Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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Podcasts: Rising interest in audio will deliver ROI

Podcast revenue growth is lagging growth in time spent with the medium, but now is the time to stake your claim to your community’s listening time. Audience numbers are increasing steadily and it won’t be long until your audio investments pay off.

Context

The podcast market in America, the world’s biggest, will be worth over $1 billion this year according to eMarketer. Globally it’s set to reach $41.8 billion by 2026, according to Research & Markets. Yes, radio advertising is worth more, almost $18 billion in the US, but it’s not growing at anywhere near the rate podcasting is.

Growth in podcast advertising budgets is being driven, quite simply, by growth in audience numbers. According to the sector’s bellwether report, the Infinite Dial from Edison Research, around 80 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly, up 17% in 2020.

Even COVID-19 couldn’t get in the way of podcast growth. The pandemic looked like it would 

dent listener numbers, and at first the absence of the commute did have an impact. But lockdown listeners came roaring back as they looked for ways to fill their time and podcast listening is now spread evenly across the day.

It is this steady, across-the-board progress that is fueling the growth in advertising. With the total number of podcast listeners in the US predicted to reach more than 130 million in 2023, US podcast ad spending is expected to rise to more than $1.3 billion next year according to eMarketer.

Benefits

  • There aren’t many areas of publishing that can boast consistent year-on-year revenue growth. The 45% increase reported by eMarketer for last year happened in one of the worst years our industry has experienced. Recent growth has seen podcast advertising reach critical mass. The IAB says podcasting is settling into the buying cycle; brands and agencies are making podcasts part of their annual buy up from 24% in 2018 to 47% in 2019.
  • Even without advertising revenue, podcasts are a powerful addition to your audience engagement toolkit. Putting your content literally inside the heads of your audiences, time spent with podcasts dwarves the average time spent on a web page – 30 or 40 minutes versus three or four. The regularity of the medium’s release schedule also builds habits and loyalty that feed directly into subscription acquisition and retention efforts.
  • Podcasting is not an expensive undertaking – it’s possible to record, edit and publish a podcast from your phone. Making the investment in a decent recording kit is advised, but that budget will be in the hundreds not the thousands. It is also possible to fit audio recording and editing within existing content creation workflows, an evolution of established practices rather than a revolution.

Challenges

  • There are literally millions of podcasts in the world. Apple podcasts listed 1.96 million in March 2021, with 47 million episodes. That doesn’t mean there isn’t space for your podcast, just that to cut through the noise you need to deliver value and commit to a regular publishing schedule. And, since podcast discovery is less than perfect, you will need to put together a robust promotional strategy to make sure your audience knows to listen in.
  • Unless you are very lucky, your initial listener numbers will not be huge; podcast host Buzzsprout says if you score more than 3,000 listens to an episode in a week, you are in the top 1% of podcasts. Manage everyone’s expectations, from management and staff to potential advertisers and sponsors. Talk about engagement levels and the quality of your audience rather than its size.
  • Following on from lack of scale and the anonymous nature of most listens revenue is not guaranteed. Get ready to sell your podcast as an exciting new venture rather than a lead generator or traffic driver. Position it with your lead advertisers as a premium branding opportunity and bundle in exposure in related media like newsletters, landing pages and social media accounts.

Vendors

Acast
Tools to grow and monetize your podcast audiences around the world

Acast delivers both hosting and monetisation options through ad sales and subscriptions. Publishers on the platform include the Financial Times, the Economist, the BBC and PBS.

Buzzsprout
The easiest way to start podcasting

Buzzsprout positions its services as simple to use, delivering hosting, promotion and tracking services. It focuses on monetisation through affiliate marketing.

Simplecast
The modern independent podcast hosting and analytics platform

Seven years old, Simplecast provides podcasters with publishing, distribution, analytics, and sharing tools. Clients include Fast Company, Techcrunch and Politico.

People will pay for podcasts

There are several strong examples of publishers using podcasts to drive their subscription efforts. There are fewer examples of publishers asking people to pay directly for podcast content. But the tech to charge listeners for audio content is developing rapidly and one publisher at least is seeing some success in selling subscriptions.

Initially an add-on to the movie monthly’s weekly podcast, Empire’s Spoiler Specials podcasts come out after a film release. This allows the team to engage in plot-heavy movie analysis that would be unacceptable in regular episodes dedicated to trailing upcoming releases. Subscribers get a minimum of two new Spoiler Special episodes a month plus exclusive access to 100+ archive episodes.

“I think we have an offering that is really unique,” says Editor in Chief Terri White. “We have access to the filmmakers and then we have the expertise of the film. People are paying for that insight and that expertise that they can’t necessarily get in lots of other places.”

Further Reading


This article is an excerpt from our free-to-download report, 6 publishing technologies that will make a difference to your business.