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Monetising Your Show | How to Make a Fiction Podcast #8


In the final chapter of this series we're going to take a look at some options for building income streams around your fiction podcast.

Whether you'd simply like to cover your hosting costs, or earn a full time wage from your show, it can be done.

There are a few things to be aware of before we get started though; it can take a long time to grow an audience, and even longer to start bringing any money in.

Yes, it's easier now than it has ever been, but it's important not to get frustrated and disheartened if you feel like you're getting nowhere.

It can take up to 2 years of putting out consistent and quality content before anyone will consider throwing some money your way, so don't go quitting your job just yet.

A good way to set some expectations is to consider

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  • How often am I putting out episodes?
  • How consistent is my release schedule?
  • How engaged are my audience?
  • What are my download numbers?

With regards to the last one, you certainly don't need thousands of downloads per episode to make some money with your show, though it does help. I'd say audience engagement is far more important, but we'll cover this in more detail in the sponsorship section.

Legal Stuff

I'm not a lawyer, and it's your own responsibility to check this stuff and how it applies to the part of the world you live in, but I want to give you a heads up on a couple of things.

We talked about using creative commons music and sound effects earlier in the series. There's a good chance your own series will contain many different elements from many different creators, so you should check the licenses of everything you've used if you're planning to sell any of your content.

Be sure that you have each artist's permission to use their stuff in a commercial manner.

Also, if you're using voice actors and end up making a reasonable income with your show, you might land yourself in trouble with acting unions for essentially running a business and not paying your staff. We talked about this in Chapter 4, but treat your cast as project partners.

Operate an open book policy where all profit and loss is documented, and agree with them a profit share that everyone is happy with.

Have these conversations sooner rather than later and draw up some agreements with signatures. It sounds a bit OTT but projects have been completely shut down over money squabbles in the past.

Anyway, enough of the serious stuff for now. Let's take a look at your fiction podcast monetisation options...

Sponsorship & Adverts

The traditional way to bring in money with your show is to find a sponsor. This might be a permanent agreement, or you may choose to sell slots on a certain number of episodes. It's a good idea to find sponsors that are relevant to your audience so that the agreement benefits both parties.

With regards to how much you can typically earn from a sponsor, there's a bit of a hangover from the radio industry known as the CPM (cost per mille) model where advertisers will pay around $20 per 1000 listens.

Unless you have massive download numbers (very few podcasts get 1000+ downloads per ep) this won't work for you, and that's okay. Finding your own sponsor and agreeing your own terms will usually bear more fruit than going through an advertising agency anyway.

With regards to audience sizes, remember that although a radio station might have 50,000 "listeners" compared to your podcast's 200 or so, these are completely different things. Every one of your listeners is making a point of consuming your content (usually from start to finish) whereas most radio listeners tune in and out passively.

Your audience will also have a much more targeted demographic (e.g. horror fans) than radio stations too, and this all works to your advantage when speaking with potential sponsors.

You'll need to decide with your sponsors or advertisers whether you're going to play ready-made commercials as clips at the start of your show, or if you as the show's creator will open the episode by talking about them, before introducing and heading into the fictional content.

For me, the latter option is preferable and will resonate more with your audience.

You can choose to get creative with adverts by incorporating them into your story world. For great examples of how to do this, check out The Black Tapes and Tanis. This is something you need to figure out in a way that doesn't harm your story, and keeps the advertisers happy.

Patreon & Crowdfunding

The website Patreon has revolutionised the way fans can support creators. Patreon lets people pledge a regular fee - as little as $1 - to support the work of an artist or creator, either on a monthly, or an episodic 'per piece of content' basis.

Setting up a Patreon account is quick, easy, and free. The service makes their money by taking a small commission (around 10% of each dollar pledged) from your income.

Patreon gives you tools to incentivise your audience to pledge, and some podcasters get heavily involved in creating extras and premium content for their supporters. Others choose to simply set up an account, let everyone know it's there, and leave it at arm's length.

At the very minimum, you need to at least tell your listeners that you're on Patreon. You can do this by having a clear link on your website, and dropping in a quick message explaining it to them at the end of one of your episodes.

The more traditional method of crowdfunding a one-off (rather than ongoing) sum remains popular in podcasting too, but as a general rule, you need a pre-existing audience to have success with this.

Some shows crowdfund on an episode-by-episode basis, whereas other shows might crowdfund an entire series in one go. Popular websites for crowdfunding include Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Razoo. With this type of fundraising it's a good idea to incentivise the process to encourage donors to give more - especially if you're trying to raise a large amount.

Premium Content & Products

Premium content might be what you use as incentives for your Patreon/crowdfunding efforts, or it might be something you simply offer for sale on your website. In any case, what kind of premium content can you create to supplement your fiction podcast?

The simplest kind is to offer higher quality versions of your shows, so although you might release episodes on your feed at 128kbps, you can sell the 320kbps versions on your site. If you use ads before or after your episodes you can offer the premium version ad free too.

You can also offer things like prints of concept art, and merchandise such as mugs, t-shirts, key-rings etc.

The dilemma with physical products is whether or not you buy bulk stock up front, which is cheaper, but then risk not selling it all? On top of that you'll need to deal with postage and shipping yourself too.

An alternative is to use a 'print to order' service like Cafepress. A big downside to this is that the price of their goods are generally high, and the commission equally low.

You can also expand your story world by writing a novelette or collection of short stories and publish them in ebook form. This is a good way of fleshing out your universe and your hardcore fans will be keen for content of this nature. If you fancy more production work, you can even tell these additional stories in an audio format just like your main podcast episodes.

For selling digital premium content, E-Junkie is a handy service. If you want to keep everything inside your WordPress site though, take a look at WooCommerce. The media host Libsyn also offer a number of options for distributing premium content to your audience should you choose to host with them.

Recommendations & Affiliate Income

Selling other people's stuff is a popular method of bringing in 'passive income' in new media. The process involves you mentioning or recommending a product or service to your audience, and if they click through and buy something, you earn a small commission.

The most popular affiliate service in the world comes from Amazon, where it's quick, easy, and free to join their programme and start marketing their products.

You can approach any company or service about setting up an affiliate partnership with them, and most businesses will be prepared to listen to you when you tell them you want to market their products to your audience.

Fiction podcasting can make affiliate marketing work a little differently than it does in the wider podcasting world. Whilst a tech-show host can wax enthusiastically about a mic she loves, the fiction podcaster might need to get a little more creative.

A good place to start is to choose a book, game, or movie in the same genre as your story, and recommend it at the start or end of your episode. Encourage the listeners to head over to the shownotes on your website and take a look.

Be open with them and explain that it's an affiliate link, and that buying anything through it will go towards keeping the show running. On top of that, you're recommending something you think they'll enjoy, so it should be a win-win situation.

That's All Folks!

So we've come to the end of the road in this How to Make a Fiction Podcast series.

I hope you've taken a lot from it and have enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I'm keen to hear about how you're getting on with all of this, as well as any feedback and suggestions you might have.

Get in touch by leaving a comment below, and if you're still looking for fiction podcast inspiration, here's a list of my favourite shows.

Other Resources

Written by:

Matthew McLean

Matthew is an audio drama writer and producer who enjoys talking about podcasts. He makes the tea at The Podcast Host, and is a loyal servant of adopted house rabbits.

June 1st 2016

  1. Marina Esmeraldo on 25th October 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Matthew! Thanks very much for your work with the blog, I’ve been learning a lot through it!

    So I have a question – you mention that “with regards to [download numbers], you certainly don’t need thousands of downloads per episode to make some money with your show.”

    Does that mean one can make a bit of money with a small audience, but would it be enough money to be self-sufficient? Is that even possible without hundreds of thousands of listeners? I ask within the context of sponsorships.

    Thanks again!

    • Matthew McLean on 26th October 2016 at 12:18 pm

      Hi Marina, it’s certainly possible to make money with a small audience, though podcast monetisation of any sort is never easy or guaranteed. Being self-sufficient could mean two things, 1 – that your show is self-sufficient in that your hosting costs etc are all covered, or 2 – It becomes your full time job. Achieving the latter would put you in the tiny percent of full time podcasters worldwide, so although it isn’t impossible, it’s very difficult.

      The best thing you can do is to pour your work and effort into creating great content that people love and constantly want more of. From that, opportunities will arise, lowly but surely.

  2. Aakash on 29th March 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Well written Mathew.

  3. Colm Field on 4th June 2017 at 11:21 pm

    This was mega, thank you very much!

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