How to make money from podcasts

Published by John Fitzsimons on 16 February 2017.
Last updated on 16 February 2017

microphone and computer screen

Podcasts, the audio shows which you can download on to a mobile device or your computer, are on the up. As many as one in five adults in the UK has listened to a podcast, with around 7% listening to them regularly, according to research from Rajar, which measures and profiles the audiences of UK radio stations.

In the UK, podcasting really took off with comedian Ricky Gervais, whose series The Ricky Gervais Show, with co-writer Stephen Merchant and producer Karl Pilkington, swiftly built up an enormous audience. Initially hosted by the Guardian in 2005, the show ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records 2007 as the most downloaded ever.

Podcasts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Many of the most downloaded podcasts are actually downloadable versions of existing radio shows – Desert Island Discs, In Our Time, and The Archers can all be found in the top 50.

However, there are plenty of standalone podcasts, which don’t benefit from the might of a major broadcaster behind them. For example, you can listen to the Moneywise team talking about all the key personal finance issues that affect your pocket in our regular Share Radio show, available at www.moneywise.co.uk/podcast.

One of the big selling points of podcasts has been that, unlike traditional radio shows, they can be pretty cheap to produce – all you really need is a microphone and a way to upload the show on to the internet. There is very little to stop you from putting together a show from your own home.

But even the humblest podcasts will still incur some costs, from the time you have to put in to recording and uploading the show to paying for a hosting service. So how do you get some money back for your efforts?

 

Sponsorship

The most straightforward way to get some income back for your podcast is by finding businesses that will sponsor the show.

If you have listened to any podcasts that haven’t come from the BBC, chances are you will have heard ads from a handful of usual suspects: Audible, SquareSpace and Leesa Mattresses are some of the firms that target their ads at podcast devotees.

With Audible.co.uk, it is entirely in your own hands. You create a custom url to give your listeners and each time one signs up for a podcast trial membership using that url, you’ll get $15 (about £12).

Generally, though, this means that you are responsible for sourcing advertisers yourself, so you may need to be sales savvy.


Ellie Gibson (above, with co-host Helen Thorn), a journalist and stand-up comedian, is the co-host of the Scummy Mummies podcast, a show for “less than perfect parents”. She says her show is in a fortunate position because of its demographic: “We have been able to ride the wave of Instagrammers and bloggers; women who have had babies found that they don’t want to go back to their old jobs and have started their own companies.”

She cites examples of sponsorship that have come about through networking and attending ‘mummy events’.

“We tend to go for products that we like and would use ourselves,” she adds.


Nick Branch (above), host of the Disney themed Dis After Dark podcast, first started looking for sponsorship as a way of covering production costs. He says: “We wanted to bring in sponsorship just to keep it going. Trying to find sponsorship was a little tough at first, but we secured support from another podcast and from a travel company.

“Unless you’re a celeb or have a massive following, you can’t start charging for podcasts and, even then, it might not work.”

 

Acast

An easier way to monetise your podcast is to make use of Acast, which offers free hosting and distribution of your show. Acast sources advertisers too, so you don’t have to worry about your sales skills. You decide where the ads are placed in each show, and Acast then takes a cut of the revenue.

Acast also offers Acast+, a way for you to sell premium content to your listeners at a price you set yourself. Ellie says that the Acast model has been a help for the Scummy Mummies podcast. She says: “Even if Acast takes a cut, a cut of some money is better than a cut of no
money. We don’t have to worry about finding ads, it does it all.

It does mean that we don’t have complete control, though; if it doesn’t sell ads that month, then we don’t make any money from it.”

Patreon

One increasingly popular way for podcasters to bring in an income from their shows is a site called Patreon.

It is a site designed for creatives (from artists and writers to podcasters and photographers) to ask their supporters – or patrons – for one-off or recurring contributions. Patrons are then offered some form of reward, based on the level of their support.

On top of that, shows set Patreon goals where they commit to give something new to the listeners when they reach certain levels of support. For example, the Cinematic Universe podcast, which looks at comic book movies, launched on Patreon last year and has a number of milestone goals. At $50 (£40) a month in total contributions, it is committed to launching a website, featuring show notes and blog posts; at $100 (£79) a month, the team will record a fan commentary over a film of backers’ choosing, while once it hits $350 (£277) a month one of the team will start a series of retro superhero video game reviews.

James Hunt co-hosts the show and says he was attracted by how easy the process is, and the fact it is possible to get a return without having a huge listenership. He adds: “Patreon takes care of the billing and sends you the money, so there’s almost nothing to it other than updating the page every so often. All we have to do is keep putting out episodes – which we were planning to do anyway – and throw in some exclusive bits to make sure Patreon backers feel looked after, which so far they seem to.

 

“We spent a lot of time working out the rewards for different contributions levels, though it was mostly just making sure we didn’t over-promise. At the time it started, we were all freelancers so the question for us was essentially: ‘If we did X, how much time would we need to invest and what would that cost us?’”

According to Patreon, “thousands” of creatives using the site make more than £20,000 a year. Of course, while there are some people making at least a reasonable income from their projects through the site, there are plenty of others who are not making a penny. Again, the key is to build a following of listeners who are not only committed to listening to each show, but are willing to dip into their pockets to support your product too.

Will I make a lot of money from it?

It’s important to be realistic when it comes to podcasts. They won’t make you rich.

As Ellie says: “The mistake podcasts make is thinking they will make tons of money in the first few months. We have been going three and a half years and only started seeing some money coming in two years ago.”

Nick agrees, saying: “It’s not going to be a career, it’s an overelaborate hobby. The cost of doing the show was coming out of our pocket,and while you enjoy it, you have to question how long you can do it. Podcasting for the little guy is hard – as much as you’d like it to make you money, it’s a market that’s oversaturated. There are new shows launching all the time.”

New opportunities

However, a popular show can cover its costs, but also provide further exposure for your other exploits. Last year, the Scummy Mummies podcast was featured on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, alongside podcasting giants Serial and Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour.

Ellie explains: “A book agent was listening to Woman’s Hour, then checked out the podcast and loved it. She called us up and asked if we had thought about doing a book. Of course, we said yes! So she went away and got us a book deal with a proper publisher, and now we
have the Scummy Mummies book coming out on 9 March. And we can use the show to advertise the book.”


That extends to your day job too. Property investor Rob Bence (above) is cofounder of The Property Hub website and magazine, which is aimed at fellow investors, and co-hosts the site’s weekly podcast, which recently passed 200 episodes.

He says: “We give away lots of knowledge and advice on property investing for free. After hearing how to invest, some people love the idea and are very excited to begin, but aren’t sure how to get started – we have complementary businesses that help investors achieve that.

 

“The podcast allows us to demonstrate that we’re experts in our field without hard selling. People then come to their own conclusion as to whether they want to work with you or not and when they contact you, you’re already a good fi t because they’ve already assessed you. It also helps us to build trust with our clients.”

Key stat:

In 2015, there were around 60,000 available podcasts on iTunes – up by 13,000 compared to the year before. Source: Rajar

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