page title icon Run Ads, But Don’t Depend On Them

This will ruffle some feathers so let me qualify:

I’m speaking specifically of independent creators who stand, statistically, almost no chance of ever growing an audience of more than 10,000, which is absolutely 90+% of us. Let me further qualify: I’m in this business to help new podcasters find success, I’m not here to validate the extremely uncommon occurrences of successful monetization through ad-insertion as being “normative” or even “reasonably attainable.”

I don’t care who this upsets, who it insults, or who it short-sells. This isn’t about them, it’s about the podcaster that just started yesterday, has great programming, and wants to pay his or her bills with their creative output.

2M+ Podcasts. 24-hours in a day and far fewer available to us as leisure time.

It is the cold hard undeniable truth that almost no one will ever find, let alone listen to, let alone financially support, your podcast. The ones who do will be so minuscule in total that you’ll struggle to continue to believe in yourself or in the importance of your message (whatever it is).

Remember this cute little chart?

Omny Studio / Triton Digital, isn’t the only platform to share numbers this damning; and the other who have, Libsyn being an example, paint the same shitty picture:

50% of podcasters get fewer than 100 downloads per episode during the first month it is released.

80% of podcasters get fewer than 740 downloads per episode during the first month it is released.

90% of podcasters get fewer than 1800 downloads per episode during the first month it is released.

95% of podcasters get fewer than 4300 downloads per episode during the first month it is released.

Most podcasters release weekly, so another way this data can be interpreted is:

50% of podcasters get fewer than ~400 downloads per month

80% of podcasters get fewer than ~3000 downloads per month

90% of podcasters get fewer than ~700 downloads per month

95% of podcasters get fewer than ~17000 downloads per month

17,000 downloads seems like a lot of downloads, right?

Well, that’s because it is. That’s amazing! 17,000 downloads every month is like, WOW, you’ve really worked hard to get to that point.

But you know what it’s worth to run ads on that show? A show with an impressive 17K downloads per month? Practically nothing.

Put three ads in your podcast, make them all 60-seconds long, and for every 1000 people you have listening to your podcast you’ll earn $75.

17,000? That’s 1000 seventeen times, so that’s $75*17. That’s $1275.

It took you probably 18-24 months, countless hours of your life, and an unbelievable effort as an independent podcaster who works a full-time job, maybe has kids, and has plenty of other shit going on in their lives, to grow your podcast to a point where it can gross $1275 a month?

I’m not saying that’s not money you wouldn’t appreciate having, I’m saying it’s an amount of money that is no where near commensurate with the amount of labor you’re putting into generating it; nor is it commensurate with the value it no doubt brings to the audience.

If you’re not creating in the top 5%, you’re making less than that. Or, if you’re not creating more than weekly, you’re making less than that (this is not, by the way, a suggestion you should create 30 episodes a month and put 3 ads in all of them, but hey, knock yourself out).

The only people winning with podcast ads are the ad buyers who can reach more niched audiences than ever, spread their money around more broadly, and spend more wisely. More podcasts = more options for advertisers, but it also = less opportunity to amass meaningful audiences because there’s too much noise competing for too little available attention.

So to find financial success with podcasting ads, you either have to cut through the noise and have great content capable of competing with all the other great content for a bigger slice of the attention pie, or you’ve got to try something different.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t run ads…

I’m only trying to make it clear to you that thinking ads will generate meaningful revenue is a naive thing to think considering you’ll probably only ever have a few hundred listeners. You might grow a 1M listener audience, and that would be incredible and maybe you’re destined to do it, but the odds are overwhelmingly against you growing an audience of even a few thousand.

So, run ads, but please, PLEASE don’t let that be the only thing you’re doing to generate revenue unless you’re just looking for weekend fun money or family vacation savings or rainy day money.

Some afterthoughts

But what about back catalogue listens? Don’t they count? Yes, they do. We don’t have great data on this but as someone who has edited over 5000 hours worth of podcast episodes, and helped to launch nearly 700 podcast programs, I will tell you that I have never seen the back catalogue listen rate be significant. Rarely I have seen it bump an extra CPM or two, over the course of a month. With audio dramas this is probably different, since audio dramas necessitate back catalogue listening.

Aren’t podcast CPMs higher than $25 for a 60-second ad spot? They can be more, and they can be less, and they do fluctuate. $25 is the average of what I see currently with all my clients. That said, even if we doubled the CPM to $50, while that would be BETTER, it would till require you to be a top 5% podcaster to garner a full-time wage.

How do you define “successful monetization”? Isn’t any amount of monetization a success? Point taken. This is true. If you make $1 a month, you’ve successfully monetized. I’m about helping people make a full-time living off their work. With that in mind, at an absolute minimum, $5000 grossed a month is, to me, successful monetization.

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