A Guide to the Business of Podcasting: The Executive Summary

With this report, I have aimed to explain why podcasts matter to digital journalism: as our world shifts to mobile consumption, podcasts represent a mobile-first content that engages with audiences in ways that no other mobile medium previously has.

This guide provides a detailed overview of the current podcasting landscape, which is characterized by industry disruption, new networks, and increased podcast listening (especially on mobile devices) and awareness among consumers. As part of this overview, I describe the conceptual and technological challenges podcasting has to overcome if it is to achieve meaningful growth and industry legitimacy. I also briefly outline the challenges facing the industry as it looks to the future: the issues of iTunes as gatekeeper, the short-term and long-term efficacy of networks, the ethical dilemmas that native ads and branded content pose, and the need for more creativity and diversity in terms of content creation.

Podcasts are pursuing multiple revenue streams: advertising/sponsorship, foundation support, direct support, subscription models, and live events. While advertising is currently the fastest growing and most lucrative stream, these last three streams attempt to convert audience engagement and loyalty into recurring donations.

Because there is no “one size fits all” solution to generating revenue, and each podcast/company follows a different business model, it’s important to consider the operational philosophies that inform the ways podcasts and networks are raising revenue and prioritizing revenue streams. This guide explores the ways in which these philosophies play out in four case studies: PRX’s Reveal, Gimlet Media, Buzzfeed, and Panoply.

It is still too early to declare any podcast or podcast company a “success.” Many podcasts/networks currently rely heavily on advertising and are still experimenting with alternative revenue streams. Outside of advertising and branded content, podcasts show the most potential as an audience engagement tool that can diversify content, add value to brands/consumers, and generate enthusiasm for direct support and/or freemium models.