I started The Creative Penn Podcast in March 2009 as a way to meet other writers and learn about the world of publishing and book marketing.
If you're interested in podcasting, you might find this interesting.
In this interview on Podcraft with Colin Gray, I talk about ways to monetize a podcast.
- How I almost gave up the podcast in 2015
- Patreon and how to use appropriate bonuses for your audience. Why building an audience before monetizing is so important.
- How to get corporate sponsorship – and what you can expect if you're just starting out
- Why detailed show notes and preferably a transcription are so important for Search Engine Optimization
- How to use a podcast to advertise your audiobooks
- How to record your own audiobooks for ACX, publish and distribute to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes
- Why now is a great time to get into podcasting and audiobooks
- How you can integrate affiliate income into podcasting
Transcript of the interview on Podcraft
Colin Gray: Hey folks, welcome to another episode of Podcraft. Podcraft is the show of everything podcasting from launching a show, to monetization, and everything in between. I'm Colin Gray.
This time around, it's an interview show where we're talking to another experienced and excellent podcaster, someone I met at the Youpreneur Summit back in November actually and absolutely loved her talk on creating books to grow your business, how to be published, how to use that to grow everything else you do. But she also runs a podcast which is really successful, with lots of different ways that she's monetizing. It's Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn. How are you doing Joanna?
Joanna Penn: Oh, thanks for having me Colin, it's great to be on the show.
Colin: No worries. Thank you for coming along. Like I said there, it was just I really loved your talk at Youpreneur. It was great. It was so practical, so many things in it that you could take away and do, so I took lots from it. I've got some plans around books and CDs and stuff this year, so thank you for that in the first place.
Joanna: Oh no, thank you. I'm so enthusiastic about books but it was funny I was talking to someone the other day about podcasting and so often our body of work is the things we publish or the talks we do.
But actually, I think podcasting is part of our body of work.
The people we touch. So I consider podcasting just as important in my career as writing.
Colin: Well, that's a good testimonial for us I suppose.
So, what is The Creative Penn about?
Joanna: Well, firstly writing. I've written 27 books at this point. I write fiction and also nonfiction. I have three author names. So I talk about writing fiction, writing nonfiction, publishing options and particularly self-publishing as well as book marketing and making a living with your writing. Creation and monetization – both important for people like us doing this as a career.
Colin: Yes, excellent. And the podcast, is that the exact same audience, the exact same topic, or is it a niche of it?
Joanna: The same. Definitely. I actually started the podcast in 2009. So I'm one of the old school podcasters. And I started the podcast to get to know other authors like back then. I didn't even have any author friends.
If you want to start podcasting, then it's best to do something that you're so passionate about, you don't need to make any money from it because those will be the long years at the beginning.
But I cover pretty much the same stuff on the website and the podcast. It stems from a personal interest. I'm an author, so I can talk about my journey and talk to other people who are on their journey as well.
Colin: Perfect. So, I mean, you've been going that long, that's something that's amazing that you've kept up for the last eight years now. That's a very long-running podcast which is a feat in itself, but beyond that, you've monetized it.
You've actually made a success of this podcast and are getting a real return on it, haven't you? That's mainly what I want to concentrate on today, all the different ways you're doing that. So I wanted to delve in first.
People often start with Patreon. So can you tell me what you're doing with Patreon, the story of starting up there and how you've developed over the years?
In 2015, I'd been doing the Podcast for six years every two weeks or kind of sporadically. It was never on the same day of the week. It was based on when I had time and I incorporated it into the blog. I was talking about my books, so it was indirectly monetized. It was building my brand, so it had a marketing angle.
But I felt like it was taking so much time that I had two choices. Give it up completely, or monetize it.
I interviewed someone on my podcast around that time and expressed my misgivings about asking for patronage. This is often the way, isn't it?
They said, “Why don't you just ask your audience?” I felt a massive reaction. I didn't want to ask for money from my audience. My show was free show. It had been free for years.
But in the end, I went, okay, why not just give it a go. I put quite a low target on the bonus. You know, you have these bonus levels and I just started putting it out there. I only did two a month at that time, my Patreon is based on two a month even though I moved to a weekly show and do it at the same time every Monday morning these days.
It was like $1 the first month and $5 and then $20 and now I'm up to around $850 per show, two shows a month. So it's like $1600, plus other forms of monetization. It's pretty good. And also, the people who are patrons have really invested in the show, so it's a double whammy. It's some money even though they can get it free, but also these are the super fans.
Colin: That's amazing. That's not small money, that's an actual living for a lot of people, so that's great you've got up to that level. A testament to your fan base, I think and what you're offering obviously.
There's a few things in there, I think I want ask about that people are often concerned with.
First of all, frequency. Have you gone for a standard monthly pledge or is it you press the button, “I've released an episode,” and that draws in the money at that point?
Joanna: I charge for two episodes a month. So if there are five Mondays in a month which sometimes there are, I only charge for two of those and then the other shows are free. Free shows, even though, of course, they are all free to anyone.
In terms of my Patreon bonus, I do an audio-only Q&A once a month. So my Patreon listeners get access to a form where they can enter questions and then I do extra audio. You can get your own RSS feed and if you do extra recordings that never even go live on your site, you can distribute them through Patreon. That's basically how I do it. I just charge for the first two shows of every month and then I just put them up for free.
Colin: Okay, that makes sense. So with bonuses, is that the main one that people sign up for?
Joanna: Yes, that's the main one and then the top tier, the $5 per show is basically they get all my nonfiction audiobooks and eBooks as well. Although some cheeky people obviously email immediately. Sometimes I just say, “Hey, would you mind supporting for a month or so before you get your bonuses?”
But most people obviously are absolutely amazing. I didn't really have much of a drop off when Patreon had their fee glitch a month or so ago as we speak. I think if you're doing an audio show, it makes sense to do extra audio and that would be probably a tip:
Make sure your bonuses resonate with your audience.
Colin: That's really interesting that they're offering an RSS feed now. I didn't know they did that. So you can actually directly through Patreon for those extra episodes.
Joanna: Yes, it's just a little link on the right-hand side of your page and I have a little response whenever anyone pledges and I just copy and paste that in so they know how to find that.
I also have the backlist on my special page on my website. If someone starts supporting me now even for just a dollar, they get two and a half years' worth of extra audio if they want. And you know how some people want to go and listen to it, the whole backlist.
Colin: Oh, yeah. Go back and binge it all. Have you ever used total tier bonuses? Like, if we make it to a 1000 done episode or 2000 episodes, we'll do this or that?
Joanna: No. I mean, as I said, I got in quite early on Patreon and they didn't have a lot of the different options. I feel at this stage that I can't really change what I've done. So, no. I haven't done that.
An important point is, don't make these numbers too low. Say, if we reach $250 then I will give everyone a free hour consulting or something because you will be surprised at how fast these things are going to grow.
Colin: Getting to that level is brilliant in terms of the monthly income you have there.
What's worked best for you in terms of getting people to sign up?
Other than just asking people which is actually where a lot of people fall down. Any other tricks or tactics for getting people to sign up?
Joanna: No, that literally is it. When I have a show, I do the introduction then I do usually an interview. Before the interview, I'll say, today's show is sponsored by … So I might say Kobo Writing Life, one of my biggest sponsors for the show. Then I'll say, thank you to all my new patrons and then if you would like to support the show here is my patreon link.
Within my introduction, I might also be introducing a webinar which is an affiliate link. I might be talking about one of my audiobooks, I might be talking about one of my books. I'm actually putting multiple income streams within one show.
So the Patreon call-out has become a regular segment of the show and new patrons will have their names read out and the call to action is that if you'd like to support the show, here's my link, but then also I'm still pairing that with a corporate sponsor.
I guess it's a bit like YouTube in that way. In that people are more used to corporate sponsors now, so they don't necessarily battle it. So realistically with Patreon, all I've ever done is stick a segment into the podcast before the interview. I haven't done anything else.
Colin: That's perfect. There's a couple of things in there I think which are a little bit different than most people do.
A lot of people just surf through in their Patreon link at the very end of the show. They don't treat it as an advert like you're talking about a sponsorship advert put in the middle of the show – which is always the most actioned sponsored slot.
So include it in there alongside the other sponsor's slot. Make it as important, give it the same precedence as something that is paid for – because it is paid for – but a lot of people think of it as charity or donations or something.
That's great that you're doing that. And the other thing, you just mentioned there you're reading through the new Patreon contributors.
That's always a great call to action because people go, “Oh, I'd love to get mentioned on here one of my favorite shows. I just have to donate a couple of dollars and I'll get my name on here.”
Joanna: It's interesting as you do get some people who sponsor as a business. So they get their business or podcast read out. And I'm happy to do that obviously and some of these people unsubscribe later, but that's fine.
The other thing is that social proof.
When I do personal shows with no interview, when I go into my own journey or something I'm struggling with at the moment, I will get a lot more Patreon subscribers after a personal show than I do after an interview show. If people get value from a show, they are more likely to then sponsor.
Colin: Perfect. I mean, it stands to reason, doesn't it? It's a great show, I got a lot from this, I wanna pay the person back. But then if you get a benefit and the deal of yourself mentioned, even better.
Let's go into the corporate sponsor stuff because you said that's where you started in terms of monetization. You mentioned the fact that, you were not getting as much return as you wanted off it so you had to make it pay in another way.
What was your first step towards getting that first sponsor?
Joanna: I looked at the standard corporate rates. Then I looked at my download numbers. I use Bluberry and Amazon S3, I got some numbers and then I was like, “Oh, this is quite good. I could actually get a couple of hundred per show and over time it's growing. I could get something that would pay for the transcription, for example, because I do transcription on the show for SEO purposes.
I had some relationships with companies who I was already promoting in different ways, so either affiliate relationships or just companies that I really liked and I know would need promoting. I talked to some of my contacts. So I actually went looking for those sponsorships.
Now, a lot of people come to me but I still only work with companies that I personally use and recommend because I think that's so important. It has to fit your audience or it's not gonna make any difference. They'll just go away. Have something that might be tailored to your show as opposed to the same thing that you hear on every show.
You have to know your numbers. I did a two-page pitch sheet with the demographics. Countries, number of downloads per show and then I said it will cost you this much per show or this much for the discounts and my first sponsor bought the whole year up front. It's awesome to get a big chunk of cash up front and now my annual rate is pretty high. But then what you realize if your show is growing all the time is that you sold those later shows at a discount because you're going up. So probably it's better to sell three to six months at a time so that you can adjust your rates necessarily.
Colin: That would have saved you a lot of time and effort in going and finding people, so often it's worth a little bit of a discount, isn't it? To get that kind of longer term relationship.
I like three and I sell about 35 shows of the total in the year of my weekly shows. I keep some for myself and I promote my own products and also promote affiliate webinars and events and other things in those other slots. That's important, too, to just make sure you keep space for what you're doing as well.
I only ever do one kind of corporate sponsor per show and then I have the Patreon slot and then I'll often have a webinar or something as well.
Colin: Excellent. So you mentioned that with 99designs you did something a bit different. That's something I'd like to dive into. How do you do the sponsored slot? Can you describe one of them just what you did to make that one unique?
Joanna: I didn't do 99designs in a unique way.
Think about tailoring your ad. So if you use a service, you can really talk about what you're doing.
IngramSpark are a publishing company, I use them for my print publishing. So I just will go into a much more personal story of using the service and some of the great things they're doing and I make it a lot more personal than many corporate ads you hear which are repetitive. Exactly the same thing read by a different user. I do think you'll get much more traction if you do something more personal.
Colin: Absolutely. I think those personal stories are what make a good sponsored slot. And it's interesting to your listeners. They want hear what you've been doing, your experience with something and even though it's a sponsor slot, you're telling them about a product. You're teaching them something too because it's a case study about what you've done and how successful it was. Wasn't it?
Joanna: Yeah, actually that's a really good point because with Kobo Writing Life, for example, I get them to record tips.
Instead of it just being an ad, it's a tip for selling more books on Kobo.
That is much more effective than anything else. If people listening do buy ads, I think the voice of the advertiser is important. People get used to a voice. So if you buy 10 slots on a podcast, and you're the voice in that slot every time, that can really be effective. Some of the people who've done ad slots get recognized at events because they've been on my show. It's really funny.
Colin: That's great. So they build a bit of a personal brand.
Okay, so the top tips there really are in the early days when you're trying to look for sponsorship, that it's about those existing relationships, isn't it? It's those products that you see on your desk. The things that you're using right there and then get in touch with those type of people first and build those relationships and hopefully if you can do the personal stories, the case studies, then that sponsorship will work and they'll come back for more and hopefully you won't have to search out anymore after that.
Joanna: Exactly and especially those of us with introvert tendencies who don't like to sell, sell. I do not want to do a hard pitch to someone I've never met – or in fact, ever. The relationship approach is much easier. Of course, it takes longer because you have to build those relationships, and don't burn things too early. So if you're only gonna get $25 bucks, then maybe it's too early – unless that is a daily podcast. Maybe you should wait until it might be worth it with a bigger audience, which means the ad revenue would be bigger but also the audience would be bigger and you might see some return. So it has to be a win-win situation there.
Colin: Agreed. Actually, we often tell people in the early days that it's not really worth the bother of arranging the contracts of sending your media kits or the chasing. It's better to spend the time on improving your content and creating better stuff.
But at that stage sometimes it's worth putting in a sponsor slot for yourself because it gets people used to the fact that you do have product. So your first sponsor slot isn't gonna turn people off. Because they're like, “oh no, he sold out.” You've always been doing it.
Joanna: Yes, I do think that's right.
I also think the show notes page is really important.
It's really important even if your listens are lower. I have a lot of people who actually read the transcripts of my shows who don't necessarily listen. The sponsor will also get their logo and a couple of lines of text on the show notes page and obviously, I'll also have links there, affiliate links and other things. That can also add to your pitch when you're ready to do that.
If you're interviewing someone, you can also use ad links in your YouTube description. All my interviews I put on www.YouTube.com/thecreativepenn as well. So those are some other ways in that you can kind of make things better while having traffic as well.
Colin: Those are some great tips there. Let's go onto your audiobooks. This is something I found really interesting as well because obviously we are creating audio podcasting as an audio medium and audio books are a separate thing. But how do you tie them together?
How do you use your podcast to monetize your audiobooks?
Joanna: First of all, people can make their own audiobooks. If you are technically savvy, you can record your own audiobooks and upload those audio files to www.ACX.com, Amazon's distribution service. You can also even produce audiobooks.
So if you are an audio producer, you can have a share in the rights and the royalties? You can be paid to produce other people's audiobooks. So that might be an additional revenue stream for voice talent. There's probably voice talent listening to your show. There's a lot of authors looking for voice talent to read their books.
In terms of marketing audiobooks, obviously, you need to talk about it on the podcast. I've also shared snippets.
With ACX, you can share five minutes or if you do a non-exclusive contract you can share whole chapters. I've actually used a chapter from my audiobooks as a whole show on some of my podcasts. I did record one myself but it was so much hard work but now I have like a voice doppelganger.
But essentially, it just makes the course of action to move from podcast to audiobook much, much easier because you've got an audio listener who's there and all they need to do is click over to the Audible app and download a sample or put it on their wish lists or whatever.
I might have a topic on self-doubt for creatives and then I might say, “Oh, and by the way, lots more in The Successful Author Mindset available on Audible.”
I'll just throw that into the conversation. It wouldn't be just the call to action for example.
Colin: I think a lot of people are put off. They see the idea of an audiobook as being this big massive thing they have to create.
They have to write 50,000 words first and then create the audiobook but I've seen a lot of people succeed with just a collection of themed blog posts, for example, turned into an audiobook. Maybe, there's a narrative through it, and then they've drawn a conclusion and put that in there for maybe a lower price seems to work quite well. Is that something you've seen?
Joanna: Well, you can't control the price on Audible. Amazon controls that price.
So if it's non-fiction, you can generally do fine with shorter books.
My nonfiction tend to be around six hours but with fiction, it's definitely much, much harder and they're used to higher quality. I would say that I really don't like the idea of just putting blog posts together unless, as you say, they've been heavily edited and a narrative put through it.
I think if you shy away from the idea of writing a book then maybe an audiobook isn't such a good idea. But, I think now we're at a point in the publishing ecosystem where lots of non-fiction authors, in particular, are writing books.
[ If you're interested in this, check out my book, How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge Into Words. ]
So that's definitely something that you can do and add that to your repertoire. And you can do a non-exclusive contract. That way you can publish, sell-direct from your website which I do for some of my stuff or publish on other things.
Google Play just announced audiobooks, Kobo has audiobooks, so there are more distributors coming on board for audiobooks but at the moment they're not as dominant in the markets we work in. Audible is just huge at this point. With Alexa and the Echo and the voice at home devices and in cars and things like that, audiobooks are only going to get bigger and bigger over time.
Sorry, I'm getting very excited about this!
But as podcasters, some people want to know more about us and they want to understand our own manifestos.
Our journey, what we've learned and putting that in a book and then putting that out as an audiobook can really help people to get to know you. It's a personal brand thing as well as an income thing. And it can then feed back into your podcast. So the whole thing becomes a financial and creative ecosystem.
Colin: I totally agree. I think there's something in that and that we've learned these audio skills, we've learned how to present all that kind of stuff.
Am I right in thinking there's probably less competition in the audiobook space than the standard self-publishing space?
Joanna: Yes, absolutely. And I think nonfiction particularly is fantastic right now. People are hungry. I don't know about you, I mean, I've been listening to podcasts for years, but often at this point, I'm like, you know what? I want to cut the waffle, I just want to listen to this person's book.
I don't want to listen to Cal Newport do another interview on Deep Work, I just want to listen to Deep Work as an audiobook. Which by the way is a fantastic audiobook.
I actually think we're moving into a more mature audio market.
We've seen a boom in podcasting. I mean, when I started in 2009, it was a wasteland, but it's really boomed since 2015. And audiobooks are starting to boom as well. They're the fastest growing segment in the publishing world and if you have the audio skills, this might be a real opportunity for some of this audience to get into the production site.
So even if you don't want to write a book, you can do royalty shares and work with other authors and get a percentage which could be amazing for some people.
Colin: Absolutely. Your podcast as a showcase of your audio and presenting skills basically to sell. A really sideways way to monetize a podcast book completely. Great idea. Excellent. Okay, let's finish up. You've mentioned a few times about affiliate income.
Is there any particular way you're using affiliate income to monetize your podcast?
Joanna: Well, I think the biggest saying that is to use the WordPress plugin, Pretty Links, to make easily rememberable and sharable URLs. Because, if you are just naturally talking about something in a conversation you can just throw in a link that you remember.
Obviously, if you are planning it hardcore in advance you can include your links and remember to say them. But I think that affiliate stuff can so often be included naturally in a conversation.
Make sure any affiliate relationship you have, you've got an easy URL. You can mention it in your introduction, in the interviews, and in your show notes.
The main lesson is that you can use a combination of all of these things and, obviously, you don't need to go from nothing to everything all in one go but over time you can sell it to build in the various levels.
Colin: That's perfect. The Pretty Link step is great. Something we use all the time.
Just making sure that every time you mention any product you use, you'll be teaching your audience how to do things with certain tools, certain software, certain packages, certain courses and every time you mention those you, just use your pretty link.
I think affiliate income is a great precursor to sponsorship, too, isn't it? Because it's basically sponsorship without having to sign up a sponsor deal. You're paid for success and that's often how I see people doing that sponsored slot as I talked about earlier. Before sponsorship, do an affiliate slot every week just to get people used to that idea. So thanks for the tips it was excellent.
Joanna: Yes, great.
Colin: Okay, well, thank you, I mean that's been so useful. Different ways to monetize. We've got Patreon, we've got corporate sponsors, audiobooks, and affiliates. Loads of different ways that people can get involved and lots of good first steps there as well. I'll love to send people over to your site, Joanna. Go over to TheCreativePenn.com.
Joanna: And Penn with a double N. Come over to the podcast which is also The Creative Penn Podcast. And find lots of information if you want to write a book or if you want to do an audiobook or anything about that.
Colin: Perfect. Thank you very much.