Sometimes podcasting can be heavy on your shoulders. From finding guests to recording and promoting the show, it can feel like you have a lot on your plate.
Sure, you can do a lot on your own. But sometimes, you need a little specialized help to grow your audience and take your podcast to the next level. Whether it’s hiring a podcast editing service to polish your content or joining podcast networks to support your marketing efforts, a little help can help unlock your podcast’s potential.
We’ve already talked about podcast editing and how some of the best services can add an all-important professional touch to your show. Now, what about podcast networks? How do they work, and what do you stand to gain by joining a podcast network?
As a new podcaster, you’ve probably come across scattered mentions of podcast networks. All the top shows seem to be members of one podcast network or another. And if most successful podcasts are doing it, that must mean you should jump on the bandwagon, right? Well, not necessarily.
There are requirements to join podcast networks. And even when you qualify, there’s still the question of whether it’s the right move for your podcast. This brings us to the purpose of this lesson in the “Podcasting Mastered” course.
We’ve gathered all the information you need to know—from defining podcast networks to laying down a blueprint for how to get on a podcast network.
- What are podcast networks?
- What is the purpose of a podcast network?
- How do podcast networks work?
- What are the pros and cons of joining podcast networks?
- How to get on a podcast network. What are the requirements for joining a podcast?
- What are the top podcast networks to join?
- Important considerations before joining a podcast network
This post is the 20th in a series of “Podcasting Mastered” chapters designed to help you launch and grow an enterprise lead-generating podcast.
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What Are Podcast Networks?
So, what is a podcast network?
A podcast network is an umbrella company that boosts the visibility of its members and connects podcast creators to advertisers. Shows under one network are usually connected by similar target audiences, niches, or themes. Joining a podcast network is a symbiotic relationship where the networks help member podcasts with their production, distribution, and monetization efforts for a fee.
What Is the Purpose of a Podcast Network?
What do podcast networks do?
The purpose of a podcast network is to create a pool for advertisers to buy ads and to increase the listenership of member podcasts through cross-promotion within the network. In other words, a podcast network connects you to sponsors for monetization and boosts your podcast’s discoverability.
Podcast networks were likely borne out of necessity. The industry struggled with a significant discoverability problem in the early days of podcasting. Podcasters did not have all the handy distribution tools we enjoy today, such as podcast directories, social media, and search engine optimization.
With little-to-no avenues for distributing your show and getting heard, podcast networks were built as a solution to increase the visibility and revenue of these unfindable podcasts.
How Do Podcast Networks Work?
Podcast networks work by banking on the concept of “strength in numbers.” Pooling several podcasts under one umbrella company attracts advertisers. The podcast networks then use these sponsorship connections and well-established advertising machinery to place ads on your show for a commission.
The podcast networks also help you fine-tune your production and marketing efforts to boost your reach and production quality. And by growing your audience, you also generate more ad revenue—which means more money for the podcast networks. It’s mostly a win-win scenario.
There is always strength in numbers. The more individuals or organizations that you can rally to your cause, the better.
How are podcasts monetized?
With regard to monetization, podcast networks usually work on a commission-based model. They sell ad space on your show— mainly on a “cost per mille” (CPM) basis.
CPM is basically a flat rate charged per 1,000 impressions. The flat rate varies based on the publishing frequency, content quality, the theme of the show, and the point in an episode the ad is placed.
How do podcasters make money?
Let’s say you charge $15 for a pre-roll ad (before the show), $20 for a mid-roll ad (middle of the show), and $5 for a post-roll ad (end of the show). This means you’ll generate $40 for every 1,000 impressions. So if your podcast episode manages to rack up 5,000 impressions, the ad revenue will total $200 (i.e., $40*5). But this is not the amount you walk away with. The podcast network takes its commission share (mostly 30%), and you’re left with 70% ($140 in ad revenue).
While most podcast networks exist to make your show more visible to advertisers and sell ad space on your behalf, some simply exist to help you reach more listeners. Once you join such a podcast network, you gain access to a vast community of other podcasters.
These ad-free podcast networks function as networking platforms. They help improve your podcast’s quality, cross-promote your show within their circle, and vouch for you in the podcast industry. Here’s how it works:
Let’s assume you’re a podcast listener and you fall in love with the quality and content of a particular podcast within a podcast network. Chances are that you’ll trust another ‘related’ podcast in the network to uphold the same quality—and you may end up giving them a listen. This works similarly to the recommended list next to your favorite shows on Netflix.
Podcast Networks Pros – What are the Benefits of Joining a Podcast Network?
Joining some of the top podcast networks is an excellent opportunity to grow your audience, improve the credibility of your show, and generate more revenue from monetization. This can mean the difference in taking your show to the next level.
Here’s what you stand to gain from joining a podcast network in more detail:
1. Increased Visibility.
Looking to grow your listener base?
Of course, you do. This is a priority for most (if not all) podcasters. Finding the right podcast networks to join could significantly bolster your discoverability efforts.
A podcast network can help improve your visibility in a number of ways:
- Cross-promotion within the network: You advertise other podcasts within the network in your show—and they return the favor by promoting you to their listeners. Cross-promotion effectively and quickly gives your access to an audience that was probably beyond your reach.
- Increased reach and exposure: Sometimes podcast visibility is a game of numbers. The bigger and more influential you are, the better your odds of featuring high on the “explore” or “discover” section of popular podcast directories. As an independent artist, breaking into this coveted category can be a huge challenge. Unless you have the ‘muscle’ of some of the top podcast networks backing you up and pushing your show to the top.
- Insights to grow your show: Analytics are crucial for the success of your show. You need to know what’s working and what’s derailing your growth. Of course, you can gather performance metrics on your own or with the help of your podcast host. But podcast networks have access to bigger marketing budgets to thoroughly analyze your listener data for better insights.
2. Ad Revenue.
Digital marketers are increasingly turning their attention to podcasts as a marketing medium. Why? Because podcast ads perform remarkably well.
According to a report by Discover Pods, podcast listeners tend to respond well to ads in their favorite shows. Nearly 87% of the participants listen to podcast ads—with 89.8% admitting that the ads were effective. National Public Media (NPR) further confirms the value of podcast ads with their claim that sponsored content in a podcast drives action in 76% of listeners.
As more people tune in to podcasts—coupled with the impressive performance of podcast ads—marketers are increasingly investing in podcast ads. Statista estimates that podcast ad spending will increase steadily in the coming years, from $1.73 billion in 2022 to $2.5 billion by 2024.
If you’re wondering how you can get these brands/marketers to buy ads in your show, that is where podcast networks come in. They act as intermediaries—connecting you to advertisers and negotiating deals on your behalf.
So if you plan to monetize your show, joining a podcast network might be a good move for your show.
3. Networking Opportunities.
Joining a podcast network is not just about increasing your visibility and ad revenue. It’s also an opportunity to interact with experienced and successful podcasters.
The top podcast networks give you access to an exclusive club of some of the best players in the game. This could mean creating new friends, finding influential guests to appear on your show, acquiring business clients/partners, or getting invaluable tips on how to succeed in the industry.
4. Increased Credibility and User Trust.
People typically want a good reason to invest their time in whatever you’re offering. So if you want to grow your podcast audience, you need to gain their trust. Creating compelling and well-edited content is one way to go about it.
While there’s nothing wrong with growing organically by letting your content do the talking, you can skip ahead of the line by joining some of the top podcast networks.
Associating yourself with popular shows within a podcast network automatically gives you the much-needed credibility to supercharge your growth.
For example, lesser-known podcasts within the NPR podcast network get to enjoy similar credibility to widely popular shows in the network, such as The Limits, Code Switch, Fresh Air, and Planet Money.
People trust NPR based on their track record. And if NPR is vouching for you, people will assume your content is good. That “NPR” logo on your podcast cover art automatically fosters a sense of trust in the audience.
5. Improved Production Quality.
Most of the biggest podcast networks want you to produce a great show in line with the high standards that are expected from them. As such, they may offer podcast production coaching to help you achieve the highest quality podcast.
And by handling your podcast monetization and marketing hassles, podcast networks give you more time to focus on creating awesome content for your listeners.
Podcast Networks Cons – What are the Disadvantages of Joining a Podcast Network?
Podcast networks are an excellent opportunity to increase visibility and generate ad revenue. But you often have to make compromises. The disadvantages of joining a podcast network include losing creative control of your show, being tied to the restrictions of a contract, and giving up a share of your ad revenue.
1. Loss of Creative Control.
As an independent podcaster, you’re like a wild animal in the jungle. You have all the freedom to roam and do whatever you want. But you also have to fend for yourself.
Signing up for a podcast network is like joining the zoo. You’re fed and catered for, but you have to play by their rules. You can still roam ‘freely’—but within the confines of the zoo.
In other words, you’re tied down to a contract. The stipulations of this contract may control the topics you discuss in your episodes and the frequency of publishing them.
Some podcast networks may even give you little-to-no control over the ads you feature on your show. You might end up advertising a sponsor you’re not too fond of.
2. Revenue Sharing.
As mentioned earlier, podcast networks often operate under a 70/30 revenue-sharing business model. Giving up 30% of your ad revenue might be worth it if it means accessing better sponsorship deals or outsourcing your monetization activities.
But what if you have what it takes to negotiate similar or better sponsorship deals on your own? In that case, giving podcast networks a 30% cut might not be worth it.
3. Forced Migrations.
Podcast networks sometimes partner with other players in the industry. As part of the deal or simply for convenience, the networks may push the services of these ‘partners’ to its member podcasts.
For example, if you already had a sponsor for your show, you may have to forgo your ad deals with them before signing up for a podcast network.
Other requirements for joining podcast networks may include changing your podcast hosting provider in favor of the network’s preferred host. This can be a time-consuming hassle with the risk of losing data during the migration.
How to Get on a Podcast Network – Requirements to Join Podcast Networks.
You typically have to meet a number of requirements to join podcast networks.
Some common requirements to join podcast networks include at least 1,000 downloads per week/episode, publishing at least one episode every week, revenue sharing, and agreeing to cross-promotion of other podcasts in the network.
These ‘restrictions’ are designed to sift through a sea of applications—ensuring only the most qualified shows earn a spot on the network in question.
Learning how to get on a podcast network basically comes down to knowing the requirements set by the different podcast networks and positioning yourself to get picked up.
While 1000 downloads per episode is widely quoted as the minimum requirement to join podcast networks, some top podcast networks set the bar much higher at 25,000 or even 50,000 downloads per episode. Wondering why?
Well, podcast networks are a business. As such, they obviously want to grow and turn a profit. One way to do this is by working with influential podcasts. The more popular a show, the more ad revenue it can generate—and the more the network can earn from the 30% commission they claim.
But this does not mean smaller shows are locked out of joining podcast networks. You can still sign up for a network. Though you may have a harder time arguing your case. You may even have to settle for a worse deal than you’d get if your show was more popular. But if you’re lucky, you can get picked up by a podcast network with an affinity for small, promising shows.
Other requirements to join podcast networks include your podcast title, description, niche/category, publishing frequency, date of first published episode, sample episode, ad spots you’re willing to sell, and the number of listeners. These details help determine whether you’re a good fit for the podcast network while creating a listing for sponsors.
Top Podcast Networks – What are the Best Podcast Networks to Join?
While there are tons of podcast networks to join, looking at the biggest podcast networks in the industry can give you an idea of how it all works.
The team at Edison Research periodically releases a list of the top podcast networks in the U.S. based on total audience reach (i.e., the most-listened-to podcasts).
Below are the rankings for Q2 2022:
Gimlet Media is a Brooklyn-based award-winning podcast network created by Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber—producers of This American Life and WNYC, respectively. The Spotify-owned network is characterized by its refined audio reporting and conversational style of storytelling.
Some popular shows on Gimlet include “Chompers,” “Science Vs.,” “StartUp,” “Reply All,” “Heavyweight,” and “The Nod.”
Wondery is a podcast network owned by Amazon Music. Podcasts with binge-worthy stories can find a home on the network, which covers several genres from audio fiction to comedy. Wondery distributes hit shows likes “My Favorite Murder” and “SmartLess.”
As a podcast listener, you’ve probably come across an NPR-branded podcast while navigating around your favorite directory. As one of the biggest podcast networks, they claim to command a weekly listener base of over 53 million through their different platforms, including podcasts.
There are several popular shows on the NPR network, such as “Short Wave,” “Fresh Air,” “Code Switch,” and “The Limits with Jay Williams.”
Earwolf is easily a top podcast network. They house a star-studded list of podcasts, including “Storytime with Seth Rogen,” Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast,” “How Did This Get Made?” and “Office Ladies.”
The first thing you notice from their list of member podcasts is the recurring theme of comedy and entertainment genres.
If you’re lucky to join SXM Media, you gain access to an elite network of hit podcasts such as “Art of Charm,” “On Purpose with Jay Shetty,” “and “Crime Junkie.” It’s one of the biggest podcast networks—with access to over 55 million podcast listeners.
PS: SM Media owns the podcast networks Midroll, Earwolf, and Stitcher.
With over 19 million monthly downloads and industry acclaim for its innovative touch, Radiotopia is one of the top podcast networks to join if your show explores avant-garde or progressive ideas.
Some noteworthy podcasts on the Radiotopia network include “Articles of Interest,” “Blind Guy Travels,” and “Everything is Alive.”
PodcastOne is a titan in the podcast production industry and one of the top podcast networks to join. They claim to attract over 2.1 billion downloads every year across more than 350 episodes produced weekly.
PodcastOne welcomes shows from a wide range of categories, including art, true crime, music, news, politics, games, business, and comedy.
WNYC is part of New York Public Radio, a not-for-profit organization. They dabble in deep journalism, smart entertainment, revealing interviews, and personal narratives.
The podcast network is home to popular and critically-acclaimed shows like “The New Yorker Radio Hour,” “Radiolab,” “Dolly Parton’s America,” “On The Media,” and “Death, Sex & Money.”
To quote iHeartMedia, “This is where the largest audience in audio meets the most creative talent.” The multi-genre network offers diverse content in nearly every niche you can think of.
Some shows on the iHeartPodcasts include “Stuff You Should Know,” “Fake Doctors. Real Friends,” “Questlove Supreme,” “The Laverne Cox Show,” “The Daily Show with Trevor,” and “The Breakfast Club.”
Does your show discuss marketing, sales, or customer experience? HubSpot is one of the top podcast networks to join for these categories.
The HubSpot platform already enjoys a rapport as a leading digital marketing company. So it only makes sense to join a network of podcasts under its umbrella. You get to be part of a community that boasts shows such as “Marketing Made Simple,” “My First Million,” “Business Made Simple,” “Goal Digger Podcast,” and “Content is Profit.”
Considerations When Looking for a Podcast Network to Join.
We’ve discussed everything you need to know about podcast networks. Now it’s up to you to weigh your options and decide whether joining a podcast network is the best move for your show.
Remember, joining a podcast network is not a necessity. Sure, there are undeniable benefits of signing up—but many podcasters do just fine on their own.
Creating great content is your primary goal and your main ticket to growing your audience. Podcast networks should be an afterthought to complement your content.
Question to Ask Yourself Before Settling on a Podcast Network to Join.
- What exactly do you hope to gain from joining a podcast network?
- Do you have the means and resources to get those results on your own?
- Does joining a network align with your long and short-term B2B podcasting goals?
- What are the top podcast networks to join based on your goals and expectations?
- Do you know how to get on a podcast network? Do you meet the requirements?
- Do the pros outweigh the cons?
Questions to Ask the Podcast Networks Before Joining.
- What is the ad revenue sharing model? And is the ratio fixed?
- Can you guarantee any percentage of ads to be sold?
- Does the network facilitate synergistic cooperation with other podcasters?
- Is there a trial period where I can break the contract without consequences if the partnership turns out to be a bad fit?
- Do I have any say over the sponsorships, including choosing the sponsors I promote and their rates?
- Can I keep any existing podcast sponsors?
- What are the expected podcast promotion benefits from joining the network? What are the promotional activities you will launch to increase my listener base? And how will the promotion activities be tracked and reported?
- How does the cross-promotion process work, if any? Which shows will I have to promote on my show?
- Does signing up for your network impact my podcast hosting platforms? And who pays the hosting costs?
- What are the other benefits of working with the podcast network?
To Join or Not to Join Podcast Networks?
There you have it. You should now know exactly what is a podcast network, the pros & cons of joining a podcast network, the top podcast networks to join, and how to get on a podcast network if it’s what you want.
Joining a podcast network can solve some of the discoverability and monetization problems podcasters struggle with today. But it’s not a guarantee that your show will be an instant success or that you’ll rake in truckloads of ad revenue. You need to get the basics right before turning to a podcast network—which is creating valuable content packaged in high-quality audio.
If you need to step up your business podcasting game to make your show more appealing to listeners and desirable for podcast networks, give us a call to learn how we can help.
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