What Apple Podcasts Paid Subscriptions Means for *Most* Podcasts
On April 20th, 2021, Apple announced they would be launching paid subscriptions for podcasting and they are finally here. To say that the announcement was shocking is giving Apple too much credit, since many of us saw this coming. Whether Apple will acknowledge it or not, they are not the first to have paid subscriptions for podcasts. Luminary launched in 2018 and was struggling even before the pandemic to make a profit, spending $4 million a month but only generating under $500,000 from their roughly 80,000 paying subscribers. The question that came to all our minds is not the ‘why’ behind the Apple announcement, but the “how”. How will Apple Podcasts offering paid subscriptions change podcasting for us and for our listeners?
Luckily, the short answer is this: Not much will change for most podcasters. If you are interested in checking out their initial press release you can read it here, but let me sum it up for you. For $19.99 a year, you as a podcaster now can offer paid subscription to your channel to access content. You have the chose either to have your entire show behind a small monthly paywall, or you can keep your main episodes free but then have freemium content locked behind the small monthly subscription. You get to keep 70% of the subscription pricing and receive the payments monthly.
You do not need to be a podcaster to have your ears perk up when you hear about new ways to make money doing what you love. However, let us take a moment to think about how these two new ways of income will affect your podcast. When you think of your podcast, what is the one thing you think you need more of? Is it money or is it listeners? Even the greenest of us knows that this is not a chicken or the egg question – you need to have the listeners in place to make the money. Not only do you need listeners to make a podcast even have a chance at being profitable, but you also need good listeners – the kind who subscribe, listen on launch day, and engage with your podcast via e-mail, social media, reviews, etc. Do you already have enough of those listeners who you know will pay $X a month to listen to you that you feel comfortable making your podcast more inaccessible for new users? If so, congratulations! You are one of the lucky ones, and Apple made this new subscription plan just for you!
Most podcasters are not in a place to be turning away listeners, so the area that should intrigue us the most is the option of offering freemium content. With a freemium model you can continue offering your podcast to your listeners just the way you are, only now with the option of offering extras. Common examples of freemium content include ad-free versions of episodes, bonus episodes, uncut/extended versions of your episodes, access to your archives, and more. All of these are great viable ways to reward your guests for paying a small monthly fee to get more of the content they love, while still giving them the option to listen to your podcast for free. However, most of us have found ways to offer similar services via ways that are accessible to all. Most independent podcasters have a Patreon page or similar way for listeners to support the show that are accessible to all our listeners, and not just the ones on Apple Podcasts. I also don’t have the time to manage both Patreon and Apple and offering freemium services both places, since my podcasting team is just my husband and I. We would choose the one that everyone can use – Patreon.
It is my opinion that Apple launched subscription services too late for it to be worth the time for most podcasters. For the top 10%, this will be a great way for them to make more money than they already are. If you have an entire production team behind you working on the back end to handle the extra work, the work is worth your time. However, when I look at my stats, I only see roughly 30% of my listeners are on Apple Podcasts now, and I am not ready to shut out 70% of my listeners. For this and other reasons, I would choose to use Patreon as a freemium model since it is accessible to everyone, not just Apple users. The question you will have to ask yourself is ‘Is it worth my time and energy using Apple Podcast Subscriptions to monetize off a small portion of my listeners on that one platform, or can I monetize in a more effective way that is accessible for all of my listeners?”