, not able to cope with the frustration of not having the world at their fingertips and as they wish, decide to create "businesses" and "success stories" to remedy this dissatisfaction. The same goes for Uber, created by three Californians after a trip to Paris where they struggled to find a taxi at the snap of a finger. They then decided to create a private driver service to compete with traditional taxis, deemed not efficient enough.
In other words, it's about breaking into the sports and wellness market (which, by the way, offers relatively limited profits in terms of yoga) to grab the crumbs while pretending to offer visibility to studios and choices to customers at a lower cost. But as the saying goes: streams make big rivers... ClassPass understood this well: its last funding round in January 2020 raised 285 million dollars and valued at one billion dollars (#unicorn #startupnation). Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company had to lay off 53% of its employees. Too bad.
Yoga practitioners become consumers and teachers become products
Lately, I have been aghast at the formation of a new "clientele" in my yoga classes. Because yes, the student-teacher relationship is then transformed into a buyer-seller or consumer-product relationship, with all the disdain that it implies. ClassPass is producing a new generation of precarious yoga practitioners at all levels: disengaged, undisciplined, inconsistent, rude. These customers (because no, I don't call them yoga practitioners) come to pick here and there "experiences" in one shot, without any investment intention, for entertainment, like going to the cinema from time to time (leaving their can and popcorn on the floor at the end of the movie). All while expecting impeccable service from the teachers whose job would be to relax them like a juggler and entertain them.
Like on Amazon, where customers order and return products at their convenience under the guise of being free (for information: a product that has traveled around the world 15 times has a huge ecological and human cost), many customers on ClassPass develop the same relationship with yoga. Common examples include: not showing up for class, always arriving late, never returning, expecting the teacher to do the job for them, checking their phone during class, talking or going to the bathroom during class, leaving off-topic comments.
Because yes, in the ClassPass system, customers are invited to rate their "coaches" with stars and comments. Randomly picked comments, both positive and negative, include: " Great coach, I sweated a lot", " top, it was super challenging " (in the world of ClassPass, yoga = crossfit), " very authentic class " (when the teacher is Indian), " I didn't like the music " (when the concept is based on playlists), " there were too many people " (as one of my teachers said: the space needed for practice is proportional to the size of the ego), " I didn't like the light " (are you a scenographer?), " I didn't like the instructor's voice " (and maybe the instructor didn't like your face...), " I wasn't allowed in because I was late " (does the station master usually delay the train for you?), " not dynamic enough " (for a Yin class), " too dynamic " (for a power class level 2), " it wasn't what I was expecting " (did you think you were at a McDonald's kiosk where you can customize your sandwich?) ... And I could go on. Obviously, comments are anonymous, a sign of courage. The practitioner remains in his corner, disinvested, and taps out his personal feelings about a collective work and experience afterward. Perhaps in the future, according to ClassPass, subscribers will vote like in a reality TV show on which teacher has the right to stay or leave. Oh wait: this already exists! And it's called the Best of Class Pass Awards Winners. Meritocracy is amazing.
The world of fast food yoga
When ClassPass first arrived in France, I was told that this system was actually very good, that it allowed yoga to be practiced at an affordable price (whereas studio prices are often very exclusionary, which I fully agree with), and that it enabled the testing of a lot of things and therefore discovering new practices. I had then swallowed my venom and given the product a chance, as Serge Benamou would say in the french movie La Vérité Si Je MensBut actually no. Applications like ClassPass, which demand no commitment from people and provide access to practices like yoga for free (or almost), are of no service to anyone, and yoga is completely debased.
The very principles at the basis of yoga are commitment, discipline, laying flat one's ego, and respect (among others). However, the very way this "service" is constructed is based on the opposite: not committing, multiplying experiences, wallowing in the society of hyperchoice, being invited to give your opinion on subjects you do not master, having many rights but almost no duties. ClassPass produces small capricious and robotic consumers, hidden behind their screens, eternally dissatisfied and seeking more profit at lower cost.
To put it another way: yoga is like undergoing psychoanalysis, dancing, playing the violin ... it has a cost, both financial and personal. If you are not ready to make these investments, choose something else. This is not to say that yoga should remain unaffordable but this is another topic / another article. Furthermore, let's not be naive: these platforms are not philanthropists committed to fighting against precarity. So using them while hiding behind a pseudo activism of democratizing yoga is perfectly off-topic.
Exiting the Dead End: Exiting ClassPass
So what to do? Well, like Amazon, Uber, Deliveroo, or even Tinder ... Avoid it as much as possible. And the good news is that it is entirely possible. Many studios continue to function very well without ClassPass and are fully booked because they have managed to develop their clientele over time or thanks to their networks and a lot of effort (it takes time!). A note to certain studios in passing: getting into the yoga business requires a marketing investment and/or an effort to retain its clientele. Relying solely on booking platforms without personally investing in the development of one's business is in no way sustainable and will be doomed to failure in the short or medium term anyway.
As a student, it seems to me that commitment to any practice cannot go through a platform that, incidentally, limits the number of registrations for the same course per month. Indeed, no one would think of undergoing psychoanalysis by changing psychologists every other month, learning music by attending a saxophone lesson one day, then a harp lesson, and finally a piano lesson hoping to acquire knowledge. Or take a cooking class in their life thinking to remember everything and become a chef, or finally gain grace and rhythm by attending a ballet class, then hip hop, and finally flamenco. Only to then complain that the "services" offered are not up to our lack of time and commitment. This makes no sense.
As for me, I decided to see how the "situation" evolves by the end of the year. I indeed work with some studios that use ClassPass and my relationship with this type of clientele has deteriorated a lot. I indeed refuse to be a product at the mercy of everyone's whim, to transform myself into a saleswoman from Le Bon Marché who must prostrate herself in front of the demands of sometimes frankly disrespectful individuals, under penalty of receiving negative comments because I did not take enough care of these spoiled children who want everything without giving anything and come to my classes as if they were turning on Netflix. I also think that this system is perverse for young teachers who are terrified of the idea of getting fired because they don't have enough good comments under their profile. This tends to gradually depersonalize their teaching, making them "neutral", consumable by everyone, and therefore a bit bland and commercial. In short, bland and interchangeable replicas of themselves like robots on screens. If this is the future of yoga, it will be without me (and without regrets).