IN THIS CHAPTER
Attracting advertisers and sponsors
Building your media kit
Exploring listener-based revenue options
Throughout this book, we show you novel and interesting ways to toss significant amount of coinage into the proverbial black hole of podcasting. Throwing money at your podcast can easily become a habit — and it likely should come with a warning from the Surgeon General or perhaps your accountant.
Hosting fees, bandwidth overages, shiny new microphones, music royalties and licensing fees, phone charges, travel expenses … the hard and soft costs of this little hobby of yours just might add up quickly.
That’s why this chapter shows you some ways to offset a portion (or all) of these costs and perhaps even add a few dollars to your pocket while you explore your newfound passion. In case you anticipate a large following, we cover some ideas you can use to make podcasting a paying gig.
Most podcasters fall into one of three categories in terms of their audience size: small, medium, and large (well, yeah). Because of the very low barrier-to-entry — in effect, anyone can create a podcast — the smaller variety of podcaster will likely make up the bulk of the community for the foreseeable future.
Here's a closer look at the moneymaking opportunities for these three podcast categories:
Small: Roughly, a small podcast has under 1,000 listeners. Having a small audience size doesn’t exclude you from drawing a revenue stream from your podcast. It likely limits the size of your potential revenues, but it doesn’t mean you can’t bring in at least some income.
Small is a relative term, and we’re not about to start tossing out audience-size statistics to draw a clear demarcation between small and medium. Small is also not a derogatory term; many podcasters enjoy the idea of keeping their community intimate. There’s a certain comfort in the small podcasts, a charm that some would say is diminished as the size of the podcast’s audience increases. Small can actually be an asset — some podcasts are so niche that they draw a small, but extremely loyal following. To a potential advertiser, you have a target audience.
Medium: When you have more than a handful of dedicated listeners (in the four-digit bracket with over 1,000 listeners), you find yourself in the medium category. This category affords you additional opportunities. For instance, corporations and advertisers may be more willing to consider placing ads or providing sponsorships.
However, you also find yourself in a more competitive marketplace, as other podcasters start fishing for monies to help offset their costs. Stepping upward in the ranks also means stepping up your game, and you may find yourself in an unfamiliar place — trying to develop a media kit that boosts your podcast above the din raised by all the other podcasts chasing the very same advertisers.
Creating an effective media kit, especially for a newly discovered marketplace such as podcasting, is actually a pretty important task. For more about the why, what, and how-to, see “Developing a media kit,” later in this chapter.
Large: Breaking the barrier at the far end of the size spectrum is an elite set of podcasters who occupy the large category and are in the five-digit bracket with over 10,000 listeners. When it comes to making money with your podcast, size really does matter. With a huge audience base, you’ll likely find advertisers a lot easier to approach. You can present listener numbers that are more like what the advertisers are used to seeing in their more traditional media buys.
Outside the mainstream media (like NPR, CNN, and ESPN), there are the juggernauts that launch when the stars are aligned, and the dice continuously land naturally on 20. Shows like Welcome to Night Vale, Serial, and Lore spawned shows of similar formats, similar approaches. And then there is Joe Rogan of The Joe Rogan Experience (
http://podcasts.joerogan.net) who scored a $100 million deal with Spotify for exclusive rights. While all this sounds tantalizing, it's no picnic for large podcasters. Along with competing against other podcasts inspired by them (which is a nice way to describe knock-offs), large podcasts still target a very narrow audience on typically one topic (or show) and probably won’t rake in as much as a nationally syndicated radio program. Additionally, the numbers game can sometimes become an obsession, and content quality may suffer on account of that.
However, if you see that paradigm between podcasts and radio change, be ready to make that jump. Podcasts enjoy a unique flexibility over broadcast media and arguably a closer relationship with the audience. Additionally, advertisers grasp the appeal of podcasting and are now making overtures, as seen in Figure 14-1.
If the idea of begging for money sounds rather repulsive, good. If you have to resort to begging, you shouldn’t be asking at all. People will only part with their cash if you give them a compelling reason. “Because I’m a poor podcaster” is not a compelling reason.
Whether your goal is to gain sponsors or sell advertising spots, you have to answer a very important question: What’s in it for them? Why should someone else make a financial contribution to your show? There are a multitude of good reasons that you’ll need to uncover, understand, and be able to explain if you hope to be successful in asking for funds to support your podcast.
Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t nearly enough corporations so bursting-at-the-seams with unused advertising dollars that they’ll welcome you with open arms when you approach them and say, “Hey! Wanna advertise on my podcast?”
Most corporations have an advertising budget (as in, a limit on what they can spend in promoting products or services). In nearly all circumstances, this budget is significantly smaller than the range of potential places they might be advertising, so they’re looking for the most bang for their buck. This means you’re competing with media — radio, television, and online platforms — with well-established pitches and presentations at the ready, regularly scheduled exposition events like PAX East/West, CES, TwitchCon (featured in Figure 14-2) and DEFCON, and print media like Wired, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. All these entities are working to get that sought-after advertising dollar.
Before you start cold-calling possible sponsors, do a little homework. Spend some time, energy, and money developing something your potential advertisers can touch and see: a media kit and a rate sheet, which we describe in the next sections.
A media kit is, in effect, a collection of marketing tools designed to awaken potential advertisers to their crying need to shell out big bucks to support your product or service (in this case, your podcast). The size of your media kit depends on many factors, among which are how much you want to spend and how much important stuff you think you have to say. It’s not size you’re striving for here; it’s a compelling argument that you can present to your potential advertisers.
Media kits are most certainly not one size fits all. Your media kit should be representative of the actual feeling you try to produce on your podcast — competent and real, not over-the-top glitzy. Consider it like a job interview: It’s okay to comb your hair and put on a fresh shirt, but you wouldn’t send your good-looking-but-ignorant roommate as a stand-in, would you? Know how to clearly communicate what your podcast is all about and how it would benefit a potential sponsor.
So here’s a practical list of dos and don’ts to keep in mind when considering what to put in your media kit.
First off, the “Yes, go for it” list:
http://surveymonkey.com, pictured in Figure 14-3, that cost a few dollars. Remember — sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
http://technorati.com) and Google (
http://www.google.com) can support any claims for the popularity of your site. Print any great testimonials showing your knowledge and expertise in the field. Favorable comments from other known experts go a long way, too!
And in the “No, no, a thousand times no” corner, we have …
When you have your content figured out, go buy a nice, pretty binder. Or better yet, order some custom ones online that feature your podcast logo, slogan, and website address. You can get them online from VistaPrint (
http://www.vistaprint.com) if you want large quantities. For smaller runs, see what your local office-supply or copy center can provide.
A rate sheet is simply a table of what you charge for ads and other services like audio or graphic production related to advertising. And you thought you were headed into uncharted waters by just creating a podcast? How about figuring out a fair price to charge for running advertising? That’s by no means a science. Heck, it’s not even an art form at this stage! It’s total guesswork — picking a number, throwing it out there, and seeing what sticks.
You can start by reviewing rates of other podcasts with similar topics or audience sizes. A rate sheet can be as simple as a fixed price for a given ad segment, but we like to think podcasting is more flexible than that. Can you offer cheaper prices for shorter ads? Can you offer prices for different placement within the show, keeping in mind that the closer to the top of the show, the more valuable the ad placement? You can offer decreasing rates based on how many shows carry an ad. How about adjusting the price if there’s an ad in your show along with a link on your website? Are you capable of offering production services for an audio or video ad? All of these options can be combined in a variety of ways to complement each other.
Sponsorship and advertising are often used as interchangeable terms, but they’re actually distinct approaches with different requirements. For the purposes of this discussion, we consider sponsorship as a relationship you (the podcaster) have worked out with an organization that regularly funds — and has a vested interest in the success of — your show. (Obviously, you can’t say that about all advertisers.)
Sponsorships were popular — almost to the point of exclusivity — in the radio and television industries. During that time, corporations would actually create the various programs as an advertising vehicle — they could even censor content if (for example) some writer goofed and had the villain using the sponsor’s product. Modern-day advertising deals, which allow a station or program to drop a 30-second ad into its already-established programming, came into play much later; these days, such deals dominate the scene.
Examples of sponsored podcasts include Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It podcast (
http://mikerowe.com/podcast/) and WNYC’s Note to Self (
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/notetoself) which have been sponsored by such companies as Blue Apron, Squarespace, and Zip Recruiter.
Traditional media sponsorships are extremely rare. Some businesses have launched affiliate programs where vendors generate a code that podcasters can offer to listeners for discounts or exclusive deals. Other vendors will generate a specific URL that your listeners can use. Each time a purchase is made with your unique URL, you receive a portion of the sale. Affiliations, like the ones represented in Figure 14-4 and featured on Happy Hour from the Tower, are a low-risk investment that benefit both vendor and podcaster. If no purchases are made, there is no loss on the side of the vendor. If the podcaster does generate revenue, the vendor is able to track these specific sales (use of the checkout code or URL); and a podcast’s influence can be considered for possible traditional sponsorship deals.
If you’re thinking about approaching a corporation to underwrite your show, you need to provide much of the same information necessary for securing advertisers, as discussed earlier. In addition, however, you need to demonstrate how your show can help bolster the success metrics of the corporation. “It’s a cool show that your customers will love …” probably won’t cut it.
There’s no secret sauce that irresistibly attracts sponsorship. Each business or corporation has distinct goals and objectives. Any podcaster trying to solicit sponsorship would be well served to understand these goals and objectives inside and out, and be prepared to clearly demonstrate how sponsoring a podcast can help the company achieve those goals.
There is one group of potential financial backers out there who couldn’t care less about your fancy media kit: your listeners. They couldn't give a hoot about your anticipated growth curve in subscribers or your ratio of direct downloaders to feed-based audience. They do have a vested interest in your continuing to produce the very best possible show, each and every episode — and they are (usually) content to let you take the show in the direction you feel it should go.
Sometimes your show is important enough to them that they’re willing to pony up. That’s why the following section discusses some novel ways you can go about soliciting your listeners for funds to help offset some of the costs of creating a podcast.
Some of your audience will so love your show that they’ll happily hand over some of their hard-earned money — if you’ll only ask.
Asking for listeners’ support is a two-step process: First you ask for the money, and then you provide an easy and convenient way for your listeners to send you money. PayPal (
http://www.paypal.com) has been handling small and large web-based transactions for years. A PayPal donation link can be fully integrated into your website with minimum hassle. Here's how:
Log in to PayPal.
If you don’t have a PayPal account, click the Sign Up link and follow the simple instructions. You need a valid credit card to sign up.
PayPal, like much of the web, is subject to change. The flow of these steps might be slightly different at the time you’re reading this. Regardless, the steps you need to follow will basically be the same.
From the Choose a Button Type drop-down menu, select the Donations option and then designate a region, a language, and a button style; when done, click the Continue button.
You are taken to the Make Your Donation Button page, as shown in Figure 14-5. If you have a custom button already created, you can point PayPal to its URL, but you should keep it simple and use PayPal’s design.
Add any additional information to your button. When done, click the Continue button.
We recommend using “podcast name – Donations” to help you identify your donations if you have other types of PayPal income.
Review additional options for your Donations button.
These options include demographics, routing from PayPal to another site, and additional HTML variables.
If you’re familiar with using HTML forms, you can later add a suggested donation amount, and allow your listeners to change the amount if they desire. Get a copy of Coding All-in-One For Dummies (Wiley) by Nikhil Abraham if you need help with editing forms.
Click the Finish and Get Code button to create the code for your Donations button.
You have some decisions to make about the custom HTML code for your button.
Do some minor editing of HTML in order to incorporate your button into your podcast’s blog.
Adding the HTML should simply be a copy and paste to your template or widget. If you need to go deeper into editing a template in order to accommodate your donation button, take a look at WordPress All-in-One For Dummies, 4th Edition by Lisa Sabin-Wilson.
This should do it for the donation link.
Another alternative that many podcasters and creative artists are exploring for fan-generated revenue is Patreon (
https://patreon.com). Patreon offers a couple ways for you to get paid for your content. Like PayPal, you can set up a monthly billing system to charge your loyal followers at the beginning of each month. However, you can also set it up to tap your patron’s wallets on a “per creation” method. For the podcaster, this means the harder you work, the more you can potentially get paid. For the patron, it means if the podcaster starts to get complacent and doesn’t produce any new content, you don’t have to pay.
Many podcasters will set up tiered patronage, much like the different levels seen on streaming services like Twitch or YouTube, or in campaigns found on Kickstarter (
http://www.kickstarter.com). For example, for $1 per episode, you get a special episode, show notes, or a postcard once a year. For $2 per episode, you get your name read on the show and a T-shirt. You see how it goes? If you support a show, you get goodies. Each podcast has its own take on what it charges and what it offers.
But how effective can Patreon be? For writers Chris Lester (
http://www.patreon.com/authorchrislester) and Phil Rossi (
http://www.patreon.com/philrossi), Patreon has proven to be quite the motivator in creating new fiction (see Figure 14-6). Chris Lester, host of the award-winning Metamor City podcast, had stepped away from storytelling for quite some time before returning with The Raven and the Writing Desk, his own author interview show that also journals his own return to writing fiction. His accompanying Patreon supported him writing on a consistent basis, even when finding himself unexpectedly in-between jobs. For Phil Rossi, author and podcaster behind Crescent, Eden, and Harvey, his greatest challenge for writing fiction was time. His Patreon income allows him to invest less in lucrative performance gigs as a musician so he can continue producing more fiction. Both Lester and Rossi offer their Patreon investors exclusive fiction both in audio and digital formats and additional incentives when print versions of their podcasts are released.
Before launching a Patreon campaign, have a plan. Think about what you can offer the potential contributor to make them want to sign up. Once you have your plan, create a Patreon account by following these steps:
Click the Create on Patreon button, located in the upper right of the browser window.
You can use a Google or Facebook account to activate your account, or you can create an account using different contact information.
If you are already set up with Patreon, simply click the Log In link to the left of the Create on Patreon button.
Pick two categories where your podcast best fits and then click the Continue button.
Yes, there is a category specifically for podcasts!
Click the Start Customizing button and begin to put together your Patreon page.
Using a simple GUI, Patreon assists in building your website by having you enter basic information like your name, a profile picture, what you’re creating, and appropriate social media links. You can even point Patreon to a short welcome video going even deeper into what you intend to create.
Click the Preview option to review your Patreon page. If everything looks good, click the Launch button.
At any time, you can update and edit your Patreon page. Under the Advanced option, you have additions you can make to your page to offer your backers even more. Once you click the Launch button, your page is live and you are ready to go!
Now you can put a link or button on your website guiding your audience to your Patreon page, announce it on your show, or any other way to let people know how they can help you. Once a month, it automatically withdraws money from their account and deposits it in yours.
Some podcasters offer merchandise for sale as a way to support their show financially — T-shirts, hats, mugs, autographed pictures, you name it. If it’s sellable, chances are good that some podcaster out there is selling it.
If you’re contemplating selling merchandise via your podcast, you fall into one of two groups:
You have merchandise to sell. Musicians, authors, artists, and craftspeople fall into this category. For these podcasters, offering CDs, books, prints, or other items to the listening audience can bring in significant revenue. (Down the road, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to make a living via podcasting.)
Once again, PayPal (
www.paypal.com) can be very helpful in taking away the technical hurdles for selling items online and integrating them into your podcast and website. If you can master the process for setting up online donations, you aren’t far from having PayPal work as your entire online shopping cart.
You need merchandise to sell. If you need stuff to sell, CafePress (
http://www.cafepress.com) is more than happy to step in and offer its assistance. Remember the T-shirts and other stuff mentioned earlier? You can go to the trouble of making those yourself, carrying an inventory, and shipping the orders out as they trickle in — or you can let CafePress take care of all that for you.
Setting up a CafePress storefront is a breeze, though it’s a highly configurable task, and how you set it up depends on what you want to sell. A basic shop is free to set up and to use. Your listeners buy the T-shirts and coffee mugs (or whatever), with your logo or design on them from the CafePress store, and CafePress pays you a commission. It’s very simple and requires only some quick setup information from you to get started. It takes about five minutes to set this up; CafePress takes care of the rest.
Is it possible to make money at podcasting? Sure, it’s possible. You can find plenty of realistic success stories where people are turning their passion into a day job. It could be the podcast itself, suddenly becoming a runaway hit. It could be hosting a workshop or a class where you teach students how to podcast. It could be an opportunity where you produce podcasts for an organization, or a group of organizations. It could be getting together with someone you’ve known for years — a friend from the circles in which you podcast — and writing a book on how to podcast. There are a lot of pod-sibilities (oh, come on, your authors are both dads!) with this platform we are introducing you to, and there are plenty of options ahead. You can consider one offered in this chapter or a combination of them, all working to turn what you love into a day job.
So long as you remember the paycheck is not the sole reason you fire up the mics. Without the heart, the voice doesn’t happen. But when it does, the paycheck is a nice perk at the end of an episode.