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What are some good tips for successfully monetizing a podcast? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Jeff Umbro, Founder and CEO of the Podglomerate, on Quora:
Whenever someone asks me how a podcast can be monetized, I go back to a 2014 tweet storm from Andreessen Horowitz cofounder Marc Andreessen. You can find a pretty version of that rant here, but Marc was very optimistic about where media was headed, and was very generous with his thoughts on how someone can make money off the medium, which in 2020 includes podcasting. He broke it down into 8 buckets, which I’ve below applied to podcasting. This list is by means exhaustive, but it will provide readers with a nice place to start.
1. Advertising: The history of podcast advertising is short, since the medium hasn’t existed very long. I don’t know who did it first or how they found their brand or show, but in 2018 brands spent $479 million dollars in the podcast space, up 53% from 2017. It’s predicted that the market will cross $1 billion in 2021, but I don’t know that we’ll even have to wait that long. If you run a podcast with a dedicated and engaged audience, there’s probably a brand willing to spend money to reach your listeners.
There’s a lot of nuance to this, but you can sell ads on your podcast in three main ways:
2. Subscriptions: Podcast subscriptions have sprung up in a few different forms in recent years, but are by no means new. It’s a simple enough concept – if you put your podcast behind a paywall, you’re typically transitioning from a free, ad-supported podcast to a subscription based service. Examples include Stitcher Premium, Luminary, and Brew, as well as some not-quite-but-almost podcast options like Audible or Serial Box. You could even count Spotify in this camp.
3. Premium content: The premium content wellspring toes the line between ad-supported and subscription models. Using platforms like Patreon, Glow, and Supporting Cast, podcasters can provide premium content to their most rabid listeners for a recurring, monthly fee, but still allows for a free listening tier that helps funnel more listeners to the premium content. This allows for a lot of podcasters to secure a healthy base pay that doesn’t rely on advertising revenue. Here’s a list of the top earners amongst podcasters on Patreon, which in some cases is a not small amount of money, and a blog post from Jack Rhysider of the excellent Darknet Diaries podcast that details his 2019 Patreon earnings. This is also a feasible model for larger media outlets: See Slate Plus. I would also include initiatives like paid merchandise under premium content, ie something your listeners are willing to pay for.
4. Conferences and events: If your podcast can command an audience in real life, events are a great way to bring in some extra revenue and help build community. In the larger scheme of things, there are few podcasts that have the resources and audience to pull off a proper live event, but if your show lends itself to the stage, there’s a real opportunity. This recent report from Axios shows that it can be lucrative. This line is directly from Andreessen, and however cynical, is fairly accurate: “Bits are increasingly abundant, and human presence is becoming scarce. So charge for that scarcity, and use bits to drive demand for human presence.”
5. Cross-media: The podcast space has become a ripe arena for developing intellectual property that can be transformed to television, film, books, blogs, and more. Hollywood production companies are increasingly seeing podcasts as inexpensive vehicles to test storylines and build fan bases before pumping larger amounts of capital into development. The same is true for book publishers, television producers, editors, and more. Examples include Gimlet Studios (Alex, Inc., Homecoming, Dolores Roach, Reply All), Wondery (Dr. Death, Dirty John, etc), Welcome to Night Vale (lots here), The Adventure Zone (Here There Be Gerblins, etc), Bodega Boys (Desus and Mero), HBO (Pod Save America, 2 Dope Queens, etc). And each of these cross-media properties come full circle and help to grow the original podcast 😉
6. Crowdfunding: Just like in every other form of media, direct funding from the fanbase can be really powerful. There are all kinds of examples of this dating back to NPR listener fund drives in the 70s, but in recent years they’ve morphed into a slightly different form. Just like Bernie Sanders can crowdfund his campaign with small donations, in the age of Kickstarter, anyone can create something and ask their friends and family for help (see here and here) – there’s even an entire genre of podcasts created to help you do this well. There’s also a history of various parties doing this so well that the success of the campaign became more of the story than the campaigns goals, like with Radiotopia’s annual fundraiser or Planet Money’s much-talked about T-shirt campaign (at least on Startup). Here are a ton of examples of successful crowdfunding Kickstarters for radio and broadcast if you need inspiration (special shoutout to the MaxFunDrive). You also shouldn’t feel obligated to limit donation asks to special fund drives and projects, as a lot of podcasts have consistent donation links and tip jars available on site. In a similar fashion to premium content, if you’re working to create something that people find value in, they’re usually willing to pay for it.
7. Bitcoin for micropayments: There are some notable instances where podcasting platforms like Castbox have tried to implement micropayments, but I’m not an expert in this space and I can’t speak to the success of these projects. If you’re interested in learning more about this, I recommend listening to season 1 of the ZigZag podcast with Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant, where they explore the birth of something called Civil Coin.
8. Philanthropy: As a non-expert in this field, I’ll quote Andreessen directly here: “Today the examples are Pro Publica and First Look Media, tomorrow the could be many more examples. There is around $300 billion per year in philanthropic activity in the U.S. alone. It’s WAY underutilized in the news business.” And adding my two cents, there are a lot of amazing organizations that are utilizing grants to create new audio projects. This is certainly a direction that would be ripe to explore.
As noted previously, this is not an exhaustive list but will give readers a place to begin their research.
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