The Top 7 Ways To Monetize A Podcast

The Top 7 Ways To Monetize A Podcast

Photo of Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele recording a Leading Learning Podcast episode

Podcasting is a great way of repurposing content, reaching new audiences, and strengthening your ongoing relationship with your existing audience. Statistics show that the number of podcast listeners is on the rise, and this year the number of Americans who listened to a podcast in the previous month crossed 50 percent for the first time.

That means it’s almost certain that some significant portion of your current and prospective audience is either listening to podcasts already or will be in the not-to-distant future.

The bottom line? Podcasts are a channel that just about every edupreneur should seriously consider.

Still, as great as podcasting is, there’s no getting around the fact that it requires money. Audio and editing gear, time spent recording and editing your podcast, paying for editing and marketing services, promotional costs, and more all add up. For some potential podcasters the cost to launch and maintain a podcast just may not seem worth it – until they realize it is possible to monetize a podcast.

The reality is, you can make podcasting pay for itself and even generate significant revenue for your business – all while building a powerful asset for reach and engaging customers  and prospects for your other educational offerings. I know this from my own experience with launching and growing the Leading Learning podcast. In this post, I share some of that experience has taught me about making money from podcasting

7 Key Ways to Monetize A Podcast

If you’ve read my post on how to monetize your online video courses, you’ll be familiar with some of the options available for earning revenue for online content. Let’s look at how to make money from podcasts in detail. While the possibilities are limited only by your imagination, in this post I’ll cover the seven that are most common and that offer the greatest potential to most podcasters:

  1. Loss leader
  2. Affiliate promotions
  3. Advertising
  4. Sponsorships
  5. Crowdfunding and donations
  6. Premium content and paywalls
  7. Merchandizing

1. Loss leader

First, let’s back up a minute: podcasts don’t have to make money directly to be a valuable part of your overall strategy. You might decide that the value a podcast brings to your brand by reaching new audiences and boosting your reputation is enough.

With that aim in mind, many people treat podcasts as loss leaders, a way to attract a wider audience of followers who can be converted into learners for online classes or who will buy other products, such as books or seminars.

Assess how successful your podcast might be at driving long-term revenue by closely monitoring your audience figures, using tracked links associated with your podcast to see how many listeners view your other products, and looking for correlations between sales of your products and your podcast’s performance.

Most podcast hosts are going to provide tools for tracking the number of listens your show attracts and monitoring growth over time. I also recommend Chartable, a podcast analytics platform that give you good visibility into how your show is performing. (The free version is all most edupreneurs will need.)

Actually tracking whether your podcast is leading to sales can be a bit more complicated. One of the simplest approaches is to ask during the purchase process how the buyer heard about your product and offer your podcast as one of the choices (e.g., in a dropdown menu or list with checkboxes).

At a more technical level, you can track whether product links you mention in your podcast or on any show notes or episode pages you publish are clicked and whether, over time, you see an increase in sales as the number of these clicks rises. To do this, I recommend creating easy-to-remember links that redirect to relevant sales pages and that you use only for your podcast. Most decent Web content management systems – like, for example, WordPress – provide tools for creating redirects. Or, you can use a free link-shortening tool like Bitly.

The key is to make sure whatever links you create can be easily remembered by someone listening to your show. So, for example, you might create bitly.com/myonlinecourse using Bitly. Or, if you are redirecting from your own web address, it would be mywebaddress.com/myonlinecourse. In either case, you will be able to track how many times this link is clicked.

To take it one step further and track clicks all the way through to completed sales, you’ll need to set up conversion tracking in a platform like Google Analytics (free). Explaining how to do that is more technical than I aim to get in this post, but if you want to take things to that level, this post explains how to set up and track redirection links through to conversion in Google Analytics and this one explains how to do it with Bitly links.

Doing at least some of the tracking described above is a good idea no matter how you plan to monetize your podcast, but it is particularly important if you only plan to monetize indirectly. By bias, though, is that you shouldn’t stop at monetizing indirectly. While using your podcast as a loss leader isn’t a bad decision, it does make more business sense to make money from all your content wherever you can. The good news is there are a variety of ways you can monetize your podcast, so you can find the model (or several) that work best for you.

An affiliate link is a personalized link to an online store or product that traces back to you and pays out a percentage of the total from any purchases made. In some cases, the percentage you earn can be quite substantial – from 30 to 50 percent. With higher priced products or subscriptions (which will continue to generate commission on an ongoing basis) the revenue can really add up over time.

The most popular affiliate program is Amazon’s Affiliate Marketing. While it does not pay the highest percentages, the program is very well established and is a good starting point for many affiliate marketers. Link to any product and you’ll receive a payout on all purchases. If you link someone to your $10 book, but they decide against buying it, for example, and purchase a $500 camera instead, you earn a percentage from the sale of the camera.

While Amazon doesn’t pay out for everything (gift cards, alcohol, free digital content, and some other categories are excluded from the affiliate catalog) most products on the site will earn you 1-10 percent of the sale price in referral fees.

In general, affiliate links are a great option if there are specific products or types of products that people in your target audience are highly likely to use. As an expert in your particular topic area, you are in a perfect position to highlight products you know your learners will need.

So, for example, if your podcast is focused – as mine is – on succeeding in the market for lifelong learning, you might link (using Amazon) to books that you know will help your listeners or to screen recording tools and course platforms they might use to create learning experiences or to events they would benefit from attending. They key is to highlight products that are truly relevant and offer value to your audience. Personally, I don’t think you have to be a user of every product you highlight – that’s just impractical – but it certainly helps to call out the ones you actually do use can personally recommend.

To find good affiliate opportunities, make a list of key products in your niche and visit the Web sites for those products to see if there is an affiliate program. In many cases, this will only be mentioned in the footer area of the site.  If you don’t see a program for a product you are interested in highlighting, don’t assume there is not an affiliate program.  In some cases, companies don’t want to make their programs widely known – they are looking only for serious affiliates.  Do a search on the product name with the words “affiliate program” added to see what comes up.

Another useful approach is to search for relevant products on one or more affiliate networks – basically, companies that provide platforms to help other companies run their affiliate programs. Common ones are ShareAsale (the one I use the most), CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction), Impact, and Clickbank. You might also want to check out this post on 97+ high-paying affiliate programs.

In general, my recommendation is to focus on finding higher priced products that are truly relevant to your audience and offer a good commission rate.  (I aim for a minimum of 20 percent.) Also, try your best to find subscription products, particularly one that continue paying as long as the customer uses the product. These can develop into a substantial recurring revenue stream over time.

Finally, keep in mind that if you sell your own products through third-party sites (like, for example, Amazon or Udemy), it can be worth signing up for the affiliate programs on those sites and using affiliate links to your own products (though make sure the programs terms don’t forbid this).

3. Advertising

In many ways, highlighting affiliate products is a form of advertising, but true podcast advertising works a differently in that you get paid based on the number of downloads your podcast generates, regardless of whether a sale is made. (Remember, you usually don’t make any money from affiliate marketing unless sales are actually made.)

Advertisements will typically take the form of audio played before the show starts (pre-roll), in the middle of the show (mid-roll), or at the end of the show (outro). The audio may be read by the host or it may be inserted automatically by technology that is used to “stitch” ads into podcasts.

Mid-roll ads typically pay better than pre-roll (because they are less likely to be skipped by the listener), but are also longer and more intrusive. Both are usually sold on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis, earning around $18 CPM for a 15-second pre-roll ad, and $25 CPM for a 60-second mid-roll. If you have a podcast with 1000 listeners that’s $43 per episode if you ran both ad sets, and if your podcast is particularly popular, you could command far higher prices for any ads you displayed.

Many podcasts hosts (e.g., Libsyn, Podbean) offer options for inserting ads into your podcast, but keep in mind that these ads may or may not be for products that are truly relevant to your listeners. Also, most host require your podcast to have achieved a relatively high level of monthly downloads before they will make advertising available to you as an option.

The truth is, unless you are generating above 10,000 downloads per month (data any decent podcast host will provide for you), you will have a tough time attracting advertisers and, even if you do, you are unlikely to generate enough revenue to make it worth the effort. While advertising is certainly an option to consider over the longer term, for the vast majority of podcasters will have better results with the next option in this list: sponsorship.

4. Sponsorships

Sponsorships blend a major benefit of advertising – getting paid up front – with a major benefit of affiliate marketing – the potential to generate substantial revenue without necessarily having to have a large audience. Like affiliate marketing, they also give you maximum freedom in choosing what you will promote and how and when you will promote it.

Perhaps best of all, sponsorships beat both advertising and affiliate marketing in the freedom they give you to negotiate terms. You determine how much you charge and when you get paid – both of which can be key factors in helping you budget your podcasting business.

Sponsorships can be structured on a per-episode, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, just to name some of the more obvious options. In return for whatever fee you charge your sponsors, you will typically insert promotional audio in one or more episodes in the same way you would for advertisements – i.e., as a pre-roll, mid-roll, outro, or some combination of the three. You might also – as we do at Leading Learning – include sponsor logos, links, and/or promotional language – in your show notes or episode pages.

The main downside to sponsorships, of course, is that it can be challenging to find appropriate sponsors who are prepared to make an investment large enough to make it worth your effort. When your podcast is just starting this may be an impossible challenge to overcome if you don’t already have an established audience (yet reason to continually focus on building your audience). Once you start to get some traction, though, there are always companies who are interested in reaching people in specific niches. This is the path I’ve taken with the Leading Learning Podcast, for example.  We were able to start monetizing with sponsorships when we had barely 1000 downloads a month and we now bring in well into five figures in sponsorship income annually. (Again, you do not have to have a big audience to pursue this option. Sponsors are much more interested in the quality of your audience – i.e., are they people likely to convert into customers – than the quantity.)

Keep in mind, too, that the business relationships you develop through sponsorships can be very valuable in other parts of your business over time. If nothing else, sponsors can be great sources of information, but they may also offer opportunities for you to gain exposure (many, for example, hold large customer events), to consult with them, or to collaborate on product offerings.

5. Crowd funding and donations

With the rise of the gig economy and an influx of small-scale entrepreneurs working in a multitude of industries, crowd funding has taken off. Websites such as Patreon enable fans to contribute to supporting content creators they follow by chipping in anything from a dollar or two per month to hundreds of dollars at a time in return for exclusive access to regular content. With Patreon, you can choose for your sponsors to pay on a regular timescale, or at particular triggers, such as you publishing a new podcast episode.

Fans often enjoy giving back to content creators in this manner because they can control how much or little they give and can also start and stop payments on their terms with no contracts. Podcasters and other creators can incentivize fans to give more by offering higher tiers of rewards for larger donations.

If you don’t produce new podcasts on a regular schedule or know you don’t have the time to invest in interacting with patrons, you can always solicit one-time donations instead. PayPal, Zelle, Venmo and other payment networks all enable creators to accept donations on a one-off or regular basis. Put a virtual tip jar on your podcast website or mention it in your episodes. You might be surprised how many people are willing to pay to show their appreciation for free content.

Of course, there are potential downsides to crowdsourcing and donations. As with advertising, you generally have to have a fairly large audience to attract a substantial number of contributions. Additionally, until you really build up some momentum, the amount of revenue you can count on through this approach is highly unpredictable. Still, for many types of podcasts, crowdsourcing and donations simply have the right “feel” to them.

6. Premium content and paywalls

Charging directly for access seems to be an increasingly popular option as podcasts evolve. Most podcast distribution networks will allow you to create premium (paid) content and Spotify – one of the biggest distribution networks for podcasts – has introduced features to enable you to easily charge for a subscription to your podcast. Apple seems to be headed in the same direction.

Many podcasters publish a combination of free and premium episodes, so their casual followers remain engaged but hardcore fans can pay for more content. A free episode might be a half-hour interview with a notable figure in your field, with a premium companion piece where you really dig into your subject or ask the most pressing questions. Companion pieces are generally shorter than a normal episode, and can easily be recorded and edited along with the main content.

The downside to this method is the risk of alienating free subscribers if they feel that all the best content is only available in premium episodes. Paid content tends to be most effective when it adds value to the main episode, rather than detracts from it.

Alternatively, you can monetize your entire podcast by putting past episodes behind a paywall. Dan Carlin does this with his Hardcore History series, charging $1.99 per episode for past episodes, or more for bundles of related episodes. The trick with paywalls is to offer enough good content to incentivize listeners to pay to hear the rest. I’d also recommend not paywalling episodes until they’re a couple of months old, to ensure regular listeners don’t miss out because they went on vacation or got sick.

For a couple of additional podcast that do a great job with premium content, check out Notes in Spanish – which offers worksheets, transcripts, and exercises as add-on offerings – and Hustle & Flowchart – which monetizes in range of ways covered in this Digital Marketer podcast episode.

7. Merchandising

If your podcast becomes very popular, you can monetize it by creating merchandise with the podcast branding. Joe Rogan’s hugely successful podcast has spawned an extensive collection of products, including T-shirts, mugs, stickers, and even pop sockets with his logo and catchphrases.

Even if you podcast isn’t going to make you a celebrity (although you never know!), you can still sell related products. Print on demand sites such as RedBubble and Zazzle allow you to create and upload your own designs and print them on almost any product you can think of, from apparel to accessories, crockery to collectibles.

The best thing about print on demand is you don’t have to pay anything until you sell a product, then the retailer takes a cut to cover the cost of manufacturing and you split the profits. For that reason, creating merch is cost-effective using your existing branding, because all you see is profit.

Outro

Readers here know that I am a big fan of creating a diversified portfolio of offerings. I see podcasting as a great way to diversify your business with low operational costs and a variety of ways to generate revenue. Choosing the best option(s) to monetize a podcast will depend upon your field, audience tolerances, and personal ethos (some people just hate ads and won’t host them), but with the right monetization there’s no reason a podcast can’t be a significant revenue stream for your business.

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