How to make money from a podcast

Uncategorized Oct 17, 2019

 In this episode of Rock Your Mic Right, Karly talks about making money from podcasting. She explains that making money through sponsors is almost impossible for an average podcaster as the amount of money that sponsors are offering is ridiculous. However, she shares some of her tips on how we can indirectly make money from podcasting, like selling products and services, promoting events and many other useful tips.

Karly has written this epic blog post on how to make money from a podcast as an extension of this episode... here it is:

HOW TO MAKE MONEY FROM A PODCAST

The number one question I get, when it comes up in conversation that I’m a podcaster, is how do you make money podcasting?

And it’s a legitimate question, I guess, because I’ve thrown it into the conversation as ‘what I do’… and that generally means what I do for a living.

However, it’s also a question that can cause doubt in many a podcasters mind, particularly when they’ve started their show from a place of passion. It gets them questioning whether podcasting is really paying off, whether they are legitimate if they aren’t monetizing and whether they are getting it right.

Podcasting can be a lot of work and it requires you to show up consistently. So what if you’re not seeing a return on your investment?

Firstly, I want to point out that podcasting offers way bigger returns than just a few bucks in your back pocket. Some of the biggies I see come up time and time again are things like:

  • Gaining confidence to speak your truth
  • Reducing or eliminating imposter syndrome
  • Finding your voice and your message
  • Overcoming perfectionist tendencies
  • Connecting you with people who you never would have had the opportunity to speak with if you weren’t a podcaster

Pretty big returns, I would say.

Though I totally get most of that doesn’t directly pay the bills, so today I want to talk about all the different ways that we can monetize a podcast.

Many of these ways aren’t just theory for me. I’ve tried and tested most of them, so I’ll share some personal stories around my findings.

So how do you make money from a podcast?

The general podcaster doesn’t, necessarily. Well, not directly anyway.

Podcasters can make a few bucks here and there through sponsorship, but it’s really primarily through indirect ways that we will see a return on our investment.

The only people really making money as podcasters are people who are working for a broadcaster, large organisation, or network; creating content for that organisation.

For example, here in Australia, broadcasters like the ABC, or networks like MamaMia… and in the States, NPR, Wondrey or Gimlet. Organisations like those do have real life jobs for people who are creating podcasts. Generally those roles are limited and specific. Unlike an indie podcaster who is doing all the things (writing, finding guests, interviewing, editing, producing, show notes, socials, branding, marketing, etc, etc, etc), in a ‘day job’ you’d likely have a more defined role (depending on the organisation).

These kinds of jobs aren’t a one human show. They generally have a team of people working on the podcast. To make money directly from a podcast, this would one of the primary ways to do it. Work a j.o.b. If you’ve looked, you’ll likely know they aren’t the kinds of jobs you’d find easily on seek.com. They are few and far between, but they do exist.

Sponsorship

The pinnacle of ‘success’ as a podcaster is sponsorship. I believe sponsorship to be a flawed and misunderstood form of monetization. The industry standard rates are quite pathetic.

Depending on whether you drop sponsorship mid-roll (midway through your show), pre-roll (upfront in the beginning) or end-roll (after you wrap up) you’re looking at somewhere between $10-30 a spot per 1000 downloads. Now these are not concrete. There’s always room to negotiate. Your rate is really what someone is willing to pay you. And that is based on so many factors: including how engaged your audience is, and how niche your message is.

When we come back to what the average podcast is getting in terms of downloads… if you are getting more than around 150 downloads, per episode, after the first 30 days you are in the top 50% of podcasts. Check out Libsyn’s podcast, The Feed, for more solid and up to date data on this.

You do the math. $10–30 per 1000 downloads when the average podcaster is getting less 150 downloads per ep. Yeah, it’s just not worth it. You’d literally be better off sitting in front of your local supermarket with a hat and a sign that says ‘feed this podcaster’.

There are exceptions to every ‘rule’, however, as a vast generalisation sponsors will be interested in talking with you once you sit above the magic number of 5000 downloads per episode. That’s the top 7% of podcasters.

For the top 1% of podcasters sponsorship could make sense (top 1% is greater than 38000 downloads per episode).

The other 92% or so of us are not making anything or a least, not directly.

So now that we’ve ticked off sponsorship, let’s dive into the many, many exciting ways you CAN monetize a show indirectly and without a massive audience.

Indirect can be a little trickier to track. There’s no super clear path that says ‘this money came from your podcast’, but it’s definitely impacted by the fact you are podcasting.

Here are some of the ways I’ve indirectly monetized and made podcasting financially viable and sustainable for me.

Selling your own products and services

Considering the pathetic return sponsorship can provide for the vast majority of podcasters, it makes total sense to sell your own stuff.

I mean, even for those 1% I don’t really understand why they’d sell ads over their own shit. Well, I guess it comes down to if you can pull in $20k an episode and really do nothing for it, why wouldn’t you?

That’s not the reality for most of us. We need to explore other methods and selling our own shit is a great option.

Over the years I’ve done this in various different ways, including:

Books and ebooks

I wrote a memoir. It was the most gruelling experience and I procrastinated for a year on getting it published. I’m a massive fan of following a path of least resistance and eventually decided to produce it as an audio book. As a voice over artist there were no hurdles around this. I kept it super simple and set it up as a private podcast. (I will do a future podcast episode covering how I did this on Rock Your Mic Right).

You don’t have to do a memoir, of course. Or an audiobook. You can write a book as an extension of your podcast. You can create a book of transcripts of your episodes. And you could self publish your own book as an ebook or a legit physical book using services like Amazon or Ingram Spark.

The catalyst for publishing as an audiobook, over an eBook or physical book, was a trip to Melbourne to a conference for aspiring authors. They shared some stats around audio books being on a rapid incline (audio book sales were up 24.5% on the previous year in 2018 and were forecast to increase for the foreseeable future).

The great thing about having a book is that it can definitely help to further establish you as an expert in your field.

Obviously there are limitations, right? A book is going to be relatively low cost, so you’d need high volume to make it worthwhile. But for me, I just felt called to write a book so it made sense and I made my money back and a little bit of extra cash and that was great.

Retreats

This has been a great way for me to, not only make some moula, but also to really connect with my Karlosophies audience in a more intimate setting — which I’m all about.

Every now and then my audience asked me ’Hey, when are you running your next retreat?’ Then I go and create one. My retreats are always a sell out and don’t require me to even put together a sales page. I just announce where it is and when and give an option to pay… and boom, sold out.

This highlights a key point… what you’re being asked for by your audience?

Create things that you feel like you want to create, but also that your audience are asking for. And if you don’t know what they want from you, start asking. Start creating ways to have conversations with your listeners.

Events

Events are a really great way to monetize a podcast. They can be a lot of work too, but they can be really rewarding. Events are a great way to connect with your audience.

I’ve just returned from heading to She Podcasts Live where I spoke on breaking all the podcast rules. She Podcasts Live is a perfect example of podcasters monetizing through events. Jessica Kupferman and Elsie Escobar have been producing their podcast, She Podcasts, for over 5 years. They have also built a super engaged facebook group around their show so that womxn podcasters had a safe space to ask questions and support each other.

Last year, Jess and Elsie decided to crowdfund their first podcasting conference. It was a huge success and She Podcasts Live sold over 700 tickets.

Online courses

After launching my first podcast, Karlosophies, and seeing some great external success (hit no.1 and was featured in New & Noteworthy — which, for the record, is not a marker for success) I had people flocking to me asking if I could help them launch a podcast.

At the time, I was running my voice over agency, producing Karlosophies AND had a baby. I just didn’t have time to help everyone. So I created Radcasters Podcasting S’cool: an online course to teach people everything they needed to know to launch a really fabulous sounding show that connected with their audience and was sustainable and enjoyable to create.

It’s been an indirect way to monetize but it definitely would NOT exist if I hadn’t been podcasting!

An online course isn’t a magic bullet. But it can work if you have an audience there, you know something that can help them, or if your knowledge and skills meets a hole in the market.

I also had success with an audio course I ran in 2018 called Find Your Freq. It was an extension of the content I create for Karlosophies. Every day for a month they would get a private podcast episode from me with something to bring them closer to their truth. The episodes were between 2–10 minutes and delivered daily. Find Your Freq was greatly received and an easy way for me to monetize.

Memberships

Memberships can be sold as a bit of an easy fix. Having tried my hand at them I can say with all honestly they are not an easy anything.

It appears like a no brainer on the surface… an easy sell because it’s a low cost solution for your people and offers recurring revenue for you. Easy, right?

Wrong.

If you don’t have a huge audience, it’s likely going to take a while for your membership to gain momentum and in the meantime, you are locked into constant creation for the foreseeable future — with little to no return.

And then you’ve got to consider churn rates (or the rate at which people leave memberships) and making sure you are consistently driving new traffic into some kind of sales funnel to make up for the short fall.

We know that general conversion rates from email lists are around 1-3%. If you’ve got thousands and thousands of people on your email list or on your socials, they’re engaged and waiting for something from you, then yeah, you may have really great success in the membership space. I have friends who make pretty much their entire income from a membership, and it’s a healthy income.

If you go in with your eyes open and you’re willing to stick with it long term, it can be a really great model. It’s just not the easy sell that it’s sold to be.

Coaching, Consulting or Mentoring

And then of course there’s the coaching and consulting space. This has been a natural progression, for me, and something that was requested by my community in a couple of ways.

Firstly, general business and life coaching. A big theme for Karlosophies is entrepreneurship. I’ve shared a lot over the years around my own journey through business. And I’ve been brutally honest about the highs and lows…. sharing big failures and my learnings from them, but also the shit that worked. This has attracted people to work with me as their coach… and I’m sure it’s repelled others. ;)

Secondly, I’m a consultant and coach in the podcasting space. Due to the success I’ve had with my own podcasts, and my background in radio, voice over work and audio production (running a voice over agency for 15 years), I’ve been sought after to consult others on creating successful shows.

I work with aspiring podcasters to get a show that feels good and sounds amazing off the ground. I work with podcasters to align and refine their shows. And I project manage, consult, produce and direct podcasts for corporates, organisations, Universities and government bodies. In addition to this, I also run podcasters masterminds.

None of this would have been possible without podcasting.

Public Speaking

It’s not for everyone… and let’s be honest, plenty of people who podcast are massive introverts who shrivel up at the thought of being on stage speaking and then having to interact with people. *shudder* They’d rather stay hidden behind the mic. And it’s not an easy road to make financially viable either. You’ll likely have to do a bit of speaking for free before you build up enough of a reputation and show reel that you are sought out and paid. Though it’s totally possible.

Podcasting is the perfect platform to raise your profile as a speaker. It’s a great place to practice using your voice and getting clear on your message or conversation. It highlights you at your best (speaking) and it can set you up as an expert or authority in your field. What’s not to love?

Patreon

Let’s start with Patreon because it’s been a bit of buzz around podcasters for a few years now. If you’re not familiar with Patreon, it’s kind of like a mixture of crowdfunding and membership site. Essentially, your audience give you a either a monthly donation or a donation per episode. And in return, you are often expected to provide extra value content. Behind the scenes stuff, maybe some merch, or live calls, events, etc. It’s really a community building platform. I like the concept, but I want to be really honest in my representation of this option of monetization.

I’ve dipped my toe into Patreon and personally found it to be just as hard as having your own membership. I encouraged my listeners to support me on every episode. At the height of my success I think I was making about $130 from about 15 backers. But it kind of dwindled and I stopped promoting it. Plus creating more content just felt like a pressure I didn’t need, at the time. It’s still live, and I think I make about $35 a month these days. Thinking of giving it the boot, but it’s just another thing on my ‘to do’ list.

Let’s dive into some Patreon stats.

There are a small percentage of podcasters who make really good income through Patreon. Here’s a link to the Patreon podcast stats from Graphtreon — which shows the top podcasts on Patreon and how many backers they have (plus income, if it’s public).

I did a bit of math (not my strong point) to see if I could get my head around the reality of Patreon. Here’s what I found.

Patreon claim the average pledge is around $7.

Thanks to Graphtreon I ran some figures of my own. I looked at the top 50 creators in the podcasters space on Patreon. Then I divided the total figure (of those who had their income set to public) and found that the average of the top podcasts had an average pledge of approximately $4.50.

According to Graphtreon, the estimated monthly payout for podcasters on Patreon is $1,432,131.

So I added up the top 25 creators (podcast) on Patreon using either their public figure, or their patrons multiplied by $4.50 and that came to $981054.

According to Graphtreon there are approximately 10000 podcasters on Patreon. So if you take away the amount the top 25 Patreon Podcasters are making from the estimated monthly payout total, you are left with approximately $451,077. I divided that figure by the remaining 9990 of us and that brings down the average to $45.20 per month per podcaster.

It gets even sadder when we look at the top 50 podcasters on Patreon. The top 50 shows are (based on my calculations from Graphtreon) making $1,399,539 out of the $1,432,131 estimated monthly payouts. Leaving the remaining 9950 podcasters in Patreon with an average of $3.27 per podcaster.

Not great figures… and certainly not enough to pay the mortgage. Or maybe even a coffee (depending on where you live in the world).

Crowdfunding

If providing monthly content above and beyond what you’re already creating isn’t really your thing (it’s not really my thing, either) then maybe Crowdfunding could be an option worth considering.

This is a great way to:

  • see if the support is there from your audience
  • give them a way to support you that doesn’t require them to be locked in ongoing
  • funds to help with the production
  • stay accountable and really committed to producing another series of your show, and
  • have a deadline to make shit happen

One of my clients, Ellen Ronalds Keene ran a crowdfund for her last season of Teacher Wellbeing. The reason it worked really well for her was primarily because she had already established an audience with 3 prior seasons. Her audience were keen to throw a few bucks her way to help her produce another season.

Not only is that great for the listener, but it’s also amazing feedback for Ellen. It means she had a renewed level of enthusiasm for her show and it connected her even more to her audience.

However, being on your third or fourth season is not a prerequisite for podcast crowdfunding success.

During my travels throughout the various podcasting groups in facebook land, I came across Ben McKenzie, a creator behind the award winning Sci Fi comedy podcast, Night Terrace. Ben is an actor, writer and comedian, who has successfully crowdfunded two series of their award winning podcast and the third season is currently open for backing.

So far they’ve made two seasons of eight episodes, three mini-series, a ‘making of’ documentary, and a 45-minute special recorded in front of a live audience, all due to their successfully funded kickstarter campaigns. This all started with them crowdfunding their first series… proving you don’t need to have a stack of series under your belt in order to crowdfund a podcast.

Thinking about crowdfunding led me on a bit of a research journey and I discovered a few of the top podcasts funded through kickstarter campaigns.

PRX have had huge success crowdfunding series and shows. With 99% Invisible raising $375,193 for their fourth season (after raising $170,477 for season 3) and Radiotopia; which raised $620,412 via a kickstarter campaign.

It’s no easy feat to crowdfund and it requires you to:

  • have an existing engaged audience
  • be well connected and willing to promote yourself, or
  • have an idea that connects and people can get on board with

So, not a magic bullet and I’m sure if I dug into the stats of successful kickstarters, we’d be looking at rather dismal figures too, but hey, I do have a kid to raise and a life to live and I’ve been writing this post for days now. We might have to save my breakdown of crowdfunding stats for a future post. *insert laughing emoji*

This brings me to…

Donations

Not the worlds best way to make an income from podcasting, but this wouldn’t be a complete article if I didn’t mention it. It can be done just by simply adding a paypal button to your site and letting people know it exists. You’re unlikely to be able to buy a yacht, but it might shout you a coffee or lunch every now and then.

Affiliate Marketing

This is an area that I don’t have much direct experience in, but it is a legit way to monetize your podcast. In fact, many of my friends make serious money being an affiliate in the online marketing space.

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is the recommendation or endorsement of a product then getting a kick back on any sales purchased as a result.

Affiliate marketing can be as simple as adding an Amazon link to books that you mention during the episode to your show notes, or asking your listeners to use your Amazon link next time they shop. You could create a resource page which includes all the products you proudly endorse with affiliate links. Or review products or services and encourage people to use your affiliate link or code if they choose to purchase. And it can be as complex as a full scale launch, as if you were launching your very own product or service.

A friend of mine, Denise Duffield-Thomas shared her income year in review information for 2018 earlier this year and reported she made $904k from the programs she affiliates for. That’s nothing to be sneezed at! But she does treat these affiliate launches just the same way she would approach her own. This kind of affiliate income is not made by a link or two and a few kinds words in a facebook post. These are legitimate full scale launches.

Merchandise

Another epic fail attempt by me in the merch department. I did create some designs on redbubble and I think I sold about 7 tees —5 of them to myself. But there are podcasters out there doing some fun and unique things with merchandise and making it work for them.

There are plenty of options to keep this super simple and save boxes of expensive merchandise gathering dust in the garage. Options like TeePublic and Redbubble allow you to design your merchandise with ease, print on demand on a wide range of products (tee, hoodies, mugs, cushions, clocks, mouse pads, phone cases, etc) and drop ship them. The profit margin isn’t great, but as a pay off you get to keep parking your car in the garage.

The Catexplorer podcast is one of those hyper niched shows which can translate really well into merchandise. The show is for people who go out exploring and travelling… with their cats. And the products perfectly support their message. In addition to the standard types of merch (tees, stickers, badges, mugs) they also sell… wait for it… cat backpacks! This has to be seen to be believed (unless you are already a catexplorer fan).

While I was researching the crowdfunding part of this article, I also discovered that one of the biggest crowdfunds for podcasts was actually a Tee for the Planet Money podcast. They raised $590,807 for a tee shirt!?! Guess there really can be great $$$ in merch. I did once hear that tshirts are the most sold item on all of the internet. Couldn’t find anything to really back that up, but hey, it sounds pretty good. Possibly legit.

Podcast Professional

This one certainly isn’t for everyone, but for someone like me (who has worked in audio production for 20 years) it can be a bit of a no brainer.

There are plenty of podcasters out there who are now editing other podcasters shows. This can be a bit shit because it means there are plenty of people out there, who really only have a very simplistic understanding of audio, editing people’s shows, but hey… I’m a believer in the ‘there’s enough room for everyone’ philosophy.

The people who inhabit Curves (a 30 mins women’s only gym franchise that was big about 15 years ago in Australia) are not the same people who Crossfit. One does not necessarily take away from the other. And the more people who have help making their show a little less overwhelming, the more people who will stick with podcasting longer term, the more people who will eventually grow into the next level of their craft, the more people who will grow into a more advanced form of audio production. We all start somewhere after all!

I’ve tried fitting my head into a number of podcast professional hats over the years. We tried offering editing services but we couldn’t make it profitable. We would have been lucky to be breaking even and it was more work than it was worth, for us. So that was a service we dumped about 3 years ago.

Other podcast professional hats I’ve worn have included my coaching and mentoring work with podcasters. This is really where it’s at for me. I love diving deep into peoples shows and businesses. There’s nothing better. This has been a profitable arm of my business, for sure. And something I won’t be stopping any time soon. In addition to podcasting reviews and 1:1 coaching, I also run regular podcaster masterminds… where I bring together an intimate group of INCREDIBLE humans to work individually and with group support for an extended period. Frequency (my podcasters mastermind) has been one of my best experiments to date. Now a regular fixture in my work schedule, for sure.

I’m also a podcast producer for various corporates, government organisations and Universities. Recent projects include: Ground Cover and Indigenous Health MedTalks. On these projects I work as a project manager and producer. It’s such rewarding work and I love being able to drive these projects and help organisations create top notch podcasts without all the fuss of trying to figure it out themselves.

Which brings me to an opportunity I see emerging in this space…

Podcast Partnerships and branded podcasts

Right now, I am seeing a tonne of money flood into podcasting. And there’s a lot of interest from large companies.

My prediction is that we will see those with super niched podcasts, or those who have really established themselves as a ‘host with the most’, collaborating with bigger brands.

Right now, the influencer space in podcast land isn’t really that happening, but I’m predicting it will be a thing in the future.

So look out for established podcasters being approached by brands to form partnerships and podcast collaborations.

This is moving beyond sponsorship and into more branded content and I feel like this will be a huge growth area and opportunity for podcasters in the future. I’m already seeing this unfold within my client community. It’s very exciting times to be involved in this industry, for sure.

The downside would be that you may lose some creative control, but perhaps that would be offset by what you would learn through the process of collaborating with a company that has a way bigger marketing budget than you currently have… and can help you reach a much wider audience (aka, their market).

Summary

The key to success in any single one of these ideas is that you MUST be willing to stand behind your show and be willing to promote yourself.

Every one of these monetization strategies requires you to get out of your comfort zone and start promoting your products and services (in addition to your podcast). Personally, I’ve found that the moment you are not promoting something, is the moment sales drop off.

Every one of these strategies requires you to stick around. To find ways to make podcasting work for you. There are no shortcuts here. We need to be consistent and we need to be able to keep going when things get hard. And they do.

This is why a huge part of my message and my work in the world is focussed on why it’s so incredibly important for us to find internal measurements of success that are not focussed on external metrics (like downloads or dollars).

It is totally okay for you to have a hobby. In fact, I encourage it wholeheartedly.

I’m a huge advocate for keeping some things in your life for no other reason than enjoyment or creative expression. We do not have to monetize every fucking thing we do. We can do things purely for the love of it.

I see podcasting as an art form. Focus more on your craft, than you do on all the little superfluous bullshit ‘shoulds’ and tips and tricks.

But if you need to bring in some dollars so you can take your art to the next level, I hope this guide has been super helpful and sprouted some new ideas and inspiration.

If you’d like to hear more from me, definitely check out my podcast: Rock Your Mic Right — it’s all about podcasting to the beat of your own drum, from someone who has worked on the inside of the industry for 5 years (and two decades in audio). And if you’d like to learn more about the work I do in the world with podcasters, hit up karlynimmo.com

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