How to Monetize a Podcast
A podcast is an investment. Whether you’re podcasting for business or pleasure, you’re spending time and money on a project you want to succeed. The question is: are you getting a return on your investment?
Firstly, you want your audience to grow. The more listeners you have, the closer you come to reaching your goal, whatever that might be. There are many potential listeners out there, but there is also an ever-expanding pool of podcasts for them to consume.
Your competitors will do whatever they can to get ahead, which means you need to invest more of your time and money to stay relevant. If you’re not careful, the podcast you run so lovingly might drain away your resources. That’s why you need to approach it with a plan.
This playbook outlines everything you need to know about podcast monetization to ensure your investment does pay out. We have analyzed several popular podcasts so you can learn from their success.
You can even download a podcast valuation calculator to save yourself the trouble of doing the math from scratch. Your time is valuable, and with help, the world will acknowledge that.
What is Podcast Monetization?
Starting a podcast is a long-term strategy that can generate revenue in a variety of ways. Podcast monetization isn’t limited to ad sales and sponsorship — it also includes potential revenue-making opportunities that come from running the show. It could be sales made to leads who learn about you from your podcast; the value of having authority in the eyes of a captive, dedicated audience; or capitalizing on your listeners’ enthusiasm by hosting events and asking for contributions.
Why Most Podcasts Fail
Podcasts grow at a slower rate than other media — it’s the nature of the format. It takes time to build an audience for a podcast because a podcast is often grown through word-of-mouth referrals more than anything else. But if it’s on a growth trajectory, it will continue to grow as long as you keep putting out good content.
Podcasts might be a slower channel, but they build deeper relationships with an audience. If you have someone listening to your podcast and they’re not buying from you, find out why. That they’re listening at all means they’re already pretty dedicated to your brand.
Shows that fail to monetize tend to be run either by creatives who view podcasts as a hobby or by hosts who don’t want to make money. Those shows fail because eventually, the cost of production (time and/or money) overwhelms the host’s desire to keep the show going.
The Case for Podcast Monetization
Podcasts cost money to run. Whether you’re a hobbyist, an expert looking to build authority, or the founder of a business centered on podcasting, you’ll incur expenses along the way. When you plan your monetization strategy early on, you set yourself up for the long haul. You can launch and grow your show without it becoming a giant money pit.
Even if making money is not your primary goal, monetization is still key to understanding and growing your audience. The process of monetization is first and foremost about understanding the value of your audience.
Measuring the Value of a Podcast Listener
More podcasts are being launched every single day, which makes it harder to capture listeners’ ears and attention. It’s a competitive market.
We measure the value of our listeners by doing in-depth audience research, which often includes one-on-one interviews with audience members. Through this research, we get a comprehensive understanding of the listeners’ preferences, purchasing power, and desired products or services. This allows us to develop an idea of the average value of one listener.
If you can prove your listeners are at the director level in their organizations, that commands a premium. For example, if you have a list of 1,500 director-level audience members at technology companies that operate in finance, then you suddenly have a very niche, high-value audience. You can make larger sponsorship deals because you can prove your audience has real purchasing power.
Having a listener’s email address automatically makes them more valuable. You know who that listener is, which makes it easier to sell to them in the future. If you collect emails, you can use those emails to further engage your audience by retargeting them on social media and matching them to custom audiences. After all, email marketing is still one of the most effective tools available.
To find the value of your current, you’ll need to know a few things:
When building an audience, niche down every time. We never recommend targeting the mass market — this approach is how you end up only being able to sell ads.
Most shows are never going to be massive. You should assume that your podcast will never have more than 10,000 listeners per episode. In most cases, it’s not even going to break 2,000 listeners. And that’s okay; it’s still a valuable audience.
Think of it in these terms: What’s the largest number of people you’ve spoken in front of at a conference or live event? For most people who aren’t keynote speakers, that number is less than 500. And it’s actually probably less than 150. If your podcast breaks your live-speaking max number each episode, it’s like having the biggest speaking gig of your life every week.
While a show may only have a few hundred listeners per episode, if you’ve got your niche down, you can be confident that a high-value, relevant audience is tuning in. It’s better to have a small number of targeted, high-value listeners than thousands of people who aren’t your target audience.
When building an audience, niche down every time.
13 Ways to Monetize a Podcast
Once you’ve done your audience research and identified your high-value audience segments, the next step is to understand your options for different methods of monetization.
Before you choose which path is right for you, you need to know how each option works and for which types of shows.
SPONSORS AND ADVERTISERS
The terms “sponsors” and “advertisers” get thrown around interchangeably, but they’re actually structured quite differently.
The amount a show can charge for advertisements is usually dependent on the listeners’ CPM (cost per mille/thousand). The current industry standards for total ad value on a show are around $40-50 CPM, so a show with 1,000 listeners can expect to charge $40-$50 per ad. Having said that, however, the value of the audience can shift the CPM up or down. This is how advertisers determine whether your show will give them a return on their investment.
For a podcaster, ads are the easiest to sell because there are a lot of companies ready to place ads on podcasts that have an audience. Ads work well for monetizing B2C shows—it’s easy for advertisers to gauge the value of a target audience and their likelihood to take action on the ads they hear. Ads work best when shows have a high number of listeners because overall, conversion rates tend to be lower.
Partnerships are like sponsorships on steroids.
Partnerships could be joint ventures, large cross-promotions, contests, or even a takeover of your social media accounts. When you partner with someone, you become an evangelist for their product, and them for yours. Partnerships often include sharing marketing data like cross-installing a retargeting pixel so partners can directly target listeners of the show.
For a hypothetical example, let’s say you run an adventure show focused on hiking, climbing, camping, and other travel adventures. You could partner with a travel company and an outdoor gear company to offer your audience an adventure package. When you promote the contest in your show, your partners get mentioned. And your partners will share the contest with their audience and plug your podcast. This makes the deal mutually beneficial, especially if you both have large audiences that consist of different people within a shared niche. This partnership opportunity, if executed well, could turn into a long-term arrangement.
The best way to secure partnership deals is to reach out one-on-one to people or brands in your industry that you think would be a good fit for a partnership. Sometimes brands will reach out with opportunities, but if you want to pursue partnerships seriously, you’ll have to put in the work on research and outreach.
It’s important to keep in mind that partnerships are very customized to optimize what benefits each party can provide each other. When you’re pitching a potential partner, position yourself as someone who can add value to them and their audience. The more value you can add, the more of a chance you can land a great partnership.
For more information on how to reach out to other podcast hosts, view our Podcast Guesting Playbook.
It’s important to keep in mind that partnerships are very customized to optimize what benefits each party can provide each other. When you’re pitching a potential partner, position yourself as someone who can add value to them and their audience. The more value you can add, the better your odds of landing a great partnership.
Partnerships are like sponsorships on steroids.
CONTENT BASED NETWORKING
One of the often-overlooked benefits of a podcast is the networking opportunities it generates. While the connections made through podcasting aren’t direct revenue, they’re just one step away.
Some common ways content based networking through a podcast can lead to revenue include:
The monetary value of relationships can’t—and shouldn’t—be directly measured. But know that every relationship you create and build through podcasting (and tangential activities) is valuable in the bigger picture of your monetization efforts.
PRIVATE COMMUNITIES AND MASTERMINDS
Masterminds and private communities work well for small, high-value audiences. You only need a few hundred dedicated listeners, maybe even fewer, to start a mastermind. A mastermind generally consists of 8 to 12 people who are interested in growing together. You don’t need many people to form a mastermind—the small size keeps the value per person high.
Even if you only have 500 listeners, you could try starting a mastermind. If you built a niche audience, It’s likely that most of your listeners are interested in similar types of growth opportunities and can learn a lot from each other. You could charge between $8,000 and $20,000 for mastermind memberships, especially if you have a B2B or other high-value audience.
Some podcasts use masterminds and communities as their primary source of monetization because the income is significant enough that they can focus on making the content as valuable as possible. Masterminds pair well with selling services (discussed later), especially for coaches who offer a group mastermind as well as one-on-one services.
PREMIUM CONTENT AND SUBSCRIPTIONS
Subscriptions are the purest form of monetization—your audience is supporting your creativity and media directly. This means that you can see a direct correlation between your subscriptions and how happy your overall audience is. Your subscribers are an excellent gauge for how happy your audience is. If they are willing to pay for more, it means you’re doing a good job.
Subscriptions are the purest form of monetization.
Monetizing with subscriptions—also known as premium content—requires consistency, commitment, and continuous implementation. If someone is paying a monthly fee to access premium content, they will expect exclusive content on a predetermined schedule, or they’ll cancel their subscription.
Subscriptions are a great way to monetize a property at scale. Just take a look at China, which has a podcast market 23 times the size of the US podcast market. Their market is almost entirely B2C, subscription-based shows for education and self-improvement.
The bottleneck of subscription-based shows is the content creation itself. This model requires a more significant investment in the content creation side. In many cases, you will be creating almost double the content to keep both your free listeners and your paid subscribers happy.
For a subscription model to be sustainable, you need to take time to understand what is considered premium content for your market. If a market is already very saturated, then creating the same type of content, only double, won’t be enough to gain subscribers. In that case, your exclusive content should be an elevated version of your free content, not a carbon copy.
INFO-PRODUCTS AND BOOKS
Selling books and other info-products related to your podcast content or industry can work well for both B2B and B2C shows. Because they are lower-priced offerings, you need to have a broad audience to make any significant income with this monetization method.
Content for info-products and books can easily be repurposed from existing episodes of your podcast. If you’ve interviewed 30 CEOs and gathered dozens of business tips, you could turn that information into an ebook or online course. Repurposing is a cost-effective way to get something valuable in front of your audience without investing in more original content.
These assets can be used as lead magnets to capture your listeners’ email addresses and make it easier to nurture and sell to them in the future. Having an email address can be more valuable than the money you make selling the product. Email addresses allow you to stay in touch with your audience and market to them in other ways.
To monetize your podcast with live events, you need to have an audience that is concentrated in specific areas. Events like conferences and workshops work best with B2B audiences, whereas live recordings of a podcast episode are more of a B2C tactic.
Many podcasts that run significant events like conferences or workshops use sponsorships, in addition to selling tickets, to monetize their events. If they expect many high-level executives to attend, then they can sell high-priced sponsorship packages. Companies within their niche will benefit from that kind of exposure, and the targeted audience gives them a better chance of earning a strong ROI.
Events also require a lot more prior knowledge and planning to make them successful. If you’ve never planned a large-scale event before, then you’ll likely spend a lot of time and money in the process of figuring out how to do it. You could hire an event planner or team to run the event for you, which can cost just as much for an event that still may not be profitable.
Events tend to become more profitable over time, so it’s essential to manage your expectations when choosing to monetize with events.
COACHING AND CONSULTING
Many times, coaches and consultants use a podcast as a core marketing channel. If you are a coach or consultant hosting a podcast, you should start talking about your services from day one. This doesn’t mean selling to your audience every episode, but simply making it known that this is what you do for a living.
If you have a niche B2B audience, selling a specific coaching or consulting offer is one way to generate decent revenue relatively quickly. For a detailed walkthrough of the entire process of this approach, check out the B2B Podcasting Playbook.
Many premium content models are advertised as donations, where you can choose how much you donate, and receive exclusive content in return. If you are considering asking for donations, the least you can do is create premium content for the people giving you donations.
While donations might work, your content should be good enough that people want to pay for it. If people are paying for it, then you have a great opportunity to move into another model like premium content or a subscription model.
If your show could be considered a non-profit, then you might benefit from setting up a 501(c)(3) to establish your organization as a nonprofit and accept donations with tax benefits. Certain hobby shows that serve to support causes would qualify as a nonprofit.
Your potential to earn affiliate income from products you plug on the show depends on the show itself and your industry. Many podcasts that use affiliate marketing to earn an income do so with Amazon links, SaaS products, or other high-ticket items. Many times, partnerships can turn into affiliate deals where you help sell your partners’ services or products to your audience and earn a certain percentage from every sale.
If you mention a lot of books or physical products during your show, including Amazon affiliate links to those products in the show summary is an easy way to earn extra income. It won’t be much, but if you continue to grow and plug products that resonate with your audience, the numbers can really add up.
CELEBRITY, SOCIAL CAPITAL, AND PAID HOSTING
Once you have experience as a podcast host and have built up a following, other opportunities will arise—podcasting and otherwise. For example, if your presence on someone’s show is likely to attract a lot of new listeners for them, you can leverage this and charge for your time. You may also find yourself being asked (and paid) to chair conferences, host webinars, speak at events, and more.
In contrast, if you invite celebrities or famous hosts on to your podcast, then you could attract new listeners and gain social clout. A celebrity appearance won’t pay off directly but is a great long-term strategy for growing your audience and supporting other monetization strategies in the long run.
Once you have experience as a podcast host and have built up a following, other opportunities will arise.
A lot of people in the podcast industry are against charging guests. But if your audience is to the point where guests are willing to pay for the exposure, by all means, charge them for a spot on the show. People willing to pay to be on a podcast, or people who are trying to get their name out, likely already have a brand of their own to promote.
A guest package could include the podcast interview, a blog post, and social promotion.
Selling physical products usually works best for B2C companies whose listeners are already customers of their brand. If you have an e-commerce company, then you can structure your podcast to market your product.
This model of monetization is costly to implement if you don’t already sell physical products.
However, if you do sell products and promote them on your highly targeted podcast, it’s likely to sell better than if you were to promote just through a blog or a video.
When to Monetize a Show
If making money is your primary goal for starting a podcast, you should start monetizing from day one. You might not be able to sell a live event after your first episode, but if you know that you plan to do live events, you know to build your audience in a concentrated geographic area so they can all go to your event. That strategy gives you a different target audience to start with than, for example, building around selling services.
If you take the time to plan out your monetization options from day one, you’re in a better position now and down the road. Your audience won’t be thrown off when you start running ads or promoting sponsorships because they’ll already be prepared for it.
MONETIZATION FOR EXISTING AUDIENCES
It’s not possible to make money through a podcast without an audience. However, you can get sponsorships without an existing show.
Shows that start out with a host who has an existing audience are more likely to land sponsorships right off the bat. This is because advertisers can see the potential they bring from previous projects and their current audience. Shows that are willing to spend money to guarantee reach are also more likely to be able to monetize earlier (like with a show launch sponsor).
The monetization path is determined by the audience, so look at your existing audience and plan accordingly.
MONETIZATION FOR EXISTING BUSINESSES
An established business has an existing business model, which means a podcast can be part of its marketing strategy.
Using a podcast for lead generation is very effective. The B2B Podcast Playbook walks through why it works and how to start one.
Evaluating Your Monetization Plan
Using a podcast for lead generation is very effective. The B2B Podcast Playbook walks through why it works and how to start one.
EASE OF IMPLEMENTATION
Each monetization technique requires its own set of skills and knowledge that takes time to learn and understand.
For example, if you’ve never sold physical products before, your podcast might not be a good first time to try. You need to have the expertise to sell a physical product successfully. Understanding how a monetization channel works on its own, outside of your podcast, makes a huge difference in your ability to implement it successfully.
Some podcasts use live events to monetize, but there is a lot of time and money upfront when hosting an event. If you don’t have experience with event planning, there will be a higher learning curve to get the event to become profitable.
You can analyze how scalable your podcast will be before you even being recording. Based on your audience research, you should already have an idea of the rough value of each listener.
For example, if you choose to monetize by asking for a $5 monthly subscription because you’ve noticed that’s what people are doing in your industry, your audience value is $60 / listener annually.
But if your target market is Facebook ads specialists, and your podcast is specifically about how business owners can use Facebook ads, and your audience value is higher because they have more money to spend.
It’s important to know what your audience wants. If your podcast is about Facebook ads, it’s likely that your listeners also want to buy a service or info product that you sell. They may be interested in taking a course, training, or joining a community that you manage.
Some podcasts are difficult to scale, and that is just fine. For example, if we looked at a podcast about dating in Denver, CO, that’s not a show that can scale easily outside of the Denver audience. But just because it can’t scale beyond Denver, doesn’t mean there aren’t other monetization opportunities. The limit on the geographic scale also means that particular sponsorship opportunities exist within Denver that might not be open to national podcasters.
With a geographically restricted audience, there is an opportunity to monetize by hosting local events and live shows. Even if the podcast never gets above a couple of thousand listeners per episode, there’s still revenue opportunity by selling $20 tickets for a live recording.
There are two types of costs you should evaluate when planning your podcast. First is how much it costs to produce the show. Second is how much it will cost to implement your monetization path.
You need to be able to invest money and/or time to produce a show people want to listen to. When evaluating possible monetization paths, consider the cost of implementation. A small event can be costly to put on, and it is even more expensive to run a series of conferences. Managing and marketing a series of live recordings becomes more difficult over time. The cost to test is relatively low, but the price to implement is high.
Other monetization channels will be more expensive to test up front but have a lower implementation cost long term. Things like online courses and trainings are an example where you will have higher upfront costs to create the products and test the market. Once you figure those things out, they are cost-effective to maintain and profit from the long term.
Narrowing Down Your Options for Monetization
There are a lot of options to explore when it comes to monetizing your podcast. The best way to start is by listing out all of the potential monetization channels you want to explore.
Once you’ve listed the channels you’re interested in pursuing, rate them based on the potential revenue they could generate. The rating should consider the cost to test, the cost to implement, as well as the likelihood of success. Using that information, start with the options that are going to make the most money and go down the list.
The main thing to look for when narrowing down your monetization options is how you can target an ultra-high-value audience to generate a single revenue stream. Try a single offering to start with. Services are almost always the fastest revenue path for B2B, and while B2C podcasts have a much wider variance, we usually recommend trying sponsorships first.
Another way to develop your revenue model is to segment your audience based on their optimal monetization paths. Various audience members will have different needs. The more targeted your audience research, the better you can understand which paths are going to work with different segments of your audience.
For example, with a B2B coaching business, a client who buys one-on-one coaching is normally a different client than the one who chooses a mastermind. Monetization is about knowing your audience and offering them things that appeal to them. Your audience likely has overlapping interests but could have very different buying profiles. Distinguish those segments early on to understand that you need to sell different things to them.
Monetizing Podcasts Vs. Other Media
Whenever you have a concentrated audience in a single channel, it’s easier to monetize. Podcasts can usually sustain fewer monetization tactics than other media properties because podcasts have a much higher level of interpersonal trust between the host and the audience member. That trust means potential profits are higher on a per audience member basis, but the overall audience size is generally much smaller.
Listening to someone talk for 30 minutes builds a much stronger connection than reading a blog post.
If you read a five-minute blog post by somebody, it’s not going to ingratiate you to the same way as listening to them talk for 30 minutes. Podcast listeners overall are much more dedicated.
Podcasts and their Revenue Models
THE BUSINESS METHOD
The Business Method, started in 2017, interviews six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs about their journey and challenges. The target audience is a combination of beginner and experienced entrepreneurs, most of whom are location independent or have fully remote businesses.
Revenue Model — Coaching, Events, Masterminds
The host monetizes the podcast by holding in-person productivity workshops as well as by offering one-on-one coaching and private masterminds.
The show has over 400 episodes available. This volume of content, in addition to the high-level people being interviewed, positions the host as a well-connected person in the industry. A show that focuses on high-level success is often built around a service business, in this case live events and coaching packages.
The association with six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs makes it easier to sell to somebody who aspires to be at that level. That makes it very straightforward to serve that section of the audience. There are lower priced options like group coaching and a community, and on the high-ticket end, 1-on-1 coaching.
This model generally starts with professional services. Then it expands out with masterminds, communities, or live events. From there, it can expand into books, info products, and larger online communities.
Tropical MBA is a podcast that talks about achieving personal and financial freedom through small business ownership and location independence. They started as a blog, built up that audience, and launched a podcast in 2009 when the platform was first becoming popular. Their blog audience is primarily remote workers, or people interested in going remote. This meant they were likely first adopters and rely heavily on technology for their work, making a podcast a natural step.
Tropical MBA was ahead of the curve with podcasting. They identified podcasting because their audience was so technologically informed and already leaning in that direction, and they’ve exploded since. They were small when they launched their show, but they’re a big brand now, and in large part, that’s due to having a popular podcast in their niche.
Revenue Model — Events, Private Community, Ads
They have a private membership community as well as an annual conference. They also include ads and sponsorships on some of their episodes. They’ve become a media brand and built the private membership community to go beyond a coach and rely on the input and value added by the members of their community. Their private community has a high price point, which provides members access to masterminds.
Their age is the reason why they have so many monetization channels built up and why they have multiple content channels built out, but their niche is the key to that success.
ENTREPRENEUR ON FIRE
Entrepreneur on Fire (EOF) is a podcast that conducts interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs to help people on their entrepreneurial journey. Host John Lee Dumas has established himself as an entrepreneurial figurehead, which allows him to attract notable guests like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris, and Barbara Corcoran.
Revenue Model — Sponsorships, Online Courses, Affiliate Revenue, Physical Products
EOF sells high-ticket courses and sponsorships, both of which make a big difference to their revenue. They also have physical products, most notably their Mastery Journal, that they sell on their own e-commerce site, as well as on Amazon.
EOF is also very transparent about the revenue they make from the podcast and release monthly income reports breaking down each of their monetization channels.
YOU NEED A BUDGET
You Need a Budget is a financial technology (fintech) SaaS company primarily targeting millennials and Gen Xers by helping them create budgets and manage debt to be more financially independent. They started a podcast in 2018 as a new media channel, mostly to create content for their audience and generate new leads.
Revenue Model — Their Own Business
Since they are an existing company that started a podcast as an additional marketing channel, they already have a built-in revenue model. The podcast serves as a marketing and lead generation tool. They don’t need to focus on monetizing the podcast because it brings in revenue by marketing their existing product and attract new customers.
Lore is a horror-themed podcast narrating true crime and other scary stories. The host, Aaron Mahnke, started as a horror author and soon after began narrating his stories via podcast. This grew into telling other true-crime and horror related stories, which brought the podcast to where it is today.
Revenue Model — Partnerships, Ads, Events
Lore is syndicated on podcast networks, which helps organically increase the number of listeners. The real key to Lore’s revenue model is the partnership deals that have been formed through its success.
They have a deal with Amazon Studios that turned Lore into a TV show. They also have multiple book deals, turning Lore episodes into books. Additionally, they host live events and readings, which are a considerable part of the show’s revenue. A lower-priced ticket to one of the events can cost around $50-$60, so a sold-out show can bring in north of $20,000.
Aaron Mahnke also had an existing audience through his books, which was crucial for Lore. He used the podcast as a way to market his existing books, and it grew into something more significant as the audience craved more content in his voice.
Why Most Podcasts Fail
Podcasts grow at a slower rate than other media—it’s the nature of the format. It takes time to build an audience on a podcast because a lot of times a podcast is grown through word of mouth referrals more than anything else. But if it’s on a growth trajectory, it will continue to grow so long as you keep putting out good content. Podcasts are a slower channel, but they build deeper relationships with an audience. If you have a podcast listener, and they’re not buying from you, find out why. If they are listening, it means that they’re already pretty dedicated to your brand.
Shows that fail to monetize tend to either be hobby shows run by creatives or hosts who don’t want to make money. Those shows fail because eventually, the cost of production (time or money) will overwhelm the host’s desire to keep the show going.
Design Your Monetization Plan
At Call for Content, we specialize in helping create, scale, and monetize podcasts. Our podcaster relations program connects shows and guests, creates training and education, and provides monetizing solutions.
We’ve been podcasting since the beginning and are all in on the continued growth of podcast businesses.
Whether you’re currently producing a show, or you’re looking to start one, our team can guide you through the process of valuation and monetization.