Trying to understand the business side of podcasting

Why independent podcasters should be seeking knowledge about the ad industry

I’ll be the first to admit that the business, finance, and advertising world is not exactly my forte. I barely passed maths class in high school but give me a creative brief and I could write you one hell of a blog post. 

While my siblings went down the financial route when it came to choosing what degree they wanted to study at university, I followed in my father’s footsteps and chose journalism. Learning the skills to interview and write about people’s lives and stories fulfilled my creative needs; it’s a career path that I’ve stuck by and one that soon became my comfort zone. 

That all changed when I started my job as a reporter for PodPod. Don’t get me wrong, I still very much get to be creative through working on long form features, profiles, and appearing on our weekly podcast. A big part of my 9 to 5 is writing daily news about the podcasting industry and while yes, that can sometimes mean covering easy, straight-forward podcast launches, it can also mean writing about fairly long and complicated financial reports and the intricacies of the podcast advertising business. 

Podcasting is not all about creativity. Although that strongly remains at the heart of the industry, it’s the advertising business that’s still bringing in most of the money, and it can turn a podcast from a part-time labour of love to a successful business. However, it can be complicated and difficult to understand, especially when the available information is mostly aimed at brands and agencies rather than independent podcasters. 

Often when we interview key figures from the advertising business, our podcast host Rhianna Dhillon will joke that she’s the ‘layman’ in the room and stop our guest to have them define a term like “programmatic” - because she knows that not all of our listeners are experts in this area. They need these terms to be broken down, just like I did when I first started writing about the advertising sector. 

The industry is growing at a rapid pace, with big players trying to take over, but these organisations are often focused on speaking to the established advertising industry, rather than reaching out to the independents who are fighting for their voices to be heard in the wider marketplace. There needs to be a way to make this information more accessible and more easy to understand, so that people who don’t have a background in advertising or the tech industry can understand where their revenue is coming from, and how to maximise it.

It’s not all up to the big players though, and I think independent podcasters and even small production companies should also be willing to take the initiative in seeking out this type of information and educating themselves about podcast ad terms, trends, and concepts. This can be done through networking with other podcasters and small podcast businesses who’ve discovered ways to turn podcasting into their full-time job, consulting with podcast communities and organisations that can help provide this type of knowledge, and even attending sessions and events that aim at addressing these issues. 

Publications that cover podcasting can also help play a part in educating newcomers in the industry. On our podcast, we’ve interviewed multiple key figures from the podcast advertising industry and while the conversation may sometimes focus on just the business side, we do try to incorporate questions that are directed at how independents can also learn from them and what strategies they could apply to their own podcasts. We’ve also written a number of guides and features to educate readers about the basics like ‘What is programmatic advertising?’ and will soon be launching events with seminars and keynote presentations addressing these questions. 

While the advertising industry and the technology that powers it may seem complicated and intimidating, once you scratch below the surface, it’s actually not that complex. Fundamentally, all advertisers want to get their message in front of the right people, and while adtech tools like programmatic buying, dynamic insertion and attribution measurement are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they’re all driving towards the same essential goal. 

Working with advertisers isn’t the only way to make money in podcasting, of course. In fact, we recently interviewed Octave Audio podcast lead Matt Rouse for an upcoming episode of the podcast, and he stressed that it definitely shouldn’t be a podcaster’s sole revenue stream. Becoming more engaged in the podcast advertising market means knowing when there’s going to be a slowdown happening due to macroeconomic factors, which might push you to look for independent ways of making money, such as launching a Patreon subscription and seeking income directly from fans. 

It’s tempting for creatively-minded people like myself to want to keep clear of business, finance and anything that might be considered ‘mathsy’, but that may not be a long-term option any more. Podcasting has evolved to the point where it’s no longer just a passion project - it’s a business and a brand, and if independents want to keep it a solo project, they need to be actively seeking the knowledge on how to make it sustainable.