Paid Podcasting: Here’s Why It’s Not About “Who Pays You”


I’ve been a subscriber to TIME magazine for years now, which I read each week along with the tech magazines and news sites that I keep up with (as you’ll see with the daily news roundups I feature on science and offbeat news here, as well as current events headlines here).

A while back, Time columnist Joel Stein, whose humorist stylings are occasionally worth a read, dedicated an edition of his “The Awesome Column” to podcasting, in a piece titled, “Hosting my own podcast taught me a lot about myself–including how to cry.” This article seemed to present further evidence of what many of us already know: that podcasting is becoming a “mainstream” thing, a process many will assert actually started with NPR’s Serial podcast.

Sure, when it comes to celebrity podcasts (and podcasters) many have already been doing their own shows for years (Joe Rogan and Adam Corolla come to mind here). Joel’s column really hit home with me, however, because despite the humor he lent to the subject, the description he gives of his entry into (a brief stint with) podcasting revealed two key elements: 1) yes, podcasting requires work, and 2) there are actually companies that provide production assistance and payment for prospective celebrity podcasters–especially those who already have money, fame, or a bit of both.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s embarrassing to tell people I don’t have a podcast,” Stein wrote. “So after years of refusing offers to do one because the offers did not involve money, I got a deal from the podcasting company Midroll Media,” he explains, listing some of the shows they have helped produced. Again, it’s important to note that Joel’s sense of humor is largely at work here as he complains about “offers” he had received that didn’t involve money.

He then goes on to describe his first meeting with his prospective podcasting producer after accepting the deal from Midroll:

“I met the producer Midroll hired for me at a coffee shop near my house, and immediately knew I had made a horrible mistake. Shara Morris is 26, smart and eager to work hard, which was a huge problem since that would involve me working hard.”

Stein would go on to do a five-episode series on self-improvement, in which he would interview experts and entrepreneurs like “self-help guru Tim Ferris” (a fellow podcaster, I’ll note), as well as sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, philosopher Peter Singer, and Stein’s own father. Most challenging of all, Stein was faced with interviewing his wife, who was “upset that I was spending my time on a project that pays even less than print journalism.”

Through the veil of comedy, more realizations begin to emerge. For instance, landing a “deal” in podcasting, as offered by such companies that now pay celebrities to become engaged with this popular medium, may indeed present limitations when it comes to the accruement of wealth (especially when compared with a staff position writing for TIME).

The simple reason for this is that when someone is paying you to do it, you no longer have control over the growth of your own revenue stream. 

There are exceptions to this, like commissions, etc, which might award a podcaster with raises or commissions for certain milestones in number of downloads, regular subscribers, etc. However, when it comes down to my own personal philosophy of podcasting, the entire idea of “doing it because someone is paying me” seems pretty absurd.

Self-Reliance: Podcasting For Yourself, and For Profit

For me, podcasting is something I began doing because it offered me the ability to put my hard work and effort behind something that was completely my own. As a result, the exponential growth and improvement that my work yields accumulates over time, and unlike previous “day jobs” where my productivity might result in a measly $0.27 raise per hour every year or so, I am able to watch my business grow as a direct result of my efforts; I’m also the one reaping the benefits in the end.

For some reason, this notion of “hard work, and working for yourself, equals a better payoff in the end” seems to baffle many people who approach me about podcasting. I am often asked questions like, “how do you make money doing it?” In some instances, I’m even met with chuckling when people hear me say words like “podcast”, or “online radio”, which I’ll occasionally say to those who still don’t really seem to grasp what a podcast actually is (although there’s a pretty significance between the two).

“I hope they pay you well for that,” they’ll say amidst their laughter. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself, “who the hell are they supposed to be?”

Again, with podcasting, the host/producer is given the unique opportunity to do for themselves what any entrepreneur might hope to do with a new business: offer a product, build customer loyalty, and reap the benefits of the hard work that goes into it. This is what I enjoy about it so much: unlike corporate jobs I’ve held in the past, podcasting is one finger on the bigger glove of self-employment that I wear, and it is infinitely more exciting. Yes, I feel the pay-off is better, knowing that rather than being dependent on corporate salary and the wages they offer, I have a degree of control over how my business grows.

Besides, podcasts don’t have to be about “getting paid” in and of themselves, even when it comes to business. Many successful personalities and professionals use podcasts that they produce to promote themselves, or their enterprises, which again has the net result of improving your exposure.

Let’s be clear: I’m not attacking Joel Stein here. In fact, part of the reason his humor works so well is because he is employing (and making a parody) of common attitudes that people in America have about business, which include “I want as much as I can get, for as little work as possible”, as well as, “why do it at all, if somebody doesn’t pay me?” 

There are two fundamental realities that, in my opinion, refute these kinds of attitudes, especially when it comes to New Media and digital platforms like podcasting and blogging, which are steadily becoming the new standards of business promotion. They are as follows:

  1. Occasionally things must be done “for free”, which will pay off in the end, thanks to the exposure you’ll get from them, available courtesy of the World Wide Web.
  2. Creating a business model for yourself, from which you can receive profits in equal measure to the work you put into it, is infinitely better in the long run than waiting to find things that somebody else is willing to pay you for.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to find things others will pay for; the entire nature of business relies on the relationship between producers and consumers. However, there is a big difference between finding ways to reach new potential clients and customers with a successful business that you own, and struggling to find a place with an existing one where someone will pay you to help them achieve their own version of the “American Dream”, or whatever else it is they may be after.

“You confront your desperation to stay current when you’re under a quilt in the middle of the summer, next to a twenty-something podcast producer, talking to yourself in the dark about your marriage,” Stein added in his conclusion to the column. Sure, some might summarize the bareness, the confidence, and the frank self-reliance that podcasting requires a “confrontation with desperation.” However, what you learn in the end through laying yourself bare, being confident, and becoming self-reliant is that there are better things than worrying about “who’s paying you.”

Why not pay yourself? 

To learn more about monetizing your business with podcasting, or how to make money with podcasting itself, I recommend you check out my book, The Complete Guide to Maverick Podcasting, available on You can learn more about it here.

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