If there’s one thing I wish I knew before starting my podcasts, it’s the amount of time and energy it takes to go from idea to finished product. Although this is “a labor of love,” it sure would be “lovely” if I could afford to pay for some assistance. If you’re like me, then podcast monetization may be the pathway towards sustainability you need. But before you develop your podcast monetization strategy, consider these six important “dos” before you dive in.
by Portia Flowers
How To Monetize A Podcast
Podcast Monetization Considerations
Do #1 – Consider developing a podcast monetization strategy
According to a 2020 study on media and technology consumer behavior by Edison Research, 37% of Americans listen to podcasts every month, continuing a 7-year growth in podcast consumption. Having access to a growing audience is perfect for businesses who want to turn those listeners into paying customers. According to a 2020 study on podcast advertising revenue by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), US podcast advertising revenue in 2019 was over $700 million and was expected to grow by nearly 15% in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The potential for developing lucrative, mutually beneficial partnerships is clearly apparent. You owe it to yourself to at least think about it.
Do #2 – Remember that it’s more than just money
By now, you may be thinking, with the right contract, you can hit paydirt and become the next Tracy Clayton, Phoebe Robinson, or Brittany Luse. However, it’s worth remembering that sometimes, obtaining a service or a product to sustain your podcast can be just as, if not, more important than monetary payment. That’s what wine connoisseur Renee Johnson, creator, and host of The Rosé Hour Podcast, discovered when she launched her podcast. Because wine reviews are a critical component of her show, she realized she needed to develop a strategy to identify sponsors who would be willing to cover the expense of purchasing wines in exchange for a review. Not only did she find companies that were receptive to her invitation, but as her show grew in popularity, companies began approaching her. Even more, companies began requesting interview time, allowing her the added benefit of content creation.
Reflecting on what she’s learned since beginning her podcast in February 2020, Johnson said, “I wish I knew how open many industries are to people just asking them to tell their story.” If you choose the right sponsors, the value added by sponsorships can be multiplicative.
Do #3 – Understand the value of your audience
It’s important to remember that good partnerships are mutually beneficial. Not only did Johnson need access to products to review, but companies needed access to wine enthusiasts who could potentially become loyal customers. With a desire to reach Black people who enjoy or are interested in learning about rosés, Johnson has been able to cultivate a unique audience, making The Rosé Hour an ideal location for brands looking for access to specific clientele. In addition, with her position as a rosé wine expert, the trust that she’s built with her audience through her reviews, makes her an ideal partner to introduce products to potential customers.
Understanding the value of having access to unique audiences is something Quinn Flowers, owner of The Healing Garden, knows first-hand: “With advertising. I believe that you can reach a different type of audience… by having your business advertised on a podcast. I’ve been solely relying on social media ads to get my name and business out there. But not everyone checks social media regularly, so to be able to still hit a particular targeted audience, advertisements on podcasts would help fill in the gap.”
She’s not alone. According to the 2020 IAB advertising study, the majority of podcast ad investments come from companies selling products directly to consumers, with Health & Wellness and Home & Appliance being the largest retail categories. As the owner of a Health & Wellness retail business, Flowers is strategic about her partnerships, preferring to align her brand with podcasts in the Self-Help and Health & Wellness genres, while factoring in “(discussion) topics, targeted audiences, and audience member interests.”
Do #4 – Do consider a diverse strategy
In addition to companies sponsoring her podcast, Johnson has also partnered with podcasting host Anchor, by reading advertisements for the company. According to IAB, host-read ads are the primary method of podcast advertising content presentation. This arrangement seemed like a no-brainer for Johnson, as it is a well-known company in the podcasting community and was easy to arrange. After doing her research and actually using their services herself, she felt comfortable associating her brand with the company.
Johnson also sells branded merchandise through a partnership with Teespring. For a small fee, Johnson was able to select her products and price points while Teespring handles the sales, shipping, and customer service. Fans of her show can purchase items such as bags, shirts, mugs, even leggings, all with her unique logo. This monetization strategy also has the added benefit of marketing, as customers become walking billboards for her show, and audience engagement, with Johnson saying that fans can “not only listen but be a part of (the show) as well”.
Start promoting your podcast on t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, masks, and over 100 different product types by signing up with TeePublic (another merch platform).
Do #5 – Consider the risks
According to a 2019 report on podcast listener behavior, over 50% of listeners said they are more likely to consider brands they hear advertised on a podcast. With a goal of doubling her sales by the end of 2021, Flowers is intent on tapping into podcast audiences and incorporating podcast advertising in her strategic plan. In fact, according to the 2020 IAB study, podcasts are quickly becoming part of annual marketing strategies, rather than being approached sporadically for ad time, illustrating the growing importance of podcast partnerships for brands. While this is certainly good news for podcasters, it is important to weigh both the risks and the rewards of podcast monetization.
In addition to making sure sponsors, advertisements, and merchandise align with your brand, be realistic about your purpose and goals. “Don’t worry immediately about the money,” said Johnson. “Worry about making it cost-efficient for you. Grow financially at a pace that works for you.” Indeed, it is important to remember that many monetization strategies involve investments of a variety of forms, whether it’s time, labor, or even personal funds.
While the number of podcasts continues to grow into the millions (in its 2020 3rd quarter report, Spotify alone, which surpassed Apple Podcasts as the leading podcast platform in the last year, reported hosting nearly 2 million podcasts), many are DIY, which means that most podcasters will have to execute their monetization strategies with minimal external assistance. Therefore, it is important to manage your expectations and be clear about the amount of risk you want to take on.
Do #6 – Be flexible
Initially, Johnson intended on finding a major company to sponsor her podcast for the entirety of its first season. However, when that arrangement fell through, she quickly pivoted, realizing that soliciting smaller boutique labels would be better for her brand. She also was pleasantly surprised by Instagram being the most effective way for her to connect with future sponsors. Flowers also offered some advice to podcasters looking to work with business owners: “Podcasters should be aware (that we are all) still learning and allow (for) grace.” As many podcasters are DIY, many are also first time podcasters, so mistakes can happen. Therefore, Flowers encourages people to be “patient, thoughtful, considerate, transparent, (and) honest” when establishing and building their relationships.
At the end of the day, don’t be intimidated by the possibility of monetizing your podcast, no matter the size of your audience or the age of your show. With enough research, strategic planning, creativity, flexibility, patience, and an understanding of your audience, you can be well on your way to securing the future of your podcast for years to come.
Portia Flowers is a scientist, an avid podcast listener, and a pop culture enthusiast. She is the producer and co-host of Hillman Class Reunion, a podcast about the classic sitcom A Different World. She also co-hosts Young, Black & Brave, a movie review podcast about representations of Black women in film, and is the co-creator of the Dorsey-Flowers Test, a tool to assess representations of Black women in film. In her spare time, she enjoys watching This Is Us and The Masked Singer.