After seeing one too many generic listicles about podcast monetization strategies that lack real-world experience, we decided it’s time to spill the beans.
Can you monetize a podcast without alienating your audience and without selling your soul? Absolutely. In fact, Tim Ferriss conducted an experiment with his own podcast that revealed that his audience has an overwhelming preference for the ad-supported model over listener-supported. They trust Tim and they enjoy having him curate products and services for them.
Here’s how to monetize a podcast the right way. You can achieve a good ROI from your podcast through monetization, or via other methods.
We want to equip you with the knowledge to choose the right option for your situation. After reading through this guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of monetization strategies for podcasts with a clear path forward.
1. Podcast sponsorship
The traditional way to monetize a podcast is by seeking out sponsorships with businesses that want to reach your audience. It’s so valuable for advertisers to find a place where their target audience has gathered and is listening attentively.
Midroll reports that 61% of their listeners say that they’ve purchased a product after hearing about it on a podcast. Having the hosts personally mention a product is a great way to build trust, and a perfect example of the value that podcasts can deliver for their sponsors.
Sling Media ran a split test between traditional radio ads and podcast ads, and they found that podcasts were able to generate 2x - 3x more engagements.
There are different ways to structure sponsorship agreements. Some advertisers will pay based on your average number of downloads, others may want you to use a coupon code where you’re paid a commission for any sales you refer.
You can find sponsorships by checking out podcasts that have a similar audience as yours and seeing who is sponsoring them. You can ask around in your own business network, attend trade shows and other industry events, and join a podcast network.
- See also: Our in-depth guide to finding sponsors for your podcast where we dive into all of this much more thoroughly.
Attending industry events is a great opportunity to see who is sponsoring and investing their marketing budget to reach the kind of audience niche your podcast serves. If you can meet them face to face, it can be a lot easier to sell them on the idea of podcast advertising (if it’s not something they’ve considered or tried before.)
There are many familiar podcast advertisers with offers that appeal to a broad audience. They’re often promoting consumer products like mattresses, toothbrushes, razors, and underwear.
But if you’re in the B2B space and you have a targeted niche audience, for instance, and most of your listeners can be defined as senior marketing executives or founders of IT companies or developers - it’s likely beneficial to find a more targeted advertiser.
This is what we most often recommend to hosts of business podcasts as it becomes possible to make a good return with fewer download numbers. For example, an accounting software company is likely to value an audience of 100 CFOs and would potentially pay to get in front of them. But to a general consumer sponsor, you would need 100x the number of listeners to begin to make it attractive.
If your podcast has a broader audience, and higher downloads (in the tens of thousands, give or take), then a sponsor looking to reach a broad audience could be a good fit.
As a very rough rule of thumb, based on industry average advertising rates, you could earn around $20-$30 for every 1000 downloads your podcast receives (in other words, $20-$30 CPM or cost per mille). Keep in mind that those are just rough averages and any given podcast could end up earning quite a bit more (or quite a bit less.)
2. Listener supported (podcast subscriptions, Patreon podcasts, etc)
Supporting your sponsors is an indirect way for your audience to support your podcast, but some listeners will want to support the show in a more direct fashion. Patreon is the go-to example because most of the money goes directly to the creator (in this case, you). Your listeners pledge to support you on a monthly (or per-episode) basis, oftentimes in return for exclusive content and updates.
Lime Link compiled an analysis of commonalities between the largest podcasts on Patreon. You can view the full report here, but some of the main takeaways are as follows…
- They all offer bonus episodes to subscribers
- Other popular perks are ad-free versions of each episode and free or discounted merch
- They all had at least 40 episodes when this list was compiled
- Every one of these podcasts is very active on Twitter, highlighting the importance of connecting with your audience on multiple platforms
Tim Ferriss famously set out on a six-month experiment where he switched from sponsors to a donation-only model. You can read more about his experiment here, but the long and short of it is that it simply wasn’t viable in his case, and the experiment was cancelled very quickly. Now, this could be because Tim’s audience was accustomed to free content, or because three months isn't a long enough pilot for such a drastic shift.
But it does show that it’s important to consider your audience first and think about what monetisation strategy will suit the way they consume your content. And, crucially, to ask how your listeners choose to support other podcasters they follow. Take a look at your competition - are they using Patreon successfully? Ask your listeners directly - what other shows do you pay to support?
If the answer to both those questions is no and none, then this might not be the best strategy for your podcast.
The folks at Supercast are betting on Tim being an outlier and they don’t want you to write-off the subscription model just yet. They argue that Tim’s audience has an above-average appreciation for his ads, which doesn’t translate to the typical podcast whose listeners would prefer to support directly for exclusive content and other bonuses. Tim’s audience wants him to recommend products to them, like a version of Oprah’s Favorite Things for the dot-com generation. They don’t care if it’s an ad, they want Tim to tell them what to buy, full stop.
If you’re creating content based around your business, however, it might feel weird to ask your listeners for money in the form of a sponsorship or donation. Which brings us to my favorite way to monetize a podcast…
3. Promoting your business
Many of our clients use their podcast as a marketing channel to promote their own products or services. It’s a great way to reach the B2B market and to attract potential customers and clients who can benefit from whatever it is they provide.
Think of it as being your own sponsor.
You’ve put in a ton of time creating useful content and valuable resources, and your podcast is a great way to showcase your expertise.
Your audience will be a lot more receptive to your offers than those of third parties that sponsor you. Your podcast audience will be built around people who are looking for exactly what you offer, as long as you create content that’s relevant to what you do.
When you have a large enough audience, this also opens doors to grow your business and expand into other areas that are related. If you have a podcast that teaches listeners about computer repairs, for instance, you could release a branded toolkit with common tools and accessories that are needed.
Selling merch is another way to monetize an existing audience while offering something of value in return. There are enough t-shirt printing and shipping services to choose from so you don’t need to carry inventory or spend any money upfront. It’s quick and painless enough to set up that it’s not like you’re starting an entire side-business. It can be complementary if you have the designs and the audience.
If you’re a consultant, freelancer, a developer, a real estate agent or whatever else, there are people out there who are in search of trustworthy information in an easy-to-digest format. If you’re producing great content, you have an opportunity to become an authority/thought-leader in your field which can lead to new business.
4. Just don’t monetize at all
You don’t have to monetize podcasts. Another option is not monetizing your podcast directly at all. There’s an inherent value in capturing attention. Attention is still an underrated currency online. By not advertising to your listeners, you’re building up goodwill and additional trust and making it easier to hold their attention.
When you’re dealing primarily with other business owners or marketers, there’s a certain level of skepticism or putting their guard up that you have to face when you start promoting things. It can cloud the way they see your advice and content.
If the goal of your podcast is branding purposes, then you aren’t directly trying to measure an ROI in most cases. It’s an excellent opportunity to gain insights into your industry and your audience. It’s also a way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your niche which can lead to incredible opportunities that are much more valuable than trying to sell a few mattresses.
You can leverage an audience that trusts you into a book release or for soft-launching other types of products down the road, and by that time, they’ll likely be hungry for ways to support your efforts.
Not to mention that podcasting is a fantastic retention tool. Creating content that educates and inspires your existing customers is a great way to make your users more successful, stick around for longer, and results in lower churn and higher revenue.
On top of everything I’ve outlined above, not having to worry about sponsorships, monetization, or appealing to any outside forces can make the whole experience a lot more fun. It takes away a lot of pressure when you aren’t relying on your podcast to pay the bills.
When you’re having fun with it, that comes through in the finished product, too. When you’re worrying about trying to hit certain download thresholds to appease sponsors, you might not take as many risks in your content or you might get stuck in too familiar of a format, and that can turn stale for you and for your audience.
Measuring ROI when monetization isn’t your priority
The download metric isn’t the best way to measure your show’s success, especially if you are opting not to have sponsors or to promote anything directly.
The downloads number matters to advertisers, but when you’re keeping things in-house and promoting your own business or just trying to grow an audience to better position yourself down the road, there are other ways to see how well you’re doing.
The Startup column on Medium explains that podcasts are a way to straighten-out the traditional image we have of a marketing funnel. Podcasts don’t necessarily fit into any precise position in the funnel in the same way a landing page or a checkout page does. A podcast is a way to “catch” people that may have otherwise existed your funnel.
A listener can learn more about your business from a 20-minute podcast than from years of being exposed to advertisements, and it happens in a much more subtle and natural way. If they’re getting value, they’re much more likely to stick around until they are ready to order.
In the meantime, you have the opportunity to deliver heaps of value and to build mountains of goodwill without any extra effort, since you’re already producing the podcast. It’s a way to fortify your marketing funnel.
Having too many calls to action in a podcast is a common error, too. The aforementioned article recommends sticking to just one call to action, like getting your listeners onto an email list. This gives you an added level of platform-independence (a way to connect with your audience even in the unlikely event that your podcast platform shuts down.)
So, growing this list is one way to measure ROI that will have a larger impact than just watching the downloads number rise, especially if the goal of your podcast is to build an audience and to network in your industry.
More downloads is a good thing, as long as those listeners are targeted and they keep listening, and prompting them to dive in further by joining your list is a good way to measure the quality of your audience, not just the quantity.
How NOT to monetize your podcast
Now that we’ve discussed ways to monetize your podcast, here are some things you should probably avoid doing. They’re either counter-productive, a poor use of time compared to other things you could be putting effort into, or just ill-advised.
Repurposing your content into an eBook: There’s nothing wrong with making the most of the content you produce. We’re big advocates for repurposing your podcast to suit other platforms. But we’re also believers in focussing on what you do best.
And if monetization is your ultimate goal, then doubling down on making the best podcast you can and growing your audience will be much more productive and lucrative in the long run than selling a handful of $3 eBooks. Better to grow your audience, survey them to learn what problems they have, and then produce something unique and valuable that solves those problems.
That something might end up being an eBook. But probably not.
Syndicating your content to YouTube: We’ve seen this suggestion get tossed around a lot. The idea is to take your existing audio podcasts, and upload them to YouTube. There are, of course, successful podcasts on YouTube, and it certainly is a good idea to make your show available there - it’s another huge search engine after all where increasingly more audio content is being consumed.
But if you’re not really going to focus on video and you’re just using it as something extra and hoping to rake in the ad dollars then you may as well just save yourself some time, buy a lottery ticket, and get to work on growing your main platform instead. YouTube’s ad rates have been on the decline, too.
Having said that, if your podcast could benefit from supplementary video content and you have enough of an audience to give you an initial boost on YouTube, it may be worth producing some unique video content in addition to your podcast.
Promoting junk: Whether you’re promoting products or services as an affiliate, or they’re sponsoring your show, it’s important not to promote junk. Promoting questionable offers will turn-off a lot of your listeners, and the ones who do end up buying some magic weight loss syrup and are still being re-billed months later might not thank you for it.
Be sure to think about what brands, products, and offers you want to align your brand with and be selective of what you think will be genuinely valuable to your listeners. Turning away easy money will serve you better in the long run.
Other considerations & what’s next?
I hope that reading through this article has opened your eyes to some new monetization methods, or helped you realize that you don’t need to monetize your podcast at all.
Don’t forget to grab our podcast monetization checklist to make sure that you’re ready for this and that you won’t miss out on any opportunities.
If you could benefit from personalized guidance that’s catered directly to your podcast and your business, I would love to chat and help you tailor a strategy that will help grow your main business and not alienate any of your listeners in the process.
When you monetize your podcast well, audiences accept it. Or better, they thank you for it! If you help them discover a new product or service that genuinely benefits them - as Tim Ferriss has found - your listeners will want you to keep it up.
The criticism of “selling out” is a pressure that content creators had to face much more strongly in the past, but audiences these days are a lot more understanding. Still, it’s possible to come off too abrasive in monetization, so understanding your audience and which offers are best suited to them is crucial.