Why Every Content Creator Should Consider Starting a Paid Subscription Podcast
Aug 31, 2022
You’re probably already familiar with podcast subscriptions. This is what many of us do when we find a new podcast we like in directories like Apple Podcasts or Spotify and click that Subscribe button. These podcasts and all of their content are entirely free and available to anyone who discovers it.
But often content creators want a way to directly monetize their content through direct listener support. And in podcasting, this just doesn’t work with the conventional advertising-based model that is a carry-over from terrestrial radio days.
Rather, paid subscription podcasts offer a great way for savvy content creators to directly charge for access to their podcast content. This eliminates the dependency of podcasters on advertising networks and external brands that can takes way from the messaging in their shows.
Additionally, by not relying on external advertisers on your podcast, you have the power to self-advertise your own products and services, even your own paid subscription podcasts in a freemium model.
You may have seen examples of this in your niche. More and more, creators are offering both free content on platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as an optional paid subscription podcast that a select subset of their audience opts into.
The question is, how can you as a creator map out what content should be free, and what should be paid?
But, you may ask, what kind of content can I distribute through a paid subscription podcast?
There are a handful of popular types, but the key in deciding which is best for you comes down to a combination of what public content your audience is already engaging with and what is easy for you to produce.
Regarding this last point, we don’t want to put another thing on your plate. Podcasting should be fun and easy, and asking you to record special content that has a different format from your regular podcast could be a lot of extra work to take on.
Instead, here are a few examples of easy-to-implement private podcast formats that you can create this week:
You can release episodes to paying subscribers a few days before they go live in your regular feed. Give them a chance to interact with you in your community or on social media ahead of regular listeners.
The reason so many people love podcasts is because they create a very close relationship between you and your listeners.
And what’s better than a regular podcast episode? One in which your listeners can hear all the misspeaking, awkward bits, and do-overs that we all know are part of every podcast episode.
The authenticity that this podcast style creates with your listeners can’t be overstated. They learn that you in fact are human and make mistakes, but you labor in this craft of podcasting for them. More importantly, they get to see how the craft is done behind the scenes.
Do you livestream your podcast already? More and more podcasters are doing this as a way to overcome the engagement barrier that is inherent to podcasting.
No more of “we podcasters talk, our audience just listens” — the listeners get to engage with you during the conversation.
You can livestream your podcast just to paid subscribers so they can interact with you while you’re creating an episode. What better way for them to participate than to play a hands-on role in the content creation process of your podcast?
We don’t judge you (at least not too much) if you’re monetizing your podcast with advertisements. Prior to a few years ago, there was no way to directly monetize a podcast. Paid private podcasts just didn’t exist back then.
So if you have ads in your public podcasts, just take them out and deliver an ad-free listening experience to your paid subscribers. They’ll love you for it!
This one requires a bit of extra work, but it doesn’t have to be a lot. We know many podcasters that offer just one extra episode each month that is exclusive for their paid subscribers.
So if you have a bit of extra capacity to record more content, or have super awesome episodes already recorded that just never made the cut, you can publish those behind the paywall that is your private podcast.
And a note on the quality mix: Share some of your best content with both your paid podcast subscribers and your general audience. Great content is meant to be shared, so don’t make it just for paying subscribers all the time. This can also make free listeners more interested in the sort of content they need to pay to gain access to.
This is our favorite because it combines several aspects of a good content and audience strategy.
If you have a community of listeners, they likely ask a lot of questions. There’s not always time to answer them in text on a website, and sometimes that’s just not the right medium to relay your position on a topic.
So instead, fire up your podcasting rig and record yourself doing a live Q&A episode with questions your community is already asking for your input on. They’ll love it, and you’ll love offering that special value to your best audience members.
Hosted by Tony Merkel, the Confessionals is a podcast and brand all about the paranormal. Tony offers both a free and a paid subscription podcast that is tied to his broader membership community.
This is a great example of both how to offer a freemium model to your content but also how to tie in both the community aspect that so many audience members are looking for with a private podcast.
Hosted by Jack Rhysider, the Darknet Diaries features stories about hacking and cybersecurity. Jack has been featured in many podcasting trade publications and is an innovator in the narrative style podcast format.
Jack also has tapped into the community aspect of his audience engagement, with a very active Discord group of 2,000+ members.
There are a few ways to offer a paid subscription podcast to your audience. It could be that your podcast hosting platform already offers this. (Many of the more modern platforms do, often at no additional charge.)
If you’re on a podcast hosting platform that doesn’t offer private podcasting, you can use a tool like Patreon or BuyMeACoffee to automate some of this.
One thing to be aware of is whether the tool you choose for your paid subscription podcast takes a fee of each transaction on your behalf. Some do and some do not, so make sure any features and benefits are worth this additional expense.
Most paid subscription podcasts charge a small monthly or even annual fee. There are upsides and downsides to both offerings, so which is best for you will depend on your audience, their willingness to pay, and how they normally transact with other podcasts in your space.
Monthly subscriptions are nice because they are smaller purchase amounts, usually $5-$10 per month. However, this creates a lot of individual transactions, and that means a lot of opportunities for listeners to cancel their subscriptions.
Annual subscriptions are nice because the customer just has to pay once per year, and from a business perspective you get all of the revenue from that subscription at one time. Plus most subscription platforms report lower churn on those on annual subscriptions than those on monthly ones. The downside is that it will be a larger purchase amount upfront for listeners.
If you do choose an annual subscription, then somewhere between $50-$99 is usually a good place to start.
You’ve decided that a paid private podcast is something you want to start offering to your audience. Now, the question is how to best roll this out, and how to position it relative to your free, public podcast.
Firstly, it should always be the case that your paid subscription podcast is positioned as an additional value that is available to any listener to your podcast. You don’t want to lose potential subscribers because your audience thinks you are transitioning to a paid-only model.
You can also provide additional value that comes with a paid subscription, like a special online community just for paying members, coaching or consulting calls with you, and other exclusive access of some sort.
At Castos, the one commonality shared by most of successful paid subscription podcasts is that there is additional value besides “just” the private podcast that paying audience members get. So we feel that it is best to consider a basket of additional value that you can deliver, and how a private podcast can be a part of that.
With the concept of a “basket of value” in mind, let’s talk about your content tech stack. What tools are you already using to create content and engage with your audience?
How does your website fit in with your content, your podcast, and other ways you can deliver exclusive content to some members of your audience?
If you’re on a full featured content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Ghost, you’re in good hands. These platforms both have ways in which you can restrict written content so that it is accessible to just certain members.
But people listen to podcasts on their mobile devices, not logged into a website.
If you’re going to be delivering podcast-first content as part of your paid subscription value bundle, you’ll want to do this in a podcast-native manner. That means podcasting mobile apps.
The good news is that private podcasting is compatible with most third party podcasting mobile apps (except Spotify!) so you can work with your hosting provider to deliver this exclusive content to your paid subscribers securely. Some providers even have their own mobile apps for enhanced security, and that makes it an easy adjustment for you.
Membership, Online Course, Community tools
If you’re using a membership tool (like a WordPress plugin or dedicated platform), a Learning Management System for your online course, or a digital community tool, then it’s likely that there are direct integrations between these tools and how you deliver a paid subscription podcast.
Continuing this theme, you could also offer a bundle of additional value for paid subscribers, by connecting your private podcast to other tools that you’re already using. This is a great way to extend the value you offer, while at the same time making the experience really native and seamless for your paying subscribers.
Author Bio: Craig Hewitt is the founder and CEO of Castos, an industry leading podcast hosting and analytics provider. He’s a veteran of the podcasting industry, with more than 8 years creating content and helping others hone their craft.