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A guide to going paid with your podcast on Substack
The first article in our Podcasting 101 series: practical tips for creating a podcast
Podcasters are using Substack to create a two-way conversation with their listeners. This lends itself to a unique business strategy that directly favors having loyal and dedicated audiences. Substack affords a personal, intimate point of connection between podcasters and their listeners, making it possible to foster lasting relationships.
This differs dramatically from what podcasters have come to expect from more centralized distribution methods. Though your podcast can still exist on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other distributors, Substack allows listeners to join the discussion and shape a podcast’s future.
In this post, we’ll shed light on some of the specific ways podcasters can think about monetization and business strategy on Substack.
Monetizing your audio material
Imagine a world where you can earn money from your podcast without interrupting your content stream with ads. Subscriber revenue provides a powerful, ongoing business model. By observing what listeners are willing to pay for, you can learn about what your audience responds to and align your goals with what listeners care most about.
Treat your podcast as a part of your overarching subscription package and Substack content universe, including written posts and discussion threads. Any audio material that will bring you a lot of exposure and new listeners should be free and widely available. If you record a recurring podcast, distributing it to Spotify and Apple Music is an easy way to get it out into the world.
On top of this free, widely distributed work, there are a number of paths to business success that are possible on Substack. Many writers keep all of their podcast material free as a way to attract new subscribers, and focus on providing paid subscriber benefits elsewhere through written posts or discussion threads. If you put all of your podcast material behind a paywall, it becomes very difficult to grow your audience.
Special extras podcasters can offer paid subscribers
Bonus offerings: Usually this takes the form of a bonus episode that is fundamentally different from a podcast’s recurring, free episodes. The Fifth Column, for example, releases a weekly “members only” episode for paid subscribers on top of their free weekly show. Their bonus episode is candid, off-the-cuff, and insider-y. This type of episode works especially well as a paywalled piece because it rewards listeners who have the context of your broader work and want to join you on a deep dive.
Mailbag and crowdsourced topics: Lean on your community by accepting questions before recording, and spend an episode answering them. You can either reserve the entire mailbag episode for paid subscribers or keep the episode for everyone and only accept questions from paid subscribers. In Burnt Toast, Virginia Sole-Smith publishes a weekly podcast with guest interviewees, plus a bonus episode each month that is a monologue answering questions from paid subscribers.
Auxiliary material: If the bulk of your podcast content is free, consider making your add-ons paid. For instance, reserve the ability to comment for paying subscribers only, or offer paid subscribers video versions of your interviews. You could also publish a preview of an episode, which is something the Martyr Made hosts sometimes publish during their pre-show research. Or consider following up each episode with related content or further recommended reading, either from you or a guest on your show.
Early access: Grant your paid listeners access to your podcast before anyone else hears it. This works especially well for podcasters who cover time-sensitive topics.
Transcripts: Consider providing transcripts for paying subscribers. Or make transcripts available to all of your subscribers, and reserve the audio experience for paid subscribers.
So, you want to start a podcast?
Whether you’ve been writing on Substack for a while and want to introduce a podcast or are starting from scratch with a podcast, here are some key ways you can set yourself apart and make it easy for new subscribers to join your community.
Update your About page to reflect your new podcast, and the new free and paid offerings that come with it. Include your podcast description and links to your popular or recent episodes, and explain why people should subscribe.
Create audible “calls to action” within your podcast. Podcasts on Substack can be discovered on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more—which means that people will be able to find and consume your content without knowing that it is part of a newsletter. Mention your newsletter in each episode’s intro, and share details about the special perks you offer paid subscribers. The more detailed, timely, and personal you can make these calls to action, the better. You can also do this in a midroll or outro. Additionally, you can plug your newsletter in your episode description.
Keep up a reliable cadence. As with a written newsletter, the best thing you can do for growth is to give your audience a regular schedule they can anticipate and look forward to. Successful publications on Substack publish at least one post per week.
Remind readers that they can listen. If readers came for your writing first, your podcast introduces them to a whole new side of you. Remind your subscribers about the value of your podcast, the conversations you’re having there, and recent episodes and guests. Offer teasers of upcoming projects to let your subscribers know what to expect from future episodes, or recaps at the end of a week or month. Use spaces like your email header/footer, the “Subscribe with caption” button, or recommended links to showcase upcoming or recent details from your podcast as well as in the written newsletter, so that you aren’t creating a “walled garden” in each place.
Use a flexible paywall. Paid podcast posts are a great place to insert a flexible paywall to offer free subscribers a glimpse of what they are missing.