- Understanding audience metrics
- Generating income from podcasts
- How to look for work in podcasting
- Early career and mentoring opportunities
First, let’s ask the question: Do you really need to know how many people are listening to your podcast?
If it’s a hobby it’s nice to know – but the number of listeners is just one metric of success. It can be equally as important to reach a small but active group of engaged listeners.
However, if you want to impress a boss, a client, or have paid ads you do need to pay attention to the number of listeners.
While only a podcast publisher knows the actual number of listeners and downloads, there are a variety of chart rankers, metrics in podcast apps, and ratings and review services to evaluate podcast listening. You can also pay for data assembled by companies like Rephonic.
What is Download Success for a Podcast?
Downloads are a way many podcasts evaluate success. They are easy to count and are a common unit of measure for ad sales, thanks to a compliance program for download measurement by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
Libsyn – one of the oldest and largest podcast hosting platforms offers statistics:
- A podcast live for 30 days averages 141 downloads.
- If you have more than 3,400 downloads, you’re in the top 10% of podcasts.
- If you have more than 9,000 downloads, you’re in the top 5% of podcasts.
- If you have more than 50,000 downloads you’re in the top 1%.
But, avoid just looking at downloads as a measure of success because a download doesn’t mean the episode was listened to.
As James Cridland, editor of Podnews explains, a show with 4,000 downloads doesn’t mean there were 4,000 listeners because with automatic downloads the episode may never have been listened to. Only a listen, or play indicates when a human has pushed the play button.
In addition, a small, niche show might not have large numbers but can bring in a very engaged audience who spends a lot of time listening and that is of great value to a podcaster as well as advertisers. Still, a show with fewer than 1,000 per episode is hard to monetize.
Finding Your Podcast Metric
Apple Podcasts has an average consumer metric in which podcasters can see how much time and attention their podcasts are getting by looking at their analytics. To find the numbers for your podcast log into your Apple Podcast Connect account, go to Analytics, pick an episode and look for the graph that shows listeners over time. Spotify calls this metric “episode performance.”
Beyond downloads, success for a podcast can be measured in other significant ways:
- Serving underserved populations.
- Influence (a podcast could have a small number of listeners but they have a large influence).
- Amount of ad revenue.
- Reviews & Critiques (can help in marketing and promotion efforts).
- Engagement (includes getting listeners to take action or time spent listening).
Metrics Are Confusing
Every podcast hosting service has its own analytics, research companies have their own podcast rankers and podcast companies have their own charts so there can be considerable differences because of methodology and whether the podcast was downloaded, played or streamed.
Podcast analyst Nick Quah told The Verge that, “chart-topping doesn’t mean what most people think it means.… It just says you had a lot of new interactions one given week.”
It’s also difficult to compare audience size when some podcast rankers emphasize monthly downloads while others focus on weekly audience size.
Companies that have earned the “seal of approval” for podcast measurement systems, verified by IAB Tech Lab, give an added measure of confidence for publishers and advertisers about the accuracy of audience counts.
1) Among companies that do podcast rankings, Podtrac offers monthly rankings of downloads for Top 20 Podcasts and Top 20 Podcast Publishers. However, the rankings only count podcasts that chose to “opt-in” to the service; not all podcasts do that. Podtrac says the company measures the majority of top podcast publishers. For a fee, you can see Podtrac rankings on audience categories – such as Arts, Sports or True Crime.
2) Edison Podcast Metrics is the only quarterly podcast measurement service that measures the relative audience size and demographics of all podcast networks in the U.S. Data is collected from podcast consumers ages 13 and older in the U.S., asking participants to recall which podcasts they listened to in the past week. It lists the top 50 podcasts in America by reach — not downloads — among weekly podcast consumers. Reach is the percentage of weekly podcast listeners who say they have listened to any one of these shows in the last week.
3) Triton Digital offers monthly measurement for the Top 100 podcasts based on weekly downloads over a four-week period and has some different publishers than what appears in Podtrac rankings and requires publishers to opt-in.
4) The Apple podcast “Top Shows” charts are generally understood to be a trending chart – what is popular at the moment – rather than a measure of how big or influential a podcast is overall, and The Verge says the Apple charts can be easily gamed. These do not measure downloads and since not everyone uses Apple to listen to podcasts, this is only a snippet of listenership.
6) Chartable has a Global Top 200 podcast chart across 20 different countries based on weekly changes among the 5,000 podcasts using their proprietary feed integration. They are opt-in, so a publisher has to decide to join, free of charge.
NPR’s Remote Audio Data
In collaboration with several podcast industry leaders, NPR has developed an open-source listening measurement tool called Remote Audio Data (RAD). It does not replace download statistics as a point in measurement but is an effort to better understand podcast consumption because half of all podcasts are downloaded to be consumed later. The RAD framework is available to anyone.
Can You Make Money With Podcasts?
Podcasts do make money — very big money for a select few and absolutely nothing for most creators. That’s absolutely fine if your podcast is a hobby and a labor of love, but there are some ways to make a few bucks for production expenses.
Ad experts say the future for podcast advertising will involve several different models – ad-free, subscription-based, crowdfunding and paywalls.
The position of an ad – when it appears – also impacts price. A pre-roll runs at the beginning of a podcast, a mid-roll occurs during an episode and a post-roll is at the end of an episode and has the least expensive price.
Podcast Advertising Sees Growth & Influence
Other forecasts are for slightly lower numbers.
A study by media intelligence company MAGNA and Spotify found that consumers are more receptive to podcast advertising than TV advertising. As for the length of podcast ads, SXM Media says their research found that 15-second ads (which are usually found just before and just after a podcast) are very effective for recall and awareness while longer 30-second or 60-seconds ads are more effective in driving understanding and moving listeners to act.
Most effective are host-read ads because listeners consider hosts to be influencers. “The reason they’ve been successful is their deep connection to listeners,” marketing executive David Raphael told Vulture magazine. He says one focus group asked listeners why they went to hotels.com. “They said, ‘Because Ira Glass told me to.’
Making Money Strategies
- Use a Patreon.com account and/or a donation model from your podcast host.
- Sponsorship is where you endorse a company’s service or products in exchange for payment, i.e. $25 per 1000 (listens) for a 30-second pre-roll.
- Affiliate marketing is where you refer listeners to purchase a product or service and you get a commission when it’s purchased.
- Provide consulting help to others in creating podcast cover art, website design, scripting, transcription, vocal performance, social media, marketing.
- Become a public speaker as an expert at conferences and live events.
- Create and sell market swag for your podcasts (mugs, T-shirts, bags, pens).
- Offer premium content such as live events and behind-the-scenes interviews.
Patreon.com is a website where fans can pay creators with contributions of their choice. Since a YouTube musician came up with the idea in 2013, some 150,000 creators have earned over $1 billion for creators from podcasts to musicians, gamers and more. Patreon takes a percentage of the earning and offers a guide on your earning potential. Resonate Recordings has some advice for setting up a Patreon account.
You can see the top 1000 Patreon creators each month.
Independent podcasters such as Tamar Avishai, creator of The Lonely Palette, say it’s time to get over asking for money. She explained how to get the most out of Patreon in her article in The Bello Collective. With 175 patrons who donate various amounts, she makes $1,000+ per episode. Other independents say don’t expect to make a lot of money but there are other rewards of podcasting, such as redirecting your career because of new skills.
Careers in Podcasting
Since podcasts are being done by large and small news organizations from traditional legacy media such as The Washington Post, NPR, national TV and radio news outlets as well as hometown digital news outlets, there are growing career opportunities. But that’s just the start.
Creators include major corporations, smaller entrepreneurs, local, state and federal government, religious organizations, political organizations, public interest groups, sports franchises, entertainers, book authors, and educational institutions — you name it.
All of these organizations need to hire hosts, reporters, producers, scriptwriters, artists, marketers, and sound engineers. Some people can do it all or know how to outsource and hire others. You might find such an opportunity.
NEWSLETTERS: Subscribe to industry newsletters such as Podnews by James Cridland for podjobs.net and Hot Pod by Nick Quah. Look carefully at job descriptions in ads and make sure to develop these skill sets.
AUDIO JOURNALISM PROFESSIONAL & TRADE PUBLICATIONS AND OUTLETS:
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting Jobline.
- Indeed.com, look under Journalism.
PAID MEMBERSHIP ORGANIZATIONS:
- AIRmedia.org is a network of audio industry professionals in public broadcasting, journalism, podcasting and narrative storytelling; jobs and training are available via membership with discounts for students.
- National Association of Asian Journalists is a professional organization with reduced fees for students.
- National Association of Black Journalists is a professional organization with reduced fees for students.
- National Association of Hispanic Journalists is a professional organization with reduced fees for students.
- National Association of LBGTQ+ Journalists is a professional organization with reduced fees for students.
- RTDNA.com (Radio-Television Digital News Association) is a professional organization with reduced fees for students.
- Online News Association is a professional organization of digital media professionals.
- Professional Journalism Organizations – an extensive list from the American Media Institute. Several offer job opportunities with paid memberships.
SOCIAL MEDIA: In your own community, look for freelancers on a Facebook group of local podcasters.
Podcast Job Titles
Job titles are determined by the employer and by the style of storytelling — nonfiction vs fiction or narratives, dramas, interviews, and such. Someone with the job title of producer in one workplace may be called a story editor elsewhere and it’s not uncommon for one or two people to do multiple jobs. That can be fulfilling or frustrating depending upon your workload.
To professionalize the industry a coalition of about 40 partners in the podcasting industry developed descriptions and published in Podcast Taxonomy. This is an effort to develop standardized roles and help in job search and creation.
Defining Major Podcast Jobs
- EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: “The Executive Producer is the lead producer on a production. The role can range in terms of creative control with some “EP”s owning the creative direction of a podcast (in effect taking the role of director), while others may take a more hands off approach. Executive produce may have raised the money to fund the production, but it is not a necessary responsibility of the role.”
- SENIOR PRODUCER: “The Senior Producer is the second most senior producer of the production (second to the Executive Producer). They supervise producers and the general direction and logistics of the entire production.”
- PRODUCER: “The Producer coordinates and executes the production of the podcast. Their duties can include helping craft the creative direction of a project, budgeting, research, scheduling, and overseeing editing and final production.”
- REPORTER: “The Reporter finds and investigates news or stories for the podcast, often interviewing subjects and conducting research. The Reporter can be an on-air position as well, as they convey the insights of their investigation.”
- HOST: “The Producer coordinates and executes the production of the podcast. Thier duties can include helping craft the creative direction of a project, budgeting, research, scheduling, and overseeing editing and final production.”
- WRITER: “The Writer has written the story or dialogue of a podcast. They are often involved in the creative arc of a production, but this is not a necessary requirement. Writers may work in scripted podcasts, in both fictional or non-fictional contexts, and may work on their own or in partnership with 1-2 other writers if necessary. Given the requirements of a podcast, the script that a Writer produces may be read word-forword on a published podcast episode.”
- STORY EDITOR: “The Story Editor is responsible for broad stroke direction of the story arc and character development of a podcast. Often seen in fiction and documentary podcasts.”
- AUDIO EDITOR: “The Audio Editor cuts and rearranges audio for clarity and storytelling purposes. The Audio Editor may also perform general audio processing and mastering.”
- PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: “The Production Assistant helps support an executive member of a podcast (often a director or producer), helping prepare them in a variety of ways including scheduling, logistics, communications, and more.”
- MARKETING MANAGER: “The Marketing Manager is responsible for the promotion of a podcast’s content through various awareness strategies such as social media campaigns, cultivating a web presence, managing public relations and communications strategies, and other creative techniques to acquire and retain listeners. Also known as: Podcast Marketing Coordinator, Podcast Marketer.”
What Does a Producer Do?
Typically the producer oversees the management of a show from concept to writing scripts, scheduling guests, doing interviews, and hiring any contractors needed for editing, distribution, or promotion but the job duties can differ widely depending upon the size of the employer and style of the podcast.
What Does An Editor Do?
An editor could be involved in story structure or editing audio or both.
Catherine St. Louis is senior editor of podcasts at Neon Hum. In episode 10 of “Servant of Pod with Nick Quah,” she talks about creating memorable podcast moments, how she became a story editor and her love of deconstructing story structure., “I think a good podcast does three things – it educates, it enrages, it entertains,” she said.
St. Louis says part of the problem is that most people don’t understand what it means to be an editor. She says editors are made and that diversity is vital. “I wish we took more young people of color, women, and guided them so that they became editors. …I think we have to demystify that editors are somebody who are older or who are established.”
St. Louis also talks about how she approaches being a story editor on podcasts such as This Land by Crooked Media and Murder on the Towpath by Luminary — both are longer form, narrative non-fiction podcasts that have different storytelling techniques than audio dramas or interview podcasts.
Mentoring & Early Career Opportunities
Application dates vary but many return annually so keep an eye on rolling deadlines.
- AIR Mentorship Program offers an opportunity for audio rookies to learn from seasoned producers and editors.
- AIRMedia New Voices program for underrepresented and early-career voices in public radio and podcasting.
- Dustlight Productions Apprentice program for POC, trans, and queer people with a passion for audio, but with little to no experience.
- The Next Generation Radio Project is a 5-day NPR journalism and audio training project with a mentor.
- Spotify offers internships, a Technology Fellowship Program, and other initiatives for students and hiring.
- Spotify’s NextGen Audio Program, which showcases creators from underrepresented communities in the audio industry, has expanded to historically Black colleges and university(HBCU) campuses in the U.S., started with Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
What’s the Income for Top Podcasters?
Although it’s hard to know revenue unless it’s self-reported, top podcasts like The New York Times’ The Daily, earn more than $1 million in revenue.
Freelance Work Rates
It’s a valid question whether you can turn your passion project podcast into a paid professional gig. Salaries for podcast jobs as producers, editors, production assistants, writers, and website creators fluctuate depending upon the employer, show format, and market location.
Salaries vary depending upon whether you are on staff for a media company or as a freelancer. Some companies pay by the hour, others by the day or project. You also need to pay close attention to job titles because what one employer calls a production assistant job might be labeled as an associate producer job at another, so be sure you are clear on defining the role.
Sample Day Rates
In a Twitter thread, Dustlight Productions CEO Misha Euceph posted some freelance day rates:
- $300 day rate for entry to mid-level podcast producer.
- $85 an hour+ (20 hours =$1700).
- $150-200 an hour for tape sync or recording two-way interview on location, plus mileage or Uber.
- $1000 day rate for a consultant on podcast/audio strategy.
- $150K for low-budget non-fiction podcast; $350K-$750K for high budget.
The Podcast Host has information on negotiating fair rates for freelance podcasters.
Freelancers will find one particularly helpful resource in AIR – the Association of Independents in Radio. This network of audio industry professionals – podcasters, journalists, story editors, audio producers, documentarians, engineers, sound designers and media entrepreneurs crosses 47 states and 30 countries. They publish a Code of Fair Practices for working with audio professionals as well as AIR Rate Guides for services. A beginning production assistant could have a day rate of $330 while a senior producer’s day rate could be $570.
In his newsletter, The Audio Insurgent, podcast creator and strategist Eric Nuzum says the most important thing for podcast creators is “knowing how to build a production budget.” He offers sage advice on people costs for creating production budgets with staff and collaborators and on additional costs like hiring freelancers and marketing.
Union Contracts For Podcasting
Gimlet Media and The Ringer (owned by Spotify) ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Writers Guild America-East, (WGAE):
- Salary minimums at The Ringer are $57,000 plus overtime as an entry-level floor, and Gimlet Media beginning at $73,000 for Associate Producers.
- Limitations on the use of contractors within bargaining unit positions.
- Half of the candidates for open unit positions who make it to the stage after the phone interview will be from traditionally under-represented groups (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, military veterans).
- Elimination of post-employment non-compete agreements for all employees who make under $155,000, and removal of post-employment non-competes in individual agreements.
- Minimum of 2% guaranteed annual increases.
- Minimum severance of 11 weeks for all employees, regardless of tenure.
Click here to view the full Gimlet Media collective bargaining agreement.
Click here to view the full The Ringer collective bargaining agreement.