Making a Business of Your Podcast: Developing Revenue Streams
You're reading a post from Backyard Media's Podcasting 101, a series of guides meant to explain podcasting and podcast advertising to new and current podcast creators. To see our other guides, click here.
Today we’re starting to tackle one of the most important questions that many podcast creators have as they build their audiences. That is, how can they turn their creative project into a sustainable business? Podcasting is still a growing field, but there are already plenty of creators out there who have made podcasting their full time job. So how did they do it? We’ll start by breaking down the four most popular ways to make money from your podcast, which together can turn a podcast into a business. And next week, we’ll dive even deeper to talk about a more nuanced way of thinking about financially sustaining your podcast in the long-term.
It’s no secret to anyone who consumes podcasts that advertising is the main way shows make money. Most podcasts of a certain size have ads (there’s no hard number, but 8,000 downloads/episode is typically the starting point). The fact is that podcasts are great for advertising: see our posts about the effectiveness of podcast ads for brands, and how most listeners report they don’t mind hearing ads on their favorite podcasts. Any given podcast episode can have between one and five ad slots; put another way, that’s one to five opportunities per episode to make money with your show.
We’ve spoken about the particulars of podcast advertising in other guides. See this guide on podcast sponsorship rates to understand how much revenue you could make from doing podcast ads. If you think you want to get your ads on your podcast, here’s our 10-step guide to how to get sponsored.
More conceptually, take a moment to consider if having ads is the right thing for your particular show. Does making personal endorsements for products and services align with your podcast, or could it conflict with your podcast’s brand? What businesses would you be okay endorsing and which would you want to avoid? Are you okay inserting ads into every episode of your podcast, particularly in the middle of an episode? And finally, do you believe your listeners will have a strong reaction to hearing ads on your show? Most listeners understand that creators need to make money to continue making their show and are generally receptive, but you know your audience best.
If you’d like to get started advertising on your podcast, Backyard Media connects creators with companies who want to advertise on podcasts. Get in touch with us!
Sell Podcast Merchandise
Another popular option is to offer different kinds of merchandise that your listeners can buy. These can have your podcast logo on them or other references to your show that your listeners would recognize. The Lonely Palette podcast, a Backyard Media partner, sells a fantastic assortment of pins, tote bags, and other merchandise that shows off the podcast’s Mona Lisa logo, emphasizing its focus on art history:
If you’re getting requests from listeners for ways to support your show, or you believe your listener base is dedicated enough to buy podcast merchandise, then take the time to design and invest in some products. Here are some items you could offer in your store:
T-shirts, hoodies, and workout apparel
Buttons and pins (meant for shirts and bags)
Car and laptop stickers
Mugs and coasters
Artist-commissioned wall art
If you don’t plan on using your podcast’s cover art for your merchandise, invest in a good logo by commissioning a freelance graphic artist. For the products themselves, there are a number of sites that you can use. CafePress is one of the more popular options for creating all sorts of custom T-Shirts and items like mugs. You can also look into partnering with a printing company that works with creators to produce and sell their merchandise, like DFTBA.com or Standard.tv.
You’ll also need to set up a store on your website. If you use Squarespace for your website host and have at least the Business plan, it’s easy to start a site store that can process orders. Take at look at Squarespace’s FAQ on its Commerce capabilities to learn how to set up your store. Note that if your audience isn’t primarily based in the US or other Anglophone countries, it might be hard for them to use Squarespace’s payment processor Stripe. Instead, you can set up a store on Shopify, another popular e-commerce platform that takes payment from over 100 countries. If you use Shopify, make sure to link to it on your Squarespace site.
It’s also important to advertise your merch on your podcast. Give this marketing push a lot of lead time, even going as far as to let listeners sign up to receive an email when podcast merchandise is available to order. This way you can get an early indicator of how much demand there will be. When you do have merchandise available, be sure to mention it’s for sale on multiple episodes, at least three and as many as five or six, depending on how frequently your show runs. You’ll likely need to invest money upfront on these products, so it’s important to sell as many as you can!
Do a Live Show
If you’ve developed a substantial following of many thousands of listeners AND you’ve heard from your audience that they’re interested in seeing the podcast live, consider partnering with a venue to do one or more live podcast shows. These events could be recorded and used as an extra episode of your podcast, or they could be special, in-person only shows. Live shows are a significant undertaking, and you should only take them on if you’re convinced you could sell out a venue and turn a profit on the event.
If your podcast is a talk show style podcast that involves interviews with experts or a round table discussion, you could consider doing a live version of the podcast with an audience. Backyard Media’s partner First Mondays, for example, often tours law schools around US and does its weekly round-up of Supreme Court news with an audience. Hosts Dan Epps, Ian Samuel, and Leah Litman will often incorporate interviews or Q&A sessions with the audience to add to their usual episode structure.
If your podcast is story or narrative based, then consider doing a post-season episode live show of your podcast. The popular LA Times podcast Dirty John, for example, hosted a post-season live review of the podcast. That show included interviews with the reporter and host, as well as interviews with psychologists and other experts familiar with the true crime story the podcast was based on.
There are a few ideas for live shows, but some of the most important questions you need to answer are the following:
What will my live show be about?
Who can host my live show? (Consider a podcast conference, a local event space, or an institution related to the topic of your show.)
What staff will I need to help me produce my show?
Do I want guests on stage with me? Do I want a host or MC other than me?
Is doing a live show financially sustainable, given the expected number of tickets sold compared to the time and money I’d spend putting it on?
Create a Patreon Page
One of the most popular ways that creators raise funds for their shows is Patreon. Patreon is a subscription-based platform that allows creators to make fundraising pages for their projects, and gives audiences the ability to provide ongoing contributions on a monthly or per-episode basis.
The site also allows creators to provide perks to incentivize donors to give certain dollar amounts. Donors can get exclusive or early access to content, merchandise (similar to the kinds we mentioned above), or personalized thank yous from the creator. Joining Patreon is free, and it only takes a few minutes to set up your page. If you think you want to go down the membership route, take some time to think through what items and perks you’ll offer on your donation tiers. What perks do you have the time and resources to fulfill, given a certain donation amount?
For more about the philosophy behind Patreon and similar membership-based fundraising models, check out our post, Making a Business of Your Podcast: Building a Membership Program.
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