These days, everyone and their ex-boyfriend has a podcast. But do they actually make money with it?
There are plenty of ways to make money podcasting, from placing ads to selling merch. The most popular podcasters make millions, but even hobbyists can make some extra cash.
Take David Weinberger co-host of Shonen Flop, for example.
“We take a look at a lesser-known manga that ran in the popular Japanese magazine Shonen Jump,” he said. “There’s a lot of really big hits in that magazine, but what happens to… the ones that don’t last so long?”
The podcast’s funny, and in-depth reviews have earned it hundreds of five-star ratings – and a few hundred bucks a month for Weinberger.
Not every podcast is going to be as popular – or profitable – as Serial. But plenty of podcasters make a little extra money doing what they love. We asked Weinberger to walk us through the steps.
1. Get Real
Making money with podcasting is a totally realistic goal. But how much money? Spotify reportedly paid $200 million for exclusive rights to The Joe Rogan Experience. Amazon spent $100 million on Exactly Right Media’s podcast portfolio (read: My Favorite Murder). But for every uber-successful megahit podcast, there are a hundred others that never make a cent.
Most podcasts fall somewhere in between. Shonen Flop is one of them. As of this writing, the podcast makes $286 per month on Patreon: not enough for the creators to quit their day jobs, but enough to cover the cost of their hobby.
When setting goals for podcasting income, be realistic. You probably won’t make a million in your first year. Focus on putting out the best show you can in the meantime.
2. Get Professional
Listeners (and potential advertisers) tune out when sound quality is low. Make audio a priority from day one.
Think you can get away with phoning it in? Think again.
“Your first episode will always be your first episode,” Weinberger said. If it’s full of static, road noise and “um”s, no one will listen to episode two.
There are a few simple things you can do to sound great from the beginning. First, acquire a decent microphone.
“I honestly think if me and my co-host had just bought $50 mics we would be … in a better spot,” Weinberger said.
Second, learn how to use audio editing software – Audacity is a popular (and free!) option. Weinberger has an excellent, thorough guide available right here.
Finally, be ruthless. Filler words, misspeaks, and unfunny tangents have got to go. “We record for about an hour and ten minutes and we get that down to about fifty five minutes,” Weinberger said. “If you’re cutting fifteen minutes, you’re cutting the worst fifteen minutes of your show.”
3. Get Promoted
If you want to make money with podcasting, you need listeners. How do you find them?
Start small. “Those initial hundred listens a month are all going to be people that know you,” Weinberger said.
After that, make connections with other podcasters in your wheelhouse. Host a show about Barbies? Make friends with the American Girl podcast host. You can work together to make great episodes and boost your profile.
Here’s a real-life example of how this works. When Shonen Flop invited Red from Overly Sarcastic Productions to guest star, the show got a big jump in listenership. That makes sense – Overly Sarcastic Productions has over 2 million subscribers on YouTube.
4. Get Sponsored
Businesses big and small are always on the lookout for places to advertise. Why not your podcast?
There are three main ways you can connect with sponsors. One, you can approach them. There’s nothing wrong with cold-emailing a business and asking them if they’d like to team up.
Two, you can connect with a middle man who pitches advertisers for you. If you’ve chosen to host your podcast with a service like Libsyn or Anchor, getting paired with brands is part of the deal.
Three, you can wait for advertisers to come to you. Once your numbers hit about 1,000 downloads per episode, you might get a knock on the proverbial door.
Note: just because a business offers to sponsor you doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Shonen Flop has been approached by advertisers. So far, they’ve said no. Why leave money on the table? For now, explains Weinberger, “the additional overhead and hassle on the arrangements to get people to advertise on our show … isn’t worth it.”
5. Get Fans
Another major revenue stream for podcasters is their audience. Many fans will throw in a few bucks a month for early, ad-free, and bonus content.
The most popular way to do this is Patreon. Hit podcasts net hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on the platform. You’re Wrong About has over 23,000 subscribers who pay between $2 and $25 a month for extra content and community. While YWA’s exact revenue isn’t public, some back of the napkin math tells you they’re making a tidy sum.
Fans of the show might also shell out for merchandise. Printed t-shirts are an old stand-by – and relatively easy to produce.
Don’t Want to Monetize? It Can Just Be Fun
Is all this talk of monetization starting to kill your joy for podcasting? Hit the brakes.
“There’s definitely been temptation to say: can we make a career out of this?” Weinberger said. “But then, if it’s your job, it adds a lot more stress for you. You really have to care about your listenership.”
It’s OK for podcasting to be fun. It’s OK for it to be a hobby.
And who knows? Maybe someday Ira Glass will Tweet out your podcast, gaining you thousands of subscribers and a Casper Mattress ad deal.
Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with work in HuffPost, MoneyGeek, and The Penny Hoarder. You can find her on Substack (@camclaren).