There are wildly varying attitudes towards podcast networks within the medium. For some, the idea of joining one means “hitting the big time” and is seen as a natural point on the path to success, along with things like sponsorship and monetisation.
For others, there’s a bit of scepticism and mistrust. Podcast networks are seen as dubious organisations that want you to do all the work whilst they kick back and take all the rewards.
You’ll undoubtedly find examples to back up both perspectives here, but most podcast networks (along with the experience of podcasters within them) fall somewhere in the middle. The podcast network is a great idea in principle, a good option for some podcasters, and an unnecessary complication for others.
In this guide, we’ll explore the world of podcast networks, weigh the pros and cons, and help you decide whether it is the right move for you.
Alright. Let’s dive in…
What Are Podcast Networks?
Podcast networks are typically groups of podcasts produced and distributed by a single entity. Think of it as a “hub” for podcasts, where shows are grouped together under one brand or banner. This can range from small, independent networks to larger ones like NPR or iHeartRadio.
Not all networks produce the shows, though. You might join up with a network and still do all the heavy lifting yourself, but being under their umbrella gives you access to a bigger audience via cross-promotion. The network may also offer you special podcast sponsorship opportunities.
How Do Podcast Networks Work?
Podcast networks can provide a platform for podcasts to be produced, marketed, and distributed to a wider audience. They might offer resources such as studio space, editing services, or advertising support. In return, podcasters may be required to adhere to certain guidelines or branding standards, or be obliged to help promote and grow the network itself.
No two podcast networks are exactly the same, but these are the most common themes that unite them.
Top 11 Podcast Networks
There are a tonne of podcast networks out there, ranging from small independent networks to giant corporations. Here is a list of the most popular and notable organisations that fall under the category of “podcast network” or “podcast publisher”. The list is based on their size, market share, and popular shows within their stable.
- Crooked Media
- Gimlet Media
- The New York Times
Who Can Join a Podcast Network?
Most podcast networks are open to anyone, but not all shows may be accepted. Networks will typically have specific requirements or criteria for shows to meet before they can join. These may include factors such as quality, consistency, and audience size.
Some of the biggest networks have a “don’t call us. We’ll call you” policy, where they’ll seek to identify successful podcasts and approach them with a proposal. With even the biggest podcast networks, though, there will still be scope to pitch your show to them. If you know where to look, they’ll hear you out. It’ll just be a little harder to get a “yes” from them.
Benefits of a Podcast Network
In some cases, joining a podcast network can offer many benefits, including:
By joining a network, podcasters gain access to a wider audience, which can lead to increased listenership and greater visibility. If one show takes off, and your podcast is advertised on that show, it can do wonders for your own growth.
Networks often offer access to resources such as studios, equipment, and marketing support that individual podcasters may not have access to. If you struggle with limited equipment or high software costs, maybe a network can help support you.
Being part of a larger network can lend credibility to a podcast and help it stand out in a crowded market. If there are a few popular shows on your network, and listeners spot that same branding on yours, they may opt for it over hundreds of others.
Joining a network can provide podcasters a sense of community and collaboration with other creators in the same space. Podcasting can be a pretty solitary endeavour sometimes, so it’s great to get in amongst a support structure of like-minded people facing similar challenges.
Requirements to Join Podcast Networks
To join a podcast network, podcasters may be required to meet specific criteria. These can include factors such as:
Networks may have specific standards for the quality of production and content of the podcast. This could be factors like how and where you record, or, edit and produce your show. It could even include details like scripting, format, and narrative.
Networks may require podcasts to have a regular release schedule. This is a potential pitfall to be aware of. Maybe a release schedule has worked well for you in the past, but life can always throw a curveball or two. Release schedule expectations are something to thoroughly discuss before agreeing to sign up to anything.
Networks may require podcasts to have a minimum number of downloads or subscribers. It’s a good idea to create a media kit to present this data to potential partners in an accessible at-a-glance manner.
Drawbacks to Joining a Podcast Network
As we’ve mentioned already, joining a podcast network isn’t always the right choice for everyone. Some potential drawbacks include the following:
Loss of Creative Control
Podcasters may be required to adhere to certain guidelines or branding standards, which can limit their creative freedom. How would you feel about someone dictating things like file format, cover art, or release schedule to you?
Networks may take a percentage of a podcast’s revenue in exchange for their services. Maybe your podcast outgrows and outperforms the other shows on the network, and you start to feel like you’re funding them. Could this lead to potential conflicts and resentment?
Being part of a network means competing with other shows for limited resources and promotion. In some anecdotal examples, podcasters in networks have complained of other shows getting preferential treatment over the rest.
Ownership & Commitment
Whilst some podcast networks let creators retain ownership of their shows, others may require you to give up some or all of it. Make sure this is all clear to you upfront. Also, be sure to note the length of the agreement. Is it for, say, two years? Or, have you joined up “forever”? Be extra wary of long-term commitments far into the future because, once again, life can change in sudden and dramatic ways.
Should You Join a Podcast Network?
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to join a podcast network depends on the goals and priorities of each individual podcaster. If increasing visibility and audience growth are top priorities, joining a network can be a great way to achieve those goals. However, remaining independent may be better if creative control and independence are more important.
Before making a decision, think carefully about the requirements and benefits of each network, as well as your own goals and priorities. Be sure to chat with other podcasters on any network you consider joining. Ask them about their own experiences and opinions. How has being on the network helped them to improve and grow?
How to Get Your Podcast on a Network
Say you’ve weighed up the pros and cons of joining a podcast network and decided it’s the right move for you. What then?
Well, the first step is to research the networks that align with your show’s genre and style. Once you’ve identified a network you’re interested in, contact them to learn more about their requirements and submission process. This can vary from network to network, but generally involves submitting your show’s information and a sample episode for review.
Be prepared to demonstrate your show’s quality, consistency, and audience engagement to increase your chances of acceptance into a network. Remember, a media kit is a great way to do this.
If you are not accepted into a network, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty more out there you can approach. Or, you can embrace your independence. Most of the successful podcasters out there are totally independent, so this isn’t an all-or-nothing move.
Key Takeaways & Next Steps
Joining a podcast network can be a great way to increase visibility and access resources, but it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding. By considering your goals and priorities and researching different networks, you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs as a podcaster.
Whilst networks can help you grow and monetise your show, they’re in no way the only route to do so. Our podcast promotion and monetisation guides will show you many other paths, no matter your level.
There are also other ways to get the benefits of a podcast network without actually joining one. You can start your own, or, simply network with other podcasters without the need for any official “network” to exist.
So no shortage of options out there, then. In our Podcraft Academy, we run weekly live Q&A sessions where we’d be delighted to discuss the pros and cons of podcast networks with you, along with anything else you’d like some help, support, or advice around.