warning KDMC resources are archived here. We are no longer updating this site.


Podcasting revenue: Useful insights from Tow-Knight Center

by: Amy Gahran |

Podcasting, as a medium, has gone mainstream, according to a new report by the Tow-Knight Center for Digital Journalism. And content creators are earning revenue from podcasts. How can community media capitalize on this trend?

Published in December, Tow-Knight's Guide to Podcasting, by Vanessa Quirk, noted this striking statistic: as of 2015, one in three Americans has listened to a podcast. Also, people who listen to podcasts typically listen to six episodes a week.

In Sept. 2015, KDMC covered the podcasting experience of three independent local news projects. Tow-Knight's revenue insight might help such projects support greater sustainability of local news and information.

Technical barriers are decreasing for podcast audiences. Podcasting is a mobile-first medium; the vast majority of episodes are downloaded onto smartphones and tablets. A huge spike in podcast downloads happened in October 2014, after Apple added a native, undeletable podcasting app built in to the iOS mobile operating system. This made podcasting simple enough for most people to access it easily.

According to Quirk, "Podcasts are pursuing multiple revenue streams, including advertising/sponsorship, foundation support, direct support, subscription models, and live events. While advertising is currently the fastest-growing and most lucrative stream, these last three streams attempt to convert audience engagement and loyalty into recurring donations."

The report focuses on four case studies of leading podcasting brands: Revealby PRX, Gimlet Media, Buzzfeed, and Panoply. However, these relatively large podcasting operations offer some lessons that might apply at the community level.

In terms of revenue, one option highlighted in the report seem to offer especially promising potential for local or community news and information...

Direct support. Many successful podcasts, especially from nonprofit or public radio networks such as NPR, regularly solicit donations in their podcasts -- and not just during pledge drives. But there are more creative options, as well.

For instance podcasting can be used to drive donations to crowdfunding campaigns, via websites such as Kickstarter. In 2012, Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast based in Oakland, Calif. featuring stories from across Latin America and the U.S., raised over $46,000 on Kickstarter to fund production (exceeding the campaign goal).

And in 2014, PRX raised over $620,000 on Kickstarter (well over their $250,000 goal) to fund the development of the Radiotopiapodcast network (a project that has also received substantial Knight Foundation funding).

Crowdfunding is by no means a sure bet. However, audio and video media are compelling components of almost every successful crowdfunding campaign. If you're already producing an audio or video podcast, you can get extra mileage by featuring your highlights to promote your campaign and keep existing supporters updated.

Plus, podcasts offer greater episodic flexibility than broadcast media. With a podcasts you have the option of creating short, special update episodes that can promote podcasting campaigns or similar revenue drives while also providing valuable content.

Live Events: Caution. Many independent and community media outlets are experimenting with live events as a revenue generator. This may seem especially tempting if your news/info venue includes a podcast: recordings from previous live events can be used to promote ticket sales for upcoming events. However, the Tow report cautions that podcasters usually barely break even on live events, once all costs are factored in.

However, if your local news/info project serves a state or similar larger geographic area, rather than just a single town or county, a tour of smaller events might be worth trying. According to the report,

"For shows that are more than conversation-based, tours offer greater opportunities for revenue generation than singular events," observed Quirk. "The same show can serve for multiple ticket sales (although obviously, they require greater time commitments and logistical planning). Spaces are often donated, and sponsors can help offset costs, either in the form of money or food/drinks/decorations, etc."

So, for instance, a traveling show featuring, say, a podcast host plus a series of local celebrities, held at small venues, might generate some revenue while also meshing nicely with an overall outreach strategy. It probably wouldn't be a huge money maker, but it might generate at least some funding while also serving other goals. Providing some entertainment, rather than making it all about the issues, would probably be key to attracting live audiences.

Or, if there's a successful recurring music or storytelling showcase in your town, it might be worth talking to the organizers about a podcast partnership. Your community news/info project could record and podcast their event (at least some highlights) in exchange for a promotion fee. This would probably work best if you already have an established community-focused podcast, so you might be able to expand the audience for the event. Similarly, the event organizers would then have reason to promote your podcast to their attendees and supporters.

The report is rich in podcasting statistics and trends. Reading through the case studies may spark ideas that could be tried in your community. Experimentation is one of the great strengths of podcasting -- it doesn't take much money or equipment to learn the basics and get started. It is possible to experiment at a small scale, and inexpensively. Doing this with an eye toward potential revenue options could yield especially useful results.

Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
Read More

Newspapers under siege as 65 percent of digital ads go to tech companies

By Nancy Yoshihara
6/14/2016 | 10:00 pm GMT

Newspaper revenues and circulation, print and digital combined, continued to decline in 2015 while both cable and network TV enjoyed...

The Diversity Style Guide: Important resource updated and expanded

By Nancy Yoshihara
6/5/2016 | 10:00 pm GMT

Anyone who dismisses or ignores this guide should not be working in journalism. The updated Diversity Style Guide is one...