Because of the newness, and fast growth, of the podcasting medium, lots of people want to know, “how much do podcasters make?” It might seem like money for nothing, as Dire Straits once sang. All you need is a couple of mics, a hip friend, and a notebook to scribble some things, right?
High figures are often thrown around. Amy Schumer signed an exclusive podcasting deal with Spotify in 2018 for $1 million. Spotify recently signed an exclusive deal with Joe Rogan, reportedly worth $100 million. Even before the Apple-Spotify wars for market share, podcasters such as Tim Ferriss (reportedly $54K per episode), the ChapoTraphouse team (apparently $154K per month), and many others were making good money, through sponsorship, crowdfunding, merchandise, book deals, speaking fees, or a combination.
This is good information to have if you plan to sponsor a podcast. Big businesses are willing to pay for podcasts, because they build intimacy and trust over time. However, if you are planning to start a podcast, this big-money info is not a guiding star. With 800,000 active podcasts in the world (and that number is rising), the podcasters who make over $100K per year are the outliers. But, the podcasters whose paychecks make the news do so, because the rarity is newsworthy.
The Price of Admission
Money is often a barrier to entry for podcasters. It doesn't have to be. Libraries sometimes offer courses, equipment and quiet space. If you're starting a podcast, you have some fixed costs (such as gear, hosting, branding) and variable costs (time, energy, enthusiasm). However much it costs you to make your podcast, your podcast's idea, or niche, has to be equally interesting, unique, well-crafted, and necessary. If you're asking “how much do podcasters make,” because you're trying to choose whether to take on a second job, or make a podcast, consider the following. Podcasting won't provide the income stream and stability of a job, especially not at first. However, it can be very rewarding in the long term. Most podcasters want to quit their jobs to podcast full time, and some even manage it.
There are many different ways to monetize a podcast – but they all require one thing, and that's an audience. In order to build an audience from scratch, you're going to have to create content that people want to listen to.
Your Unique Value Proposition
Just as an example, there are are a lot of tv-recap podcasts, and sponsors are willing to pay for ad reads on those shows. Like a can of tuna, it is what is says on the tin. But, the more unique that your value proposition is, the more your podcast will stand out. It'll be memorable, and your audience is more likely to share it with their friends. The community it creates may be smaller, but more enthusiastic.
Joe Rogan and Amy Schumer were celebrities before they started podcasting. Serial was widely promoted by This American Life, and followed a changing news story. We also know that people care more about a podcast description than the host, when it comes to new podcasts.
Some podcasters dig into a social need, what marketers call “pain points,” to create content. Chapo Traphouse's niche is a deep dive into political opinion, drumming up fierce loyalty. Their Patreon followers make a small financial investment, but a huge emotional one. Tim Ferriss tapped into white-collar workers' need to feel fulfilled and gain control over their lives.
Automate Your Podcast Production & Publishing
Alitu is a tool that takes your recording, polishes it up, adds your music, and publishes the episode, all automatically.
Can you make lots of money by simply recording yourself talking? Probably not. Can you make money by sharing knowledge and expertise with a combination of excellent sound design, unique and useful ideas, careful research, and interesting guests? More likely. Podcasting alone is one thing, but adding bonus content helps. In no way is podcasting passive income. It's a lot of work.
Case Study: Fable and Folly, and Audio Fiction
Sean Howard, of the Fable and Folly audio drama podcast network, has written tons of helpful articles on podcast marketing. The shows he works with are some of the highest quality independent audio content available. He's also painfully honest when he says that the audio drama community has “struggled to create anything approaching a living wage for all but the 1% of the 1%.”
Howard is optimistic, however, about the recent growth of celebrity audio fiction (for example, The Left Right Left Game, with Tessa Thompson). “I think this is sorely needed for our industry. This influx of money creates jobs and opportunities that just weren't there prior. It just hurts to see what they are spending compared to what most of us raise or have access to.” It can spark envy, but it could be encouraging. If someone likes The Left Right Left Game, why wouldn't they move on to Harlem Queen or What's The Frequency?
Howard is undaunted. “At Fable and Folly, we are working with a growing list of shows to prove that sponsorship can be interesting and even fun for our listeners, while also a source of significant income for show creators.”
Case Study: Sarah Rhea Werner, Write Now and Girl In Space
Sarah Rhea Werner is one of the biggest success stories in independent podcasting. She began making solo shows (Write Now and Girl In Space), and now she is able to say, “I make a full-time living podcasting (including paying for healthcare, if not saving for emergencies) because I include both direct AND indirect podcast income.” She diversifies her podcasts' revenue streams, “avenues like Patreon, tip jars, in-episode advertising, etc.” As a result of per podcasts, she can also make money indirectly, “speaking engagements, product & merchandise sales, course sales, freelance opportunities, coaching, IP/rights licensing/sales, and more.”
She points out that the key is to set realistic goals, and build your audience first. “Unless something magical (or illegal) happens, you're probably not going to make $1 million podcasting overnight. But you can begin to make money and increase it incrementally over time, scaling it like a business. It comes down to setting and attaining realistic goals. So perhaps your first goal is to cover your podcasting costs — your microphone and other equipment, your website, your hosting company, paying actors, and maybe a few other things. What does that money look like on a per-month basis? How will you obtain it, dollar by dollar? That's your first goal.”
Taylor Mali wrote a poem, “What Teachers Make,” which contains some not-safe-for-work language, but is otherwise worth reading. The point of Mali's poem is that teachers make a difference. “How much do podcasters make” has a similar ring to it.
I started podcasting when I was doing data entry for the government. The job was reliable, but depressing. Over time, I spent more of my free time writing about podcasting, communicating with other podcasters, and helping other people make podcasts. Now, I have a job that I do find fulfilling, and a community of colleagues who feel the same way that I do about podcasting. Do I have an Amy Schumer paycheck? No. But I'm definitely richer than I was before.
Podcasting can help you build skills, meet people, and get a better job. You can connect with other people in an enlightening way. Your podcast can help people finish boring tasks, endure long drives, withstand chemo, bike one more mile on the exercise bike, or get a good night's sleep. You can help people understand the world better. You can build intimacy and trust.
So, How Much Do Podcasters Make?
How much do podcasters make? A select few make money, and a lot of it. Most podcasters make the world a better place.
You can learn more about how to make an impact in others' lives with podcasting. Our How To Start A Podcast guide takes you step-by-step through the launch process. Our Podcast Promotion guide can help you sustain it.
The Podcast Host Academy has detailed courses and downloadable resources to help you with all aspects of making a podcast. Plus, our weekly live Q & A sessions can help with any questions that you might have. Join us!