So it’s worth pointing out two things up front before taking a diving into the world of podcast monetisation.
Firstly, you don’t actually need to monetise your podcast if you don’t want to. For many podcasters it’s simply more hassle than it’s worth.
Secondly, if you’re just getting into podcasting, have no existing audience, and are already thinking about monetisation then you might have your priorities wrong. The old “cart before the horse” proverb springs to mind here.
Podcasts are many things, but they aren’t easily monetised. They aren’t easily monetised because in order to make even a little money, they need to be good. And in order to make something good you need to pour time and effort into it.
When Should I Think About Monetising My Podcast?
There’s no “typical” example of someone monetising their podcast. It can range from a hobbyist managing to cover their hosting costs, to someone who’s now earning enough to actually make podcasting their full time job.
If you have a podcast with a captive audience though, then it will be possible to monetise it on some level.
An “audience” could be anything from five to five thousand. But there’s too many variables in podcasting to put hard numbers on these things. Instead, it’s better to look at listener engagement.
So how do you gauge that? Well, if you regularly have people email or tweet you to tell you how much they enjoyed your latest episode then you’ve definitely built a captive audience.
But if you never feel you get any engagement from your listeners then it might be better to focus on growing your show first. That’s another subject altogether, but take a look at our 30 Days of Audience Growth course if you need some help with this.
Methods of Podcast Monetisation
Let’s assume you’re in the first camp though, and are already running a show. You feel you’re ready to dip your toe in the podcast monetisation pool – so where do you start?
There are a few different options available to you. You can try as little or as many of them as you like, though it’s arguably better to focus on fewer and do them well rather than spread yourself too thin.
Besides, some of these methods will suit your show and your content much more than others.
I bring this one up first because it’s the most frequently mentioned podcast monetisation method. Though I don’t necessarily thinks it’s the “best” option.
The way sponsorship typically works is that someone will pay you to run ads on your show.
These ads can be inserted, pre-recorded, or host read as part of your content.
You can find a sponsor yourself, or through your media host or an advertising agency. For an in-depth look at how it all works, check out our Should I Sponsor a Podcast? article.
Sponsorship Pros – If you’re able to find a sponsor that’s extremely relevant to your audience and topic, then there’s the potential to create a lucrative and valuable partnership for both parties, long term.
Sponsorship Cons – Unless you’re getting thousands of downloads, or have a hyper-niche topic, sponsorship doesn’t pay all that well. You need to ask yourself if what you’d stand to earn is worth potentially interrupting your audience over.
Arguably the “best” way to monetise a podcast is to offer something for sale, on top of the free content you give out in your episodes.
This might be a product (either physical or digital) or a service, such as coaching, or creating.
Sell Something Pros – You’re 100% in control. Everything is on your own terms, and you’ll generally receive the biggest percentage of income generated as compared to all other monetisation methods.
Sell Something Cons – It can be a heavy workload. Creating a product of value will take time and effort. Offering a service also might not be scaleable. Could you handle 100 clients? If that’s a concern then you might want to look at building a community instead.
Sell Someone Else’s Stuff
If you don’t offer a product or service of your own, you can always go down the affiliate commission route. This works by recommending things that you use and endorse – things that are relevant to your topic and would be useful to your listeners.
Many companies (most notably, Amazon) have affiliate programs that you can sign up to. Alternatively, you can reach out to a business directly and negotiate an agreement with them to start recommending their stuff.
Affiliate Commission Pros – You don’t need to create the products or run the services. The income you make isn’t quite work-free, but it’s lower maintenance for sure.
Affiliate Commissions Cons – You don’t own or ultimately control these streams. If you begin to rely on them as your main source of income, be aware that they could all be cut off tomorrow.
A middle ground between selling a product you 100% own, and affiliate or commission sales, is running a merch store on a third party platform.
There are services out there that let you set up your own shop. You add your own designs, logos, or artwork to their products, then they handle the sales and shipping for you.
Many hobby and entertainment podcasters go down this route and sell things like t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, posters, mugs, and phone cases.
Sell Merchandise Pros – It’s an “arms length” way of making some money. You just need to promote and link to your merch store and the rest will happen in the background. Monetisation aside, it can also be good for promotion and marketing. You have listeners walking around advertising your podcast.
Sell Merchandise Cons – Commission rates for these services are typically very low. You’re unlikely to make much money this way, even if you have a large and engaged audience.
If you’re a hobbyist who’s main commodity is entertainment, then the donation model is likely most suited to your situation.
With donations it’s simply a case of letting your audience know they can help support you and keep the show going by donating some money.
Traditionally donations would be taken by having a “donate” button on your website. But nowadays crowdfunding is the much more popular approach.
Many podcasters bring in a monthly fee of listener pledges on Patreon, which is a popular ongoing crowdfunding platform.
Donation Pros – The work needed to get donations is the work you’re already doing – trying to create a brilliant podcast. That said, you can go a little further and create rewards and incentives to encourage listeners to support you too.
Donation Cons – They can be fickle and hard to build any solid foundations around. You’re also relying on third party platforms that you don’t own or control.
Sell Your Show
If you’ve been podcasting for a while, you can actually bank and sell groups of old episodes for a fee on your site.
This works by keeping a set number of episodes free and available everywhere – perhaps your most recent 50 – then everything else is behind a paywall.
Sell Your Show Pros – You created a product that you own 100%. And you create it by doing what you were already doing anyway.
Sell Your Show Cons – Is it doing you more harm than good limiting your free content? If you’re in a position to do this, you’re also in a position to try any of the other podcast monetisation methods. Is this really the best fit?
Podcast Monetisation: Summary
You know your show or audience better than anyone, so I’m not going to try to tell you what to do. Here are my recommendations on a general level though.
If you’re a hobby podcaster, then at this point in time, running a Patreon account might be worth considering. Run that alongside a merch store and you’re covering all bases for your listeners.
If your podcast is part of a side business that you’re serious about growing, then starting out on the affiliate path could be a good fit at this stage. Though if your business is service-based then you should definitely be offering a “hire me” or “hire us” option to your listeners.
If your business or podcast is more established, you might want to think about creating an actual product for sale. This could be anything from a short ebook to a fully fledged video course.
And if you’ve been podcasting for well over a year, regardless of topic, then there may be scope for worthwhile sponsorship opportunities. Either that or maybe you fancy taking the “selling back episodes” approach.
Or if you need some help with your audience growth and engagement first, then why not check out The Podcast Host Academy. We can help you get to the stage where you have an enthusiastic and dedicated audience who’ll want to support you in whatever you do.
We’re also working on a dedicated podcast monetisation course in there too. That’ll take a deeper dive into the “how to” aspects of the methods outlined here, so keep an eye out for that!