Have you ever wondered how to make money podcasting (or even if you should)? Or maybe you’ve felt like your audience isn’t big enough to monetize if you don’t have thousands of listeners.
Either way, while most people only talk about sponsorship, the truth is that there are tons of other income streams for podcasters to consider, whether you’re hoping to cover your costs or earn a full-time income.
This comprehensive post is your guide to learning the different ways you can make money from your podcast, no matter your audience size.
Table of Contents
How do you monetize a podcast?
A lot of podcast hosts wonder if they can make money podcasting. And while there’s never a guarantee, what I can say is that there’s a lot more to it than just traditional sponsorship.
And although it may not happen overnight, you can absolutely earn part- or full-time income as a podcast host, as long as you understand that there are two very different monetization strategies.
The question you should ask yourself is this:
- Is my podcast a revenue channel, where I’m earning money by creating podcast content?
- Or is my podcast marketing channel, where I’m earning money by influencing my listeners’ buying decisions?
It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but too often people only think about getting paid to be a podcast host. These direct monetization strategies include things like sponsored ads, asking for donations, or paid communities. (Full list coming up below.)
But what I want to help you consider are indirect monetization strategies, which often work better for small and new podcast hosts. In these cases, you’re promoting products and services to your audience in exchange for sales or commission, and these are often much more lucrative than direct monetization alone.
That being said, you don’t need to limit yourself to only one or the other. Don’t be afraid – and I would actually recommend – trying different strategies to see what works. That being said, don’t feel like you need to try and do everything at once.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common monetization strategies for podcast hosts so you can start to decide which might be the right fit for you.
Direct podcast monetization strategies
Sponsored ads are the most well-known way to make money podcasting. When you book a sponsor, they’ll pay you up-front to promote their products to your audience. You’ll earn money based on how many thousands of listeners you have per episode, in a metric called cost per mille (CPM).
Here’s an example of a sponsored ad for Podcorn at the beginning of this episode:
Here are some quick points about sponsored ads:
- The most common spot within a podcast episode for a sponsored ads are pre-roll (15-30 seconds) and mid-roll (30-60 seconds)
- It’s the most well-known way to earn money podcasting, but it’s typically a better fit for shows with a larger audience
- Podcast listeners are used to ads, but the products you promote will make an impression. It’s crucial that any sponsors you team up with make sense for your audience, so make sure it’s a company you believe in, and that listeners wouldn’t be surprised to hear you talking about it. (So if your podcast is about business, a gardening product won’t make sense.)
How much can you earn from sponsorship?
If you’re interested in learning more about your earning potential from sponsorship based on your audience size, I’m running a free live masterclass on Tuesday 9/14 where I’ll share exact rates and a few additional strategies for new podcast hosts.
⭐ You can save your spot here: How to Launch Your Podcast in 2021 and Get Your First 1,000 Listens
Resources for finding podcast sponsors
I believe that the best way to find a great sponsor is to pitch a business you love directly. Listeners tune into your podcast because they know, like, and trust you, and they’ll be able to hear the sincerity in your voice when you read a sponsored ad for something you truly believe in.
That said, there are online marketplaces where you can browse for sponsors, too.
My favorite marketplace is Podcorn. Podcorn makes it easy to find and secure sponsors at any size, and you’re in full control of your rates, creative formats, and scheduling.
Their scheduling tools make it easy to book recurring sponsors for days, weeks, and months at a time, while helping you manage many sponsorships at once and avoid getting booked when you’re already committed.
Ask for donations
One of the most straightforward ways to earn money podcasting is to ask your listeners for donations. This is a strategy a lot of people talk about, but if I’m being honest, it’s not one I typically recommend.
Psychologically, people are more likely to pay if they get something in return. That’s why instead of asking for donations to support your podcast – which only benefits you, the host – many profitable podcast hosts use the next strategy instead (paid subscriptions).
The one type of podcast that I think could use donations well is a podcast tied to a non-profit or a cause. If there’s a bigger platform that someone’s donation would support, then I think donations can be a great fit.
With paid subscriptions, your listeners pay a small monthly fee to unlock additional benefits. Those benefits could include:
- Extra episodes
- Ad-free episodes
- Live chats or hangouts
- Access to join a private community
- Or countless other creative perks
Depending on your audience size, some of these perks may not be the right fit. (For example, it’s tougher to start a community if you only have 10 members.) But if your bonus is something like extra content, then you can start at any audience size.
One podcast that does this really well is Doughboys, a podcast about chain restaurants. They have three different tiers:
Resources for paid subscriptions
The gold standard and longtime favorite tool for paid subscriptions is Patreon. Just like the screenshot above, you can use Patreon to set different subscription tiers and redeem benefits to your subscribers.
Another option is Buy Me a Coffee, although most successful creators I know recommend Patreon. Both options allow you to create tiered levels, create a membership program, share exclusive content, and more.
As of 2021, the other buzzy option is to monetize your podcast directly via Apple Paid Subscriptions or Spotify Paid Subscriptions. I did a deep dive into the reasons why I don’t recommend those tools for most independent podcast creators here: Introducing Apple Paid Subscriptions
A lot of the perks offered in paid subscription models can work just as well individually. One perfect example would be to offer a private paid community for your podcast listeners.
Your listeners likely have a lot in common, whether it’s parenting problems or a shared passion for a TV series. So connecting them in a community where they can meet like-minded people is a huge gift.
Your podcast listeners will often want to continue the conversation with each other, and this helps your podcast grow because people can interact without depending only on you.
Here are some tools you can use to run private (paid or free) online communities:
- Circle (what I use to run Wit & Wire’s student community, and my personal favorite)
- Facebook Groups
- Mighty Networks
Private paid podcast
There are two options with a private paid podcast. You can either make some episodes paid, or you can make the entire podcast paid.
Having a private, paid podcast is less common than some of the other monetization options, especially since people are used to getting podcasts for free. But if you do go in this direction, consider having 1-5 sample free episodes to give potential listeners an idea of what they can expect from you.
If making your entire podcast private doesn’t seem like a good fit for you or your audience, some podcast hosts will put their older episodes behind a paywall instead.
People love to rep their favorite fandoms! Selling fun merchandise can be a great fit for a lot of podcasts, and although it might not make up a full-time income, it could definitely help cover costs.
- Patreon (if you’re including within subscription)
- Printful: This is my favorite choice for on-demand merchandise fulfillment. They handle everything in one place, including an online shop, fulfillment, and merchandise.
- Printify: Another similar, great option.
Certain podcast niches can be successful in hosting live recording events (in-person or virtual). This is a good way to not only monetize your podcast, but also connect with your audience in a new way, and sell other services you may offer.
If you have a podcast membership option, hosting a live recording for members only can be a good bonus or perk. Some tools you could use include:
- Eventbrite (for ticket sales)
- StreamYard (for a great live experience)
- Patreon (if you’re including with subscription)
- Zoom, Google Meet, or another virtual streaming and recording platform (for virtual live recordings)
Now that I’ve shared direct ways to monetize your podcast, let’s take a look at some indirect options.
Indirect podcast monetization strategies
Sell your online courses
Wit & Wire’s online courses are the number one way I earn money as a podcast host. If you’re using your podcast as a means to build authority or empower others to make a change, creating and selling a course could be a great option.
How to determine what your course should be about:
- think of the main issue(s) your ideal listener deals with
- the answers to FAQs you get from listeners
I use and recommend Teachable for anyone interested in creating your own online courses. Teachable makes it easy to create and sell your own online courses, if you don’t have any tech savvy. You can create curriculum, sales pages, checkout pages, and more, and now you can add a student community with a seamless Circle integration.
Sell coaching or services
If you’re using your show to share your expertise and build your business, offering your own coaching or other services can be a great way to monetize your podcast. You could even put together a mastermind class or group as a way to connect with your audience on a deeper level.
I recommend ThriveCart (use this link for special lifetime access) to help you build a user-friendly cart and checkout page. ThriveCart can also help you with upsells, and affiliate campaigns.
Sell digital or physical products
There are many options when it comes to selling your own products as a way to monetize your podcast. You can sell physical or digital products to go along with your show as a whole or items that correspond to individual episodes. Don’t forget to talk about them during your show, and link to your shop or each item in the show notes.
Depending on what you plan to sell, a few tools that might work for you include:
Sell your own book
A lot of podcasters have either already written a book, or they dream of writing one someday. If you’ve already published a book, promoting it to your podcast listeners is a perfect fit, because they’ll get to continue learning from you in a new way.
Authorship was such a popular topic that I dedicated a full Wit & Wire podcast episode to sharing how podcasting can help you write a book.
One of the benefits of being a podcast host is that you’ll build up credibility as an expert or go-to person in your field. And as you build up authority in your niche, you may be invited to speak at different events and workshops.
Speaker fees can vary greatly. To help you get started, this HBR guide can give you a general idea of what to charge.
Affiliate programs are a good way to monetize your podcast because simply put, you recommend products or services you love. It’s a natural way to start incorporating monetization into your podcast.
As with sponsored ads, you want to make sure that whatever it is you’re an affiliate for is related to your podcast topic. I also highly recommend sticking to items and services that you actually use and love. Your audience will likely be able to tell if it’s not, and this can lead to a lack of trust.
Pro tip: most companies link to an affiliate program application in the footer of their website. You can also find potential affiliate programs by contacting brands you hear on other podcasts.
Here’s an example: I’m an ambassador for Podpage, my favorite automated website creation tool for podcasters. I can talk about my real experience with their product and then refer people to witandwire.com/podpage if they’d like to try it out for free.
Amazon affiliate program
One of the more well-known affiliate programs is through Amazon. With this program, you earn money when people buy products you recommend. As an example, I’m often asked about my favorite podcast microphones, so all of the links in my roundup go to Amazon affiliate links, and I’ll earn a small commission if anyone makes a purchase.
Monetizing your podcast this way can be a natural fit for many niches, but Amazon is strict about affiliate disclosures. Because of this, I recommend carefully reading the terms and conditions so you can properly disclose any affiliate links.
How long does it take to start making money on a podcast, and when can you start?
The short answer is: it depends.
For some options, you can start right away, but the strategies available to you will depend on your audience size.
For most hosts, I recommend focusing on great content first. After you release your first 10 episodes, you’ll have a better sense of your listeners’ needs and your workflow.
Final thoughts on how to make money podcasting
Podcasts of all sizes can earn money, but different strategies suit different hosts and niches. The strategies you use will likely evolve as you go, so it’s important to try different things to see what works, but don’t try to do it all at once.
If you’re just starting, I recommend checking out affiliate programs so you can start getting paid to refer people to products you already use and love.
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Melissa Guller is the founder of Wit & Wire, where we help everyday experts become profitable course creators. She previously worked full-time for Ramit Sethi, Teachable, and General Assembly. Today, she shares simplified tech tutorials and modern marketing strategies through our blog, YouTube, and Wit & Wire Weekly newsletter