What’s the best way to monetize my podcast? That’s the eternal million-dollar question.
Or at least the full-time income question.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you there are plenty of options for making money from your podcast, from ad sponsorship to affiliate marketing. But one monetization option that’s soaring in popularity with both listeners and podcasters is podcast subscriptions.
In this article, I’ll walk you through why podcast subscription is taking off right now, how to assess what subscription could do for your show, and how to get started with building your own podcast subscription program.
What Is a Podcast Subscription Program?
A podcast subscription program takes premium audio content and puts it behind a paywall. To access that content, listeners pay a fee—usually a monthly recurring fee.
When you've already done the hard work of building up a show that people value, subscription allows you to monetize your true fans and give them more of what they love.
Your free show continues to be your marketing engine, helping new listeners discover you.
The number of people listening to podcasts continues to grow, along with the number of people who are willing to pay for extra content.
Close to twenty million Americans pay for podcasts right now, and 25 percent of those who have never subscribed said they’re likely to do so in the next year.
We see the proof of subscription’s popularity every day at Supercast, with podcasts ranging from news shows and health podcasts, to pop culture critiques and kids stories, all building thriving businesses on selling extra content to their listeners.
What Are the Advantages of a Podcast Subscription Program?
Out of all the ways you can make money from your podcast, subscription has a number of significant advantages.
- You don’t need a huge audience to get started. We’ll dig into viable numbers in the next two sections, but compared to advertising, you can definitely get started with subscription sooner.
- You don’t need a sales team or to be constantly pounding the pavement for advertisers. “I love my [subscription] revenue. It’s so much less of a hassle,” says Michael Brandon, creator of the Get Sleepy podcast. “Dealing with ad sales is a real slog.”
- It’s reliable, recurring revenue, so planning for your business (and your life!) is much easier.
- Subscription helps you build a deeper relationship with your audience while you’re earning revenue.
- Subscription can easily be combined with other monetization strategies to diversify your revenue—or it can support you entirely on its own.
When Does a Podcast Subscription Program Not Make Sense?
We’ve already established that you don’t need huge audience numbers for subscription to make sense, but you do need some listeners. If your show is quite new and the audience very small, it’s probably not the right time to offer a premium program.
What’s too small? It varies depending on the topic and the audience engagement, but a good rule of thumb is to have at least 1,000 unique listeners for every episode before you look at adding subscription. See the next section on how much money you can earn for detail on why.
How Much Can You Make With a Podcast Subscription Program?
As with any question about income potential, the answer to how much you can make is a big “it depends.” There are three main things it depends on:
- The size of your audience
For the best idea of your podcast audience size, look at the number of downloads you get per episode in the first thirty days of the episode’s release. Even better is if the data can be filtered to unique downloads—some podcast hosts provide this number.
- Your conversion rate
Your conversion rate reflects how well you can convert free listeners to paid subscribers. We’ve found that most podcasts can expect a conversion rate between 2 and 7 percent. Where you fall in that range is influenced by how engaged your audience is. Avid fans who are interacting with you and asking for more content will land you at the higher end of the scale.
- The price of your plans
Obviously, your plan price matters greatly. It’s going to take a long time to reach sustainable income at $1 or $2 per month per subscriber. Almost everyone struggles with asking for higher prices—but it can be done. Focus on the value you’re delivering and charge accordingly.
Now that we know the three numbers we’re working with, a rough calculation of how much your podcast might earn with a subscription program is pretty easy:
Audience size x conversion rate x plan price = potential revenue
Let’s say you have an audience of 5,000 free listeners. You pick a 4 percent conversion rate because it’s right in the middle of the range. And you think you’ll price your initial plan at $10 per month. Your calculation would look like this:
5,000 x 4% x $10 = $2,000
In this estimate, you’d be making $2,000 per month from subscriptions. Not too shabby—and it comes to you every month.
But Isn’t a Subscription Program a Lot of Work?
Many people believe that running a podcast subscription program is time-consuming and onerous. The truth is, it can be—but it doesn’t have to be.
It’s all about being smart with what you offer, and finding a balance between what your listeners want and what you can reasonably produce.
Here are a few examples of low-cost, low-lift bonus content that add tons of value for a supporter:
- Early access to regular episodes
- Ad-free episodes
- Outtakes, bloopers, and “off the mic” chatter
- Supporter shoutouts
- Ask Me Anything episodes
Podcasts Making Full-Time Revenue for Their Creators
The Get Sleepy podcast offers meditations and calming stories to send you into slumber. Creator Michael Brandon and his team have chosen to keep subscription simple: They offers one plan, with options to pay $5.99 monthly or $49.99 annually.
The subscription is packed with value including a weekly bonus episode, extended meditations, discounts on merchandise, and more. Listeners have been snapping them up—and that’s no snooze!
The Anxiety Coaches Podcast
For more than five years, coach and nutritionist Gina Ryan has been helping people manage their anxiety, panic, and PTSD through The Anxiety Coaches Podcast.
Gina’s podcast subscription plans range from $5 per month for ad-free episodes and full access to her episode archive to $97 per month, which includes twice-monthly live coaching, access to a private Facebook community, and more.
Reality Cray Cray
Kim and Kyle Cray of Reality Cray Cray (and its sister podcast, 90 Day Fiancé Cray Cray) have tons of fun each week discussing the wild and wacky happenings on reality television.
Fans love it so much they eagerly plunk down $5 a month to get double-long episodes, exclusive bonuses, and access to a private discussion group. For $25 a month, “biggee” fans can participate in designing new merch.
Breaking Points, hosted by Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti, is a podcast and YouTube show that delivers news commentary from both sides of the political aisle.
Wildly popular with fans, the show was able to attract more than 10,000 paying supporters in the first two days of launching its subscription program.
About 60 percent of subscribers pay for a $10 monthly plan, just under 40 percent pay annually, and 2 percent have chosen a $1,500 lifetime subscription.
How to Choose a Podcast Subscription Platform
When it comes to setting up and managing a podcast subscription program, there are several platforms and tools to choose from, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Supercast. But beware: Not all are created equal, and you’ll want to dig into the details before you choose one.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Does the platform give you full ownership of your subscriber data, including names and emails? It’s hard to build a relationship with people when you don’t know who they are and can’t communicate with them outside of your podcast. What’s more, if the platform is the middleman in your relationship with your subscriber, you have no control. The platform can change or even pull the plug on your program, putting your revenue at risk. Make you sure you can export all your subscriber data from your chosen platform at any time.
- Where can you deliver your premium content? To reach the widest possible audience, you’ll want to choose a platform that allows your listeners to subscribe from whatever podcast player they use. So watch out for programs that only work on one player (ahem, Apple) because at best, that means only 60 percent of your audience can pay you.
- How much flexibility do you have in building subscription plans? How many subscription tiers can you offer? Can you charge whatever you want, or do you have to choose from a preset price list? Can you deliver non-audio benefits to your subscribers, like a newsletter or private community? Make sure the program can do what you want it to do before committing.
- Is the signup process easy? Some platforms ask your listeners to open a new account and follow an arduous multi-step process to access your content. Others offer a quicker subscription process. The easier it is for your listeners to subscribe, the less friction you create and the more listeners you’ll be able to convert.
- How much is the platform taking in fees? Look at both the fees for the subscription platform and any payment processing fees. Factor these into your rough revenue calculations to fine-tune the number.
Getting Started With Podcast Subscription
At a high level, the main steps of implementing a podcast subscription program are straightforward:
- Decide what additional content or perks you’ll offer subscribers.
- Make a work plan to figure out what needs to be done and when each month to deliver on that content. Make sure it’s sustainable.
- Think about how you’ll package your plans and what price you’ll charge.
- Choose your subscription platform and set up your account.
- Develop a promotional plan that outlines how you’ll let listeners know about your new subscription program.
- Launch your sales page and implement your promotional plan.
See Podcast Subscription in Action
Want to see how a podcast subscription program works for listeners on Supercast?
Our public Supercasters podcast focuses on podcast growth strategies and how to build sustainable independent businesses that thrive on a strong relationship with listeners.
Naturally, we have a premium offering too—and it’s free. You can subscribe to get extended interviews, audio recordings of all our blog posts, and access to our podcaster peer networking community.
When you subscribe, you’ll go through the exact quick-tap process one of your listeners would use to subscribe to your show on Supercast. And hey—you get all our great content, too.
Subscribe to Supercasters Premium for free, and we’ll see you inside.
About Jason Sew Hoy
Jason Sew Hoy is the CEO of Supercast, an audio subscription platform powering millions in revenue for independent podcasters and content networks. The top ten Supercast creators gross over $10 million in annual subscription revenue.
Supercast is the purpose-built podcast monetization toolkit for podcasters who want to grow healthy, diversified revenue. Opening a Supercast account is free. Once inside your account, the Getting Started guide walks you through the process of connecting your Stripe account, setting up your plans, and launching your program.