IN THE past year alone the UK podcast audience has grown by 24 per cent to 7.1million listeners a week, according to Ofcom data. With regular users tuning in to seven or more shows on average over the same week-long period, the market has never been bigger.
Although listeners initially dropped during lockdown, due to the lack of commuters, they quickly surged back. BBC Sounds has a record number of people listening to its shows — in the second quarter of 2020 there were more than 240million BBC Sounds podcast downloads globally, an increase of ten million from the previous quarter.
Independent podcasters are also making a name for themselves, alongside legacy media and celebrities, with lockdown giving people the perfect opportunity to set up a podcast passion project.
Figures from RAJAR, the official body responsible for measuring radio audiences in the UK, reveal 71 per cent of podcast listeners are medium-to-high income earners working in professional, managerial or supervisory positions, meaning they have disposable income to spend.
Some of the biggest American podcasters, such as Joe Rogan, reportedly make up to $800,000 per episode from advertising. Meanwhile, the Irish sports podcast Second Captains makes £50,000 a month via Patreon and the RedHanded true crime podcast has recently reached £19,000 a month from Patreon subscribers.
But how do you harness an affluent audience and turn a hobby into a moneymaking operation?
Sponsorship and advertising
The most common way podcasters make money is via sponsorship and advertising. Podcast ads are typically sold on a cost-per-thousand basis meaning the more downloads per episode, the more revenue you create.
For a niche show with around 500 downloads a week, a podcaster might approach companies and negotiate a fee of somewhere between £50 to £200 per episode for sponsorship. This may also include promotion on social media channels and other networks connected to the podcast.
Some platforms like Audioboom or Acast (where you host your podcast online) have advertising built in which is based on a set price per 1,000 downloads. So, if you have 5,000 downloads per episode you might make around £15. However, it is also common practice to find a relevant sponsor and to agree a payment for one show or a number of shows, irrespective of any download numbers.
Often the sponsor’s advert is read by the presenter as an endorsement or recommendation at the top of the show (pre-roll), in the middle (mid-roll) or at the end (post-roll).
Another form of sponsorship is to mention or test products in return for payment. This is used on shows like Scummy Mummies, who will test out the latest baby products, such as nappies, much like product placement may appear in films. Mark Asquith, co-founder of podcast host Captivate, which is based in Sheffield, says 35 per cent of their surveyed podcasters make money via advertising.
‘Many Captivate podcasters see huge success from their niche show by working with sponsors on a fixed-price agreement. This means that rather than being paid a rate per 1,000 downloads of your episode, you can freely negotiate a fixed-price agreement per episode, month or even quarter,’ explains Mark.
The trick is to develop a niche and make it clear to potential sponsors who your audience demographic is. A clear niche and loyal audience can be more attractive to a sponsor than download numbers.
Your podcast host gives you the analytics and companies such as Captivate create a sponsorship pack for you automatically with all of the data. This includes numbers of downloads, unique users, where in the country and, indeed, world they are located and what time they listen.
Once a podcast has built a large audience of around 10,000 downloads an episode, platforms like Acast or Audioboom will pair content with relevant brands inserting adverts into your show. With all of these methods you can offer additional exposure to sponsors by including their branding or messages in social media posts, blogs and weekly newsletters.
Some podcasts are subscription-based or provide additional content for a fee. These can be managed via platforms like Patreon or Supercast.
‘You just need to make sure you’re adding enough value and access to justify the spend,’ says Mark.
‘Things like ask me anything segments, bonus interviews, outtakes, access to playlists and videos, ability to ask questions and preview episodes work well.’
Podcast launches on Patreon have more than tripled since mid-March and many shows offer different bonus material for certain tiers of support. Award-winning shows like The RedHanded duo have proven particularly adept at this method.
It is also possible to create revenue by asking your community for a contribution.
This might be asking for a one-off £3 donation using a platform like Ko-fi — which is favoured by the Everything Is Awful Forever podcast — or having a special bonus episode with a suggested fee.
Indirect earnings and brand extension
Many podcasters find they make money indirectly by using their podcast as a marketing tool to promote other lines of work. Almost 48 per cent of Captivate users said they make their podcast revenue from things they sell themselves such as courses, services, coaching or consulting.
Content from a podcast series can also be ripe for adaptation such as the Hack The Entrepreneur show, which host Jon Nastor repurposed as a book to be sold online.
Selling fan merchandise such as T-shirts, bags and mugs can also be a great way to raise funds once a show is big enough.
The makers of My Dad Wrote A Porno captured the merchandise market by teaming up with a designer and using witty quotes from their source material.
Once a podcast has mass appeal then tours and live shows become effective earners and provide an additional opportunity to sell merchandise and books, a strategy followed by The Guilty Feminist.
‘The key is creating a community’
JAMES CORCORAN, 40, uses a mixture of advertising, memberships and live events to fund The Oasis Podcast, founded in 2017.
His show uses archival material and interviews to delve into the history of the Manchester band which dominated the British music scene in the 1990s.
The podcast is hosted for free on Audioboom, which inserts adverts, and in return James receives around £30 for every 10,000 downloads.
This also means James does not have to pay for hosting, which gets more expensive as download numbers increase.
To date his podcast has attracted 618,000 downloads, and his main source of revenue comes from Patreon subscribers.
‘The key thing is creating a community of dedicated listeners who want to support you,’ he says. ‘You can provide bonus material, extra episodes, early content and start to build up an income.’ He has three membership levels priced $1, $3 and $5 a month, each with different benefits including one where James records an Oasis-style song about the patron.
Prior to lockdown, James was hosting five live events a year as an additional income source. These included a live interview with the band’s original drummer Tony McCarroll, combined with a gig.
‘When you book a venue you have to make a down payment. If you have money that’s been building up in Patreon, you can just use that, meaning you don’t have to dip into your personal funds,’ explains James.
Though he does generate a small income from the podcast, James says it is all invested back into the show.
‘I do it because I really enjoy it. Everything I earn I spend on equipment or expenses to travel and interview people. I’m not making a profit but it is paying for itself.’
‘I built a relationship with a sponsor’
AWARD-WINNING podcast host Frankie Tortora decided sponsorship was the best route to support her show.
The 34-year-old launched the Doing It For The Kids podcast with friend Steve Folland in March 2019.
The show grew out of Frankie’s Facebook group of the same name, which provides a supportive community for self-employed people juggling work and children.
Frankie spent £150 on equipment and now has monthly running costs of around £50 for hosting and editing software.
‘I did the podcast for ages for nothing and it was really fun. And then I got more serious about it,’ explains Frankie.
‘I did what I am good at, which is graphic design. I put all the statistics about our audience in a PDF and I put it out to people.
‘Through social media I knew what brands were interested in me.’
Six months later, after many long meetings, three brands came forward to support the show.
‘The format only lends itself to one sponsor so I had to decide who was the best fit. I went for longerterm support so I could build a relationship with the sponsor. It took longer to pin down but it was worth it.’
Frankie secured a sponsor for a run of 20 shows and the brand wrote a pre-recorded message which Frankie and Steve delivered in the style of their podcast.
The key to finding a good sponsor is identifying someone who ‘gets’ podcasts — and not setting your expectations too high, suggests Frankie. She explains: ‘I say, “This is what I am thinking of as a price, but we can have a conversation.” Our daily rate as a freelance is not the rate we charge sponsors as we would never get a sponsor if we charged that.’