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9 Step Crash Course in Podcast Monetization

If you believe the hype, then this is likely one of the last blog posts you’ll ever need. Podcasts are taking over and killing the written medium. This was a long time coming though.

In 2006, Steve Jobs was one of the early believers in the media format. Now, 13 years later, we can confidently say that podcasts are here to stay. About 25% of the adult US population listen to long-form podcasts.

The average podcast listener listens to, wait for it…

Five podcasts a week — and that number is growing!

Large publishers like The New York Times, Financial Times, USA Today, and almost every other first-tier publisher already run their own podcast channel.

However, at the moment, few podcasts are actually making money. Many publishers started podcasts mostly from fear of being left behind. As the New York Times’ own Michael Barbaro stated they “didn’t expect to make any money” from “The Times” when they first launched.

In 2019, podcasts still have a small market share and a lot of room to grow. However, for many publishers who have gotten used to banner and video ads, it’s still unclear how to monetize this new format.

Below you can find a simple but very effective guide to monetizing your podcast.

1. Connect with Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising is certainly one of the most interesting upcoming trends in the podcast industry.

The idea is simple — since traditional advertising can be “hit or miss”, why not have smart software do it instead?

Programmatic advertising opens you up to a lot more demand for your ad inventory, which, usually, translates into higher bids for your ad time. After you set up filters such as age and location, the software automatically runs ads to target the best audience possible.

There are additional benefits with going programmatic, such as saving your time, maximizing the efficiency of ads but most of all it’s about placing your inventory in front of a very large marketplace of buyers willing to bid for it in a programmatic fashion.

How does programmatic audio work and what is a DAAST ad tag?

If you’re in AdOps, you know what a VAST tag is. So, similarly to VAST tags, the IAB has issued a DAAST standard for compliant advertisers and publishers that programmatically monetize their podcasts.

To be recognized as DAAST compliant, a member company must self-attest to meeting the minimum requirements stated in the technical specification. DAAST compliance is applicable for Audio Players, but audio ad servers must meet certain expectations for their ads to work in a DAAST compliant player. To submit your self-attested compliance, please see IAB’s Compliance Program.

Keep in mind, the podcast community has mixed reactions when it comes to programmatic ads. Some believe programmatic is smart and efficient while others think it’s ruining the industry. The most common complaint is that programmatic ads ruin the vibe, and feel “out of place” on a podcast platform so they should be avoided.

Engagement with programmatic is low and listeners often click “skip ad” when these come up. There is also an argument that the programs simply require some more work and that the data that makes programmatic display and video so successful is still not there for audio but that’s highly debatable.

Programmatic advertising is generally advised for larger podcasts with 50,000+ downloads since they can attract sufficient demand for their ad slots. If you’re hosting a podcast with a smaller, niche audience, you are probably better off using other solutions to monetize your podcast.

2. Live Reads

Here we have the proven, old-school method of podcast monetization — live reads or “host reads” are ads that are read by the host and thus a core part of the podcast content.

The big issue with third-party podcast monetization is that ads are skippable. The Wall Street Journal covered this topic in-depth. When ads are skipped, they are ineffective and that’s a problem for both marketers and podcast owners who are looking to make a buck.

This issue is entirely solved with live reads. Live reads enjoy the advantages and disadvantages of native advertising. The separation between content and advertising is blurred, therefore, listeners feel more engaged.

Also, with advertisements being the part of the download file, listeners don’t get to skip the ad (unless they fast forward) which makes the situation better. But live reading isn’t just about this. There are many great benefits to doing live reads.

Live-read ads feel natural and genuine. You, as a host, get to pick what product you want to sponsor and which words you want to use. Usually, you will be given a few key points and words to keep in mind, and the rest is up to you. A well done live read covers all of these points:

  • The ad runs in harmony with the show’s content
  • It’s authentic, not pre-recorded or scripted
  • The keyword or URL is mentioned multiple times
  • The host is honest and upfront that it’s an ad

All of this leads to live-read ads being more accepted than other, out of place ads. The key conclusion here is to make sure the ad is relevant to your audience and presented in the most honest, genuine way.

A good example of live reads done “right” is the Techmeme Ride Home podcast. At around the 11:00 mark, the main story slows down, relaxing, calm music starts to play and the host live reads an ad which fits well and doesn’t ruin the previous atmosphere.

Live reads are great for both small and large podcasts. The success depends vastly on the production, so make sure you use the given examples to your advantage.

3. Dynamic Ad Insertion

Dynamic ad insertion brought podcast advertising to a whole different level.

In the past, most podcast ads were “baked in”, static. Sponsors buy an ad slot, the publisher records it and edits it within their podcast audio file, and it stays there indefinitely. The problem with that is obvious — what happens to the episodes that were recorded months or even years ago and the ads are no longer relevant?

The solution is to have your ads dynamically inserted. This means you are able to switch the audio file on demand, displaying an ad that you want. Dynamic insertion allows publishers to swap out and change ads when necessary (if you’re selling ad impressions and you hit the mark for example) solving many issues with aging content. These ads can also be “host read” and thus made to perfectly fit a podcast.

As the technology moves forward, so does the software which allows these methods to thrive.

This could prove very useful for older episodes that contain expired coupon codes, website URLs or simply sponsors you no longer work with. The idea is to sell “impressions” instead of the whole ad-space, which will allow you to swap ads later on. Sponsors will then buy ads on a”per download” basis or similar, which enables better deals for both podcast hosts and sponsors.

You shouldn’t really bother with dynamic advertising early on in your podcast journey, but as your brand grows it becomes a very useful option.

4. Apple Analytics

If you want to make sure you are monetizing properly, you have to pay attention to the data.

Luckily, just about a year ago, Apple released analytics for their podcasting platform. The industry reaction was positive, since it is a step in the right direction. With Apple Analytics, podcast hosts can now learn more about the behavior of their audience.

Using analytics, you can now find a lot of useful information about your audience, such as the amount of time they listen, most skipped parts of your episode, their location, and device that they’re using. There’s a bunch of useful data available to make sure you optimize your content as much as possible. You should use analytics as a way to boost your monetization efforts.

Once you get to a large audience, using analytics becomes a must-do thing.

5. Merchandise

Of course, the best way to make money is to sell and rely on your own products.

It’s as simple as selling merchandise with your brand on it. The difficult part here is that you have to build a strong enough brand so your listeners are willing to buy from you, but once that happens… you’re set.

Building a brand takes time, so this is definitely not an option for beginners, but for those who already have an established audience.

As for what you can sell, the options are really endless — tee shirts, mugs, stickers, anything you can think of. Make sure the quality is great and use some of your brand assets like quotes or design to go with the merchandise. Your hardcore fans will absolutely love this stuff!

This way of monetization is also suggested to larger podcasts with 50,000 or more downloads. The bigger your fanbase is, the better the investment in merchandise.

6. Live Events

If you have a large podcast audience, you should definitely consider hosting live events.

Selling tickets to live events, meetups or just “closed circle” online events is a very profitable method to monetize your podcast. Of course, it requires work to build your brand to get to this point, but many of you will eventually get there.

This step requires a lot of effort and organizing, but the payoff is really good. You can make thousands selling tickets to these events, and you also get the chance to upsell some of your merchandise once you’re there.

If you have an audience of 50,000+ per episode, give live events a shot!

7. Inner Circles

A good way to monetize your podcast is to launch a “premium” version of it.

That’s right — set up a fresh, premium podcast for your hardcore fans and create an “inner circle” around that idea. They would have to pay to join the circle, but that’s a small price to pay for a peek at more intimate, in-depth conversations from their favorite podcast host.

This doesn’t mean you will have to spend an enormous amount of time producing another podcast. It can be a shorter, less “professional” and ad-free version of your podcast and your fans will totally be okay with it. One way to set this up is to set up a Patreon subscription tier which provides access to your premium podcast.

More content for your listeners, more money for you, it’s a win-win situation. You can start with this monetization method as soon as you build a decent following.

8. Sponsorships

Sponsorship opportunities are another traditional way to monetize your podcast content.

Instead of (or in addition to) selling ad slots, here you simply accept brands as sponsors to your podcast. This way, you can choose to feature them on your podcasts, social media or even merchandise. It’s a good way to make money without bothering your audience too much.

Advertising is kind of aggressive, but sponsorships? Not so much.

Of course, the best way to go about this is to only accept sponsors that are relevant to your niche or that help your work directly (providing you podcast tools like microphones etc.). These are the best kind of sponsorships both for you and your audience as well.

9. Outreach

Finally, we have the good old — outreach and networking.

To make money but also connections, you will have to put in some work and reach out to relevant brands. Send them an email, give them a call, ambush them at their favorite bar, do whatever you have to do but make sure you remain kind and considerate.

It takes a lot of time and effort to have sponsors filling up your inbox. Sometimes, you have to get out there and make sure your name is known. Advertising your own podcast is, funnily enough, the best way to monetize it. Outreach should be one of your top priorities early on, so this is a must-do for all podcasts with under 50,000 episode downloads.

Big or Small?

Size matters, especially in digital publishing.

The way you monetize your podcast depends on the size of your audience.

Over 50,000 downloads / episode

If you can consistently hit this number, shop around to the bigger ad networks like Midroll or Cabana – that’s enough to have them rep you. Usually, you can just do baked in mid-rolls if you have a decent metrics service.

Below 50,000 downloads / episode

Forget about programmatic and do the heavy lifting yourself. If you don’t have that many downloads because you’re in a small niche, turn that into a positive by finding brands who would be interested in your particular audience. If you do have a niche, then cater to it with additional merchandise.

About the author


Eyal Katz

Content creator, expert on everything you can Google.