This is a common question a lot of people wonder about. And while a lot of this is a big mystery there are some indicators that give us clues as to how much people are making. So let's get into and find out.
99% of all podcasts aren't profitable
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat. Podcasting is creative work, so flip this question over to other creative work. "How much money does a musician make?" "How much money does a painter make?" "How much money does an actor make?" Well of course this entirely depends on how much experience they have, how long they've been doing it, how well they are at marketing themselves, and how lucky they've been. And you can probably guess that most painters, actors, and musicians make $0. The same is for podcasting. If you were to make a podcast with the intention of making money, the chances of you just getting past 7 episodes is slim alone, because you see how hard it is and how you aren't getting out of it what you expected. So to break through all that and to make a show that makes money, is just very rare.
Some numbers. Libsyn is one of the largest podcast hosts and they put out numbers on what the average size shows are.
- 7.1% of podcasts get 5,000 downloads per episode
- 2% of podcasts get 20,000 downloads per episode
- 1% of poddcasts get 37,000 downloads per episode
Now these numbers are important because to podcast advertisers, it's a numbers game. The bigger audience you have the more they will pay for ads. But advertisers don't even want to mess with small shows. Anything less than 5,000 downloads per episode is just not worth their time to negotiate deals, agree to terms, give you ad copy, and write an invoice for it. But in my experience, I don't think advertisers care to work with shows that have anything under 40,000 downloads per episode. It's just still not worth their time.
And you can look at this and almost assume that only the top 1% of podcast are making money from their show. Perhaps more bring in some money but not enough to quit their job off it. The vast majority of podcasts have negative cash flow where they are buying equipment and paying monthly hosting fees. Then there's a percentage that are earning back what they put in, but that's about it. And only a very few podcasts make enough for a full time income.
Even if a show makes say $20 a month, that typically doesn't cover hosting fees, equipment costs, and the time it takes to make the show. So they are still running in the negative.
Now when a podcast gets advertisers they typically charge between $15 and $30 per 1,000 downloads that ad gets. Which is called CPM, cost per thousand. So if your show was getting 5,000 downloads per episode, and you charged $20 CPM, you'd make $100 for that ad.
Let's take a look at Wondery, NY Times, and This American Life/Serial. Podtract put out a report which tells how many downloads these companies got last month.
- NYTimes: 9,312,000 downloads for August 2019 across 9 shows
- Wondery: 9,261,000 downloads for August 2019 across 82 shows
- This American Life/Serial: 5,469,000 downloads for August 2019 across 2 shows
If we do a standard (which is probably a low estimate) $20 CPM and multiply by their total monthly downloads here is what we get:
- NYTimes: 9,312 x $20 = $186,240
- Wondery: 9,261 x $20 = $185,220
- This American Life/Serial: 5,469 x $20 = $109,380
The numbers above would be how much those networks can potentially make monthly if they put 1 ad in each episode.
If we take the NYTimes The Daily podcast, it has 2 ads.
Wondery shows are notorious for having a lot of ads. Usually at a minimum they have 3, sometimes 5.
And this American Life and Serial typically have around 3.
So you can see this number quickly jumps up on how much these networks make. My estimations:
|# Ads per episode
Now keep in mind this is just talking about podcasts. NYTimes obviously has other revenue sources like their paper and website and TAL has a massive radio show as well which isn't counted here.
If you want to look a little closer The Daily gets 2 million downloads a day and with 2 ads in each episode/download that's a potential $80,000 a day. Which by the way the The Daily has a staff of 17 people to make that show. It's its own entity within NYTimes. And in case you were wondering, The Daily may be the most downloaded podcast in production right now.
Ira Glass from TAL said they get about 2.5 million downloads for each TAL podcast episode. I can't remember if he said that on the Armchair Expert or Without Fail. But if their podcast has 3 ads per episode and they charge $20 CPM (again just a guess), they make $150,000 for each TAL episode.
I was listening to the podcast Deviate with Rolf Potts and there's an interview he did with Tim Ferriss. Here is what Tim said:
The podcast generates more revenue on an annual basis than all of my books combined. Several fold.
This is crazy. At the time of that interview Tim had 4 books all NYTimes best sellers. Which are probably making him million of dollars, yet he says his podcast makes more.
Later on in the podcast he hints at some numbers by saying he charges $60 CPM, and has 500,000 downloads per episode. Now I'm willing to bet he has well over 1 million downloads per episode but I won't argue with him here.
500 k downloads x $60 CPM x 2 ads = $60,000 per episode. He puts out episodes weekly so that's about $3 mil a year from his podcast.
In this blog post by Tim in 2016 he indicates: "If I wanted to fully monetize the show at my current rates, I could make between $2-4M per year, depending on how many episodes and spots I offer."
The Joe Rogan Experience is one of the most popular podcasts of all time. But he doesn't like to talk numbers. He's says he doesn't even like looking at stats. Let's start with YouTube.
Since JRE puts his podcast both on YouTube and as a podcast, we can see how many downloads each YouTube episode gets there, we can do some quick maths with that.
According to SocialBlade, the JRE YouTube channel makes between $16,500 - $264,000 a month.
According to Castbox, JRE has 2.2 million subscribers. Castbox only represents 2% of the podcast market. Which means the JRE podcast can potentially have between 10 mil and 100 million subscribers. So let's assume the low end and say each JRE podcast episode gets 10 million downloads (not including YouTube). He has about 7 minutes of ads at the beginning of each episode. In the latest episode I heard him read 4 ads. I think he probably charges more than the low end for ads since he's Joe and can do what he wants and they are sometimes 2 minutes long but I'll still play it safe and say he does 4 ads at $20 CPM.
10,000 * $20CPM * 4 = $800,000 per episode
That can't be right. Holy cow. Man that's gotta be wrong. Ok let's assume he has only 1 million downloads per episode (which by the way we can see his episodes get around 2 mil downloads each on YouTube alone), in that case he'd still be making $80,000 per episode.
And get this, Joe puts out 3 episodes a week! In Aug 2019 he put out 20 episodes. So if you take that amount above and times it by 20. Oh my god!
In 2019 Joe published 221 episodes. If he makes $800,000 per episode that means he would have made $176,800,000 in 2019.
Andrew Wilkinsen believes Joe Rogan makes between $64 million and $224 million a year.
Forbes claims he makes $30 million a year, but with no actual data to back that up with.
Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas
Aren't these guys the best. They are so transparent about how much money they make. It's so exciting and inspiring.
Here are their income reports:
Both of these guys podcast about entrepreneurship. And so their income reports aren't just for their podcast but they outline all their other projects too, books, courses etc.
Pat has 2 podcasts, in Ask Pat he has sponsorships which get him around $3,000 per episode. And that's easy to understand. But his Smart Passive Income podcast doesn't typically have ads. Its aim is to teach you how to start your own business etc. And as he's teaching you how, he tells you about companies that he has affiliates with. People use his affiliate links to sign up to stuff. I've used his affiliate links a few times myself. These affiliate links bring him over $100,000 a month in revenue.
For JLD, he puts out 5 podcast episodes a week. And in each one are ads. And just from these ads alone he made $61,000 in Aug of 2019. Of course on top of that he too has affiliate links in his show which brought in another $58,000 last month. John's secret for all this that he publishes a daily show, which means so many more ads vs someone doing a weekly show.
So you can see from both of their reports, their podcast is earning them 7 figures a year in revenue.
Jordan from the podcast The Jordan Harbinger Show shared with me what he makes on the show.
He told me:
I run 60 ads/month and get around $3k/ad. I also make cash consulting for private and government contracts (special forces and military, intelligence agencies). So the show itself makes upwards of $2m/year.
What him and many other podcasters have figured out is that while podcasting can be profitable, it is a fantastic tool to advertise yourself. Jordan as well as Pat Flynn, JLD, and Daniel J. Lewis have all used their podcast to launch successful side businesses, such as classes, books, consulting, and additional services. It's always good to have multiple streams of income in case one drops out on you.
Let's now take a look at the top podcast earners on Patreon as of Aug 2019.
|Chapo Trap House
|True Crime Obsessed
|Last Podcast on the Left
|The Fantasy Footballers
|Tiny Meat Gang
|Not Another D&D Podcast
|Mueller, She Wrote
What's cool about Patreon is we get to see how much everyone is making. The ones with the * at the end are estimates based on if the average person gave $3 a month. Which is a low estimate.
So as you can see, some podcasts are killing it with their listener supported model. Their Patrons give them a monthly donation to keep the show going.
But before you create your Patreon account and run over there to scoop up your cash consider this data:
There are 9,702 podcast creators on Patreon.
- 4,363 podcasts have over 10 patrons
- 1,852 podasts have over 50 patrons
- 1,195 podcasts have over 100 patrons
- 561 podcasts have over 250 patrons
- 292 podcasts have over 500 patrons
- 153 podcasts have over 1,000 patrons
- 59 podcasts have over 2,500 patrons
- 18 podasts have over 5,000 patrons
This means 55% of podcasts on Patreon make less than $30 a month.
These numbers tell me that while a lot of podcasts are on Patreon, the vast majority are barely making enough to cover their hosting fees. But at the same time it also demonstrates how good Patreon can be to some shows. Just keep in mind, that 0.002% of all 750,000 podcasts that are out there are making any decent money on Patreon.
While some of these numbers may seem big, TV and movies is 10x bigger. If Wondery is making $4 million a year, a similar movie studio would be making $40 million a year.
Spotify gave Amy Schumer $1 million to do a podcast for them. Conan O'Brian signed a mid 7 figure deal to continue the show for 2 more years. But if you look at Schumer, she got $11 million for her Netflix special, and Conan gets over $12 million a year for his TV show. And this continues for other celebrities. Rami Malik got way more for Bohemian Rhapsody vs the podcast Blackout.
In fact many podcast companies struggle with paying competitively to attract great staff. Because if you're a great comedy writer, would you rather work on Conan's TV show and get paid much much more or Conan's podcast and get much much less. This goes for editing and producing and acting, everything. Podcasting pays far far less vs TV and movies.
But it should also help you think about how hard it is to make money in TV and movies too. Big actors often say they spent over a decade trying to find an acting role and getting no where. So I'd bet the majority of actors and producers and writers don't get paid at all, because they can't find work.
Getting into podcasts just because you want to make money is the wrong approach to this. It's the same as learning guitar because you want to make money as a musician. You should learn guitar because you love music and playing and making it all by yourself brings you joy even when nobody is listening. It's very rare for a podcast to make money with their show. But it's possible. And if it's a breakout hit, it's possible to make millions. I just can't emphasize enough how rare that is though to make a show so good that attracts a large enough crowd of passionate listeners to make something that significant.
The average podcasts gets 129 downloads per episode. That's no where near cutting it for making any money with the show. It's not until a show is getting 40k, 60k, 100k downloads per episode that you can start considering quitting your job to podcast full time. And to make a show that gets 100,000 downloads per episode is extremely hard. First your show has to be great, or you have to already be popular. This alone can take years to get there. Then you need to keep it up and learn how to market it like crazy. Most shows don't start out as hits, they gradually build their audience over time. Again this too can take years. All the while having the drive to not quit and to keep going even when it's not bringing you money. Then you need to find a way to monetize which is by itself it's own big hoopla to figure out. Making money with podcasting is not straight forward. You need to seek out sponsors or set up bonus stuff for Patreon supporters. It takes a lot more effort and time.
If I had to take an educated guess, I'd say less than 2,000 out of the 750,000 podcasts out there are making a significant income. Which is about 1 in 350 shows that make it.