There are lots of reasons to start a podcast. For some people, it’s just something to do for fun. For others, it’s a way to share information you think is interesting or important. But at the back of many people’s minds is the hope that their podcast could turn into a source of income.
There’s no doubt that a podcast can be a profitable side hustle. In fact, for a few hotshot podcasters, it’s a lucrative business. The controversial yet wildly successful Joe Rogan makes an estimated $30 million a year, and Dave Ramsey’s financial podcast makes $10 million.
But let’s be clear: Most podcasters will never make anything like this amount of money. According to most estimates, a medium-sized podcast with around 5,000 listeners can make up to $5,000 per month. But based on figures from Buzzsprout, less than 1% of podcasts are this big. The average Buzzsprout podcast gets just 30 downloads the week after it drops.
How to Monetize a Podcast
So how do successful podcasts make money? They have a big audience, and they take advantage of it in multiple ways. Rather than relying on a single income source, such as sponsorships or online sales, they turn one podcast into as many income streams as possible.
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1. Affiliate Marketing
If you have ever tried to make money from a blog, you know that one of the keys is affiliate marketing. You make a deal with a company to provide links to its products in your blog. Then you earn a small commission for each reader who clicks that link.
Podcast hosts can do something similar. Instead of sharing a link, they read out a unique URL over the air for listeners to type in. Each time a listener visits this link, the podcaster earns money for the referral.
Affiliate URLs should be easy to remember, since listeners have to type them in from memory. One common example is the website of a brand followed by a slash and the name of your podcast. You can also help listeners by putting a link in your podcast transcript or show notes.
You can find affiliate marketing partners through affiliate programs such as:
Some of these promote a specific brand, while others offer a variety of brands you can work with. Your best bet is to choose brands that fit your audience and podcast content. For instance, if you have a cooking podcast, choose makers of kitchen gear. Since your listeners have an interest in cooking, they’re more likely to visit the site.
Another way to find affiliate partners is to choose products you already use and like so you can promote them authentically. You can insert a plug for a product in your show or just mention it naturally. Reach out to companies you like and see if they offer affiliate marketing deals.
Sponsorships date back to the earliest days of radio. At the start of each new show, or before a break, listeners would hear “And now, a word from our sponsor.” Sometimes a pre-recorded ad would follow and sometimes the radio announcer would read the ad copy aloud.
You seldom hear ads like this on the radio anymore, but they’re a common way to monetize a podcast. A sponsor pays you money to either read or play their ad copy during your show.
Podcast sponsorships can be highly lucrative, but only if you have a successful podcast. Typically, the amount you earn for each ad depends on the number of downloads your podcast gets. The placement of the ad also matters, with ads in the middle of a show earning more than those at the end (which podcast listeners are more likely to skip).
If you’re a new podcaster, big brands probably won’t want to work with you. Your best bet is to reach out to local businesses and offer to promote them on your show. This gives you a chance to support your local economy while also earning some cash.
If you don’t want to hunt for sponsors on your own, consider joining a podcast ad network. These services connect podcast hosts with advertisers, negotiate rates, and provide scripts. All you have to do is insert the ads in each episode.
Some popular ad networks for podcasts are:
Many podcast hosting companies also have their own ad networks.
Podcast advertising services prefer to work with popular podcasts. Most of them only accept shows with at least 1,000 listeners, and many require 5,000 to 10,000. Your earnings also depend on the size of your audience. A 30-second spot pays around $18 per 1,000 listeners.
Selling ads isn’t the only way to monetize a podcast. You can also ask your listeners to support you directly. One popular way to do this is to create an account on Patreon. Listeners can sign up to your Patreon and pay a monthly fee to support you. This provides a regular income stream for you and helps create a sense of community for your fans.
In exchange for their support, Patreon members get goodies your other podcast listeners don’t. This can include bonus content, early access to shows, Q&A sessions, virtual hangouts, or live streams. Keeping up a steady stream of these extras gives subscribers value for their money.
Patreon allows you to create several different membership tiers, each with different perks. Your bottom tier should have a low price, no more than $5 a month, to attract as many subscribers as possible. You can then add higher-priced tiers with more content and benefits to justify the extra cost.
5. Donation and Crowdfunding Platforms
Patreon isn’t the only way to request donations from podcast listeners. Fans who don’t want to commit to a monthly membership can give you a small, one-time donation through Buy Me a Coffee. There’s no monthly fee to join, but the site takes a 5% cut of each donation.
Buy Me a Coffee can support monthly memberships as well as one-time donations. You can also use it to sell extras, such as one-on-one consultations or tickets to live events.
A final way to seek donations is through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. These sites are mostly for one-time projects, not subscriptions. However, you can use Patreon or Buy Me a Coffee (or both) and also have a Kickstarter for a big project like a new book.
6. Premium Content
Rather than signing up for Patreon, you can sell paid memberships directly. Listeners who sign up pay a monthly fee for premium content that isn’t in the free version of the podcast. This can include:
- Exclusive content, such as extra episodes or material cut from the main podcast
- Early access to podcast episodes
- Access to archived episodes
- Live streams of recording sessions
- Behind the scenes content
- Q&A sessions
- A chance to ask questions or propose topics for future episodes
- Live events where listeners can meet you in person or via videoconferencing
- Ad-free listening, if your regular podcast contains ads
You can offer just one paid membership or several membership tiers. As with Patreon, you can start with a low-cost subscription that’s just a simple way to support the show and offer more perks for the higher-priced subscription tiers.
If your show is on Apple Podcasts, you can sell subscriptions through the Apple Podcasters Program. It costs $20 per year, and you set your own subscription price. You earn 70% of all subscription fees in your first year and 85% after that.
Other tools for selling podcast subscriptions include Memberful, Libsyn, and Castos.
7. YouTube Partner Program
If you put a version of your podcast on YouTube, you can earn money through the YouTube Partner Program. The video can be a live recording of you or simply an audio recording with some cover art as the image.
YouTube’s program is easy to use, but there are some requirements to join. You need at least 1,000 subscribers to join and at least 4,000 public watch hours in the past year. Thus, your podcast has to be on YouTube for a while before you can start making money from it.
However, that’s not a bad thing, as putting your podcast on YouTube can help you reach a wider audience. Many people don’t regularly use podcast platforms, but they do browse YouTube videos. Having your podcast available on the platform is a way to turn them into listeners.
Once you’re able to join the program, you can make money in several ways:
- You earn ad revenue from your videos.
- You get a cut of subscription fees from YouTube Premium subscribers who view your content.
- You can sell channel memberships for a monthly fee.
- You can sell branded merch through your channel.
- Fans can pay to have their comments highlighted in a chat stream.
You know your listeners like your content, so why not offer it to them in another form? Write a book based on your podcast content, self-publish it, and sell it to them. Your early sales to fans can earn you positive reviews that help you sell the book to other shoppers.
Selling books has several benefits. It helps broaden your fan base and establish you as an authority on your subject. It also helps build your brand and create a bigger market for your other products.
One easy way to turn your podcast into a book is to edit together material from transcripts of your podcast episodes. Some podcast platforms, like Riverside.fm, create transcripts of your shows automatically. You can also create them with a separate service such as GetWelder.
Once your book is complete, you can sell it through sites like Kindle Publishing, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Press, or Kobo Writing Life. On all these sites, uploading a book is free, and you get up to 70% of royalties.
The nice thing about book sales is that they’re a form of passive income. Once you’ve done the up-front work of creating the book, you can continue to receive money from sales with no further effort.
9. Products & Merchandise
If you have a loyal listenership, give your fans a chance to show their love by purchasing branded merchandise. You can create all kinds of branded products featuring your podcast’s logo, artwork, or memes and quotes from the show. Examples of branded merch include:
- Coffee mugs
- Tote bags
- Mouse pads
- Wall art
Branded merchandise is a two-fer. Besides providing a revenue stream, having other people walk around wearing your logo promotes your show for free. That’s a good reason to focus on selling products used outside the home, such as water bottles.
The easiest way to sell your swag is through print-on-demand (POD) services. POD is a form of dropshipping that prints up products as they’re ordered and distributes them to customers for you. All you have to do is provide the image.
With POD, you only keep a portion of the sales from each product. However, you don’t have to deal with the hassles of finding suppliers, storing merchandise, or shipping it out. The site handles all that for you. You don’t have to invest money up-front in buying a lot of merch and hoping it sells, because you sell only what you print. And likewise, you can never run out.
POD platforms include Printify, Printful, SPOD, Spring, and Teelaunch. You can link your products on these sites to your website, social media, or a store on an e-commerce site like Etsy or Shopify.
10. Online Courses
Got an educational podcast? Develop your content into an online course you can sell. Programs to help you create and sell online courses include Udemy, Skillshare, Teachable, and Thinkific.
Turning your podcast content into a course doesn’t have to be a lot of work. You can simply take material from existing podcast episodes and reorganize it all into an easy-to-follow form. However, adding extra material, such as practical tips and examples, increases the course’s value for your listeners.
If your podcast has a mailing list, use it to promote your new course to your fans. Another way to promote it is to run a short webinar, maybe 45 minutes, that serves as an intro to the course. At the end, provide viewers with a link to purchase the complete course.
11. Consulting Services
Another way to monetize any kind of how-to podcast is to sell one-on-one consulting services. This gives your listeners a chance to get your personal advice on what you do best. You can meet with them in person or online via conferencing programs like Zoom or Skype.
For instance, suppose you have a fitness podcast. You could monetize it by offering one-on-one coaching sessions in which you develop a workout plan for a listener and teach specific exercises. Other good topics for consulting are nutrition, business, and teaching.
Another topic on which you could share your knowledge is podcasting itself. Once you’ve mastered the art of making money from a podcast, you can teach others how to build and monetize a successful podcast of their own.
For any of these monetization strategies to work, you need to first have a valuable product to sell. So before you even try to make money, focus on building a successful podcast. Record high-quality audio, and edit it to flow smoothly. Build a community of fans and give them ways to engage with each other.
Then, once you have a pool of enthusiastic listeners, you can figure out how to monetize the podcast in ways that work for them. For example, a serious online course is a poor fit for a podcast on popular culture. For that, you’d do better with fun merch, such as bobblehead dolls.
Finally, be open to expanding your brand beyond the podcast. Share your expertise through a blog, online courses, or coaching. Sell books, recordings, or even games. The more you build your brand, the more opportunities you have to earn.