Unlike most dabblers in the field, though, I’ve managed to make money from it. A little bit at first, to supplement my other income. Then about half. And now, virtually everything I earn. So, what’s the secret?
Well, I’d like to think the quality of the product is a key element. Like anything, if you do it often enough, you tend to get quite good at it. Well, I get by.
But I’ve also become fairly savvy to the ways of making money. I think there are four business models that work, although there is one I struggle with. Yet that's the one people tend to leap at and assume is the path to riches. Be prepared for disappointment, unless you manage to strike an unexplored seam.
Let's save the difficult one for the end; here are the four ways to make money and my experience with them.
1. 1. Get a publisher to pay.
This is pretty much how my podcasting career started. I presented a weekly technology show for ZDNet called Twisted Wire. Then CBS launched BNET, a business website, and got them to pay me to present a daily business interview series called BTalk. Later, I moved on to presenting CrossTalk for a telecoms journal in Australia.
In each case, we were early in the podcasting game. Most publishers have dabbled with the medium, often using in-house staff who are not necessarily talents behind a microphone and who produce loosely edited pieces that often sound more like a casual chat amongst friends than an engaging, fully produced programme.
Now is a great time for publishers to reinforce their brand through podcasts (listening figures are on the rise) but they have to engage professionals to do it for them. That provides lot of opportunity. It's also deeply rewarding because you are a journalist able to pursue stories that interest you.
2. 2. Get a brand to pay.
Every weekday, around 6.30am, I publish a podcast for the National Australia Bank (NAB). It’s called The Morning Call and it updates the Aussie finance community on what’s happened in the currency and commodity markets overnight. It’s presented in a fun way, designed to appeal to their existing wholesale customers – such as fund managers – and act as a tool to raise their profile further amongst other prospects. I present it in a way that broadens the appeal beyond hard core traders, brokers and analysts and, I believe, helps present a human face to the bank.
NAB gets to showcase their experience (each episode features one of their economists) with a programme that has become a substitute to breakfast radio for their listeners. It’s like a 10 minute radio ad every morning. The intent is that the people they are influencing think the bank is more clued up than their competitors.
3. 3. Get subscribers to pay.
Yes, I’m doing that too. Professor Steve Keen is one of the world’s top economists, who has a different slant on things to his mainstream contemporaries. He wrote the book ‘Debunking Economics’ and predicted the global financial crisis before it happened. He has a new book out in April that explains which economies are now on the brink of collapse. In The Debunking Economics podcast we explore where neoclassical economics has it wrong.
You can listen to short summaries of each podcast but people need to pay and subscribe to hear full episodes. The audience is building, bit by bit, with virtually no churn.
This approach works because the listeners are fanatics. They hang on Steve’s every word. We also get on pretty well, so I’d like to think it’s an engaging conversation that is entertaining as well as hugely informative.
Of course, one of the benefits of the pay-to-listen approach is that each episode adds to the repository of content, improving the sales proposition. So, we’re gradually seeing sales pick up as we pile on more episodes.
4. 4. Get advertisers to pay.
Okay, I’ve never done this. To be honest, most of my podcasts are getting up to a thousand listens. You could say that seems like a small number, but they do tend to be very specialist in nature. The best I did was Balls Radio, which mixed political commentary with satire, trivia and irreverent observations. It had a loyal following, ran for a couple of years, but only got a few thousand listens most weeks. Hardly enough to draw in advertisers.
You can do more to bring in listeners. With Balls Radio the best way would have been broken up a 90 minute podcast (yes, 90 minutes!) into smaller, more regular episodes, so the audience multiplied out accordingly. And there’s a lot you can do with paid promotion to draw in crowds. I didn’t do any of that, but I suspect many days and weeks could be spent trying to build a critical mass that still wouldn’t provide the same payback as the first three approaches.
There’s a fifth approach, which I am pursuing as well – getting a radio station to pay. Radio folk understand that listening online is becoming as important as listening off-air and podcasts provide a useful extension to advertising campaigns. I am brandishing a pilot around right now, for a business show called It's The Business. There’s been interest – a few bites at the cherry – but it’s a slow painful process. Initial positive interest is followed by unanswered emails. I do feel that begging for food on the street would be less humiliating.
So, for anyone wanting to make money out of podcasting, I’d suggest they aim for options one and two. Find a company or publisher who can benefit from your expertise. Understand what their aims are and tailor content to suit them. For a journalist, in the case of working for brands, it can be seen as ‘selling out’, but two things on that a) you gotta eat and b) choose brands that match your own personal philosophy. Or, as an alternative, podcast for fun. Sell hot water systems during the day and spend your paycheck on your home studio. Let's call this Option 5 - Get Your Family to Pay!