At PRX, we love listening to podcasts. We also know that great shows have support – an enterprise and infrastructure (both small and large) that supports production, distribution and monetization. In February of 2014 we launched PRX’s Radiotopia to serve as a podcasting laboratory to grow audience and revenue. The lessons we have learned continue to inform our services. Years ago, pre-iPhone and iTunes store, we knew podcasting was going to catch on and developed a software utility called “Pubcatcher” allowing public radio stations to publish and find RSS feeds. We sometimes referred to Pubcatcher as Tivo for radio. Times have changed.
Now there are over a billion podcast subscribers.
According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2014:
- Approximately 39 million people have listened to a podcast in the last month
- 1 in 5 weekly podcast users listen to 6 or more podcasts per week
The rapid adoption of mobile listening is re-wiring our behavior.
If you have the creative and technical chops needed to create great audio stories, you are all set to monetize and grow your podcast, right? Well, sort of but not quite. Besides making good content, there are a few other things to keep in mind.
1. Poise Yourself for Growth.
When PRX launched Radiotopia, we were surprised to learn that the state of podcast hosting was a mess. Producers are hosting audio files on older computers and with shaky companies. First, don’t work against your own potential growth. This means creating a podcast feed that points to a stable place. When your favorite producer tweets how much they love your show, make sure your feed can handle the new interest in your work. Basic metrics like number of downloads and subscribers are how you will measure your success. If your host doesn’t offer these, walk away.
But not from us!
Help Transom get new work and voices to public radio by donating now.
2. Preserve Your Independence.
If your podcast feed is not a domain you control you may have trouble upgrading or moving to a new publishing platform in the future. If your show URL is something like – www.mycoolpodcast.podcastcompany.com, you may have a tough time extracting your feed since it is tied up with the domain of your host. Potentially, you could lose listeners in the transition. The best way to avoid this problem is to purchase a domain name and then use that for your feed. But purchasing, configuring and maintaining a domain name is not everyone’s cup of tea. So, the second best way to avoid this lock-in is to use FeedBurner or to work with PRX.
Don’t make people look too hard to find you, because they won’t bother. Make sure you have an iTunes subscription link on your website and your social media profiles. Don’t skimp on metadata – the data about your data. Let me say that again – don’t skimp on metadata. We are so sad when we see empty fields. Remember the Internet robots are out there indexing while you sleep – make them work for you.
Before you publish you should have the following minimum information at the ready:
- Link for your podcast website (a basic website is OK)
- Title – this title will travel with your content so no episode numbers or HTML code please
- Description – remember the Internet robots
- Language – seems evident but podcasts are growing around the world
- Copyright – a basic copyright notice or a creative commons license notice
- Editor – person responsible for the content
- Technical Contact (may be the same as Editor)
- Publication Date – we support the podcast bingers out there so help them out a little
- Feed Build Date – if the feed changes
- Categories – use multiple, as appropriate
- Image – a good image will improve the likelihood that others will promote your work
You may need a variety of image sizes too, check Apple’s resource.
Audrey Mardavich, PRX’s Community Manager, did a super helpful blog post on the importance of titles alone. We know your podcast is your baby, but if you are spending five hours on those final 3-second edits and then rush through the metadata fields, you are working against yourself.
Echo Effect. Another way people will find you is through others. Find and partner with content creators who may have an audience that is relevant to your content – maybe a food blogger if your podcast is for foodies, maybe an architectural digest if your podcast is about design.
4. Extend Yourself.
Podcasting is different than broadcasting. You are typically in people’s ears. It is an opportunity for more familiarity and intimacy. Thinking of your podcast as a one-way publishing experience is limiting yourself. Start a newsletter, be active on social media and reach out often. Make sure that your social media links lead right to your audio (avoid more than one click!). Think about how you are going to communicate with your listeners and be active – they are your people and they will help you with Rule #5.
5. The Moolah.
This is probably the area of the most confusion and stress we encounter. There are two basic things that come into play when monetizing your podcast – you have to have a sizeable audience that knows you and likes you well enough to either 1) donate to you or 2) purchase a product you endorse through sponsorship. Be careful wasting your energy on sponsorship sales until you grow your audience. In our experience, the magic audience number is about 20,000 downloads per episode. Or, your podcast is published frequently enough so that you have at least 50,000 downloads per month. Yep, big numbers if you are just getting started. Producers sometimes need to find revenue to get going. Some institutional partners will offer an advance against future earnings. You may also be able to count on donations from supporters. Even when you reach those download numbers, you still have to sell sponsorships or work with someone who does and will charge a sales commission. Proving your value to a sponsor is really important. We regularly hear concerns from producers that pre-roll sponsorships take away from the aesthetic of a show. In rare cases, sponsors will donate money just because they are fans. Mostly, they are looking for customers and want to align their brand with yours. If you bury their brand, they might not stick around. Think of sponsors as partners.
Sponsorship Math. Big podcasts with over 1M+ downloads can command a high CPM (cost per thousand). Smaller podcasts can charge anywhere from a $15 – $30 CPM. The reason we suggest waiting until you have 20,000 downloads is simple math.
20,000 downloads / 1000 (cost per thousand) = 20 impressions (downloads)
20 impressions x $15 CPM = $300 for a :15 to :30 second spot in your podcast
20 impressions x $25 CPM = $500 for the same spot
You can see why anything below 20,000 is not only hard to sell but a lot of work for you. Grow your audience first.
Business entity and taxes. Say you are lucky enough to get donations and sponsorships. Yay! Remember this is all taxable income unless you are a non-profit organization. If you are big enough to hire contributors and you can pay them with your earned revenue – you will need to provide them with tax documents at the end of the year since any amount over $600 paid to them is taxable. If you are the collaborative type, which we love, remember that someone or some thing has to be the taxable entity. If you are thinking of starting your own non-profit organization, think hard on this. There is a lot of overhead and the entity will own the content. You then become a volunteer or staff member that answers to a board of directors.
Onward. Audiences are seeking, discovering, and listening to podcasts more and more each day. There are new lessons to incorporate and new services that will provide a glide path for audience growth. It all starts with making awesome content; the rest will come. Hopefully these tips will start you on your way.