How much money do podcasts actually make?

Green piggy bank with a $100 bill coming out of it. The pig's curly tail turns into an audio cable attached to a podcast microphone.

The internet revolutionized content distribution: it allowed almost anyone to toss almost anything up on a website to let the world check it out and decide if they liked it. But it also changed how we paid for our media — or didn’t, as the case may be. Digital media creators are obsessed with monetization, and for good reason. If you make content that people can access for free — like, say, most podcasts — it’s tricky to figure out how to fund it. 

Tricky, but definitely not impossible. In this article, you’ll learn the various ways you can get paid to podcast, as well as what you can expect to make via each method. Of course, there aren’t guarantees — just guidelines about what’s normal in the industry. And how much you make depends heavily on how many people are listening to your show, so creating something unique, thoughtful and well-crafted (okay, and promoting it appropriately) is always your number one goal!

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Affiliate marketing 

This is, in many ways, the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to making money from your podcast. If you ever mention products on your show — books, music, makeup, whatever — see if the brand has an affiliate link you can place  in your show notes so that you can get a small cut when listeners purchase from your recommendations. It probably won’t make you rich — at least not at first — but it’s super easy to set up, and an evergreen way to generate a little bit of income even when you’re first starting out. (Descript has its own affiliate program, naturally).

Rate: Between 5 and 30% of any sales made.

Ko-fi or PayPal

Another easy beginner step is to set up something like a PayPal or Ko-Fi donation link so anyone who feels moved can kick you a few dollars every now and again. 

Of course, you have to let listeners know it’s there, and also make the ask. The more specific you can be, the better. Don’t just remind your listeners that $5 is the cost of a cup of coffee — we’ve all heard that plea a zillion times already. Instead, let them know what they’re helping you do, i.e., “If you donate $10, that covers one month of hosting.” Folks want to feel like they’re contributing meaningfully, so make sure they can picture exactly where their money is going when they give! 

Rate: Depends on what people donate. Ko-fi is nice because it doesn’t take a cut of your donations. Paypal will charge a small percentage if your senders say they’re “paying for gifts and services,” so watch out for that. 

Subscriptions and merch 

Once you’ve got a steady audience, you can up your game a little bit. Consider setting up a Patreon or something similar, which allows listeners to become subscribers and contribute a small monthly amount to your show. You might also start making merch that will let them show off their fandom. 

However, you should be mindful that with this money comes some extra work. Most Patreons have tiers, and higher tiers offer rewards — usually extra or behind-the-scenes content, which you will now have to produce, edit, or curate in some way. Storing and shipping merchandise requires time, money,  and energy, so we strongly recommend using a print-on-demand company like Printful or Society6 to take that off of your plate. Subscriptions and merch definitely have their trade-offs, but they can also foster a deeper sense of connection between you and your audience, so they may be worth it in the end!

Rate: Depends on what you charge, and how much you sell, or how many subscribers you get.

Ads

It’s a big jump from being independent and self-funded to getting companies to advertise on your show. While you can try the previous strategies at any level, this strategy is in the big leagues: most companies will want a regular, dedicated listenership at least several thousand strong before they’ll consider contracting with you. 

At that point, you can try to sell ads on your own. Or you can join a podcast network like Midroll (now SXM Media) or Podcast One, which will help you connect with advertisers, set rates, and negotiate contracts. Either way, expect most deals to be negotiated on the basis of CPM, which stands for Cost Per Mille, or per thousands of listens. 

A few of the shows in Midroll's (now SXM Media) podcast network

One podcaster we spoke to emphasized that the best way to make money on ads, however, is jump another tier — from podcast networks to getting your podcast acquired by a major media company like Vox, Spotify, or The Ringer. They deal with advertisers on a completely different scale, and can bring in brands that the typical podcast network will never be able to catch. “When a media company is going out to a brand like Coca-Cola, they're bringing a bundle of millions and millions of downloads,” the podcaster pointed out. “And our show gets brought into that bundle. Ad sales companies like Stitcher can’t do that for us.”

Rate: Ads sold through podcasting networks usually start at $10 per thousand listens for a short ad towards the end of the show, and go up to around $25 CPM for something longer and earlier. 

Become a freelancer

This won’t necessarily work to fund your own show, but it is a way to get paid to podcast. You can use the skills you’ve picked up as an editor or producer to help make someone else’s show happen. 

In that case, you may encounter some roadblocks, since podcasting is relatively new and the industry is still figuring out what a standard rate is. A producer who asked to remain anonymous told us that they typically charge between $45 and $60 an hour for their work, depending on who’s asking. 

“My advice is take advantage of big businesses that don't know how much it costs to start/run a podcast or edit audio,” they said. “There are still some giant networks with more money than they know what to do with.” But then use your wealth to “be kind to indie creators and folks with loyal Patreon followings. Most of them are in the trenches like the rest of us, and hiring even a part-time editor or producer is a huge expense.” 

We're not suggesting you rip anybody off — just that it's perfectly fair to charge more to those who can afford it than to those who are scraping to get by.

Of course, there are also the companies that will try to cheap out because they don’t understand the true value of having a professional on board. Another producer told us, “I’ve found that hiring someone to edit/manage/produce your podcast is still new enough that people have no idea what they need to pay and why it's important to pay appropriately. I did have one potential client say ‘that is too much, I'll do it myself…’ and then came back two months later because she could not do it herself.” 

If someone does balk, you can point them towards AIR’s Rates Guide for podcasters, which includes industry standards for consulting, editing, story producing, and more. You should also use them to set your own rates! Don’t undercut yourself or your fellow freelancers — a race to the bottom serves no one except the companies that get to hire you on the cheap. 

And who knows: one of those freelance gigs might even turn into a job, in which case, congratulations! Now you just have to see if wherever you’re working is interested in acquiring your show, or letting you start something new under their umbrella, and with their resources and payroll, who knows what you could create.

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