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Podcast Networks: Should you join a network to grow your podcast?

Some of the most popular podcasts in the world belong to a podcast network — but what does that mean, exactly?

Podcast networks host a group of shows connected by theme or genre and exist to help market, scale, and monetize podcasts. Networks make it easier to connect with sponsors and help boost your show's visibility, too.  

But if you're thinking of joining a podcast network, it's crucial to know a few things before jumping in. Let's look at how networks operate, the pros and cons of joining one, and whether it's a setup that will benefit your podcast.

How podcast networks operate

Once you join a network, your podcast automatically becomes more visible to brands looking for the right show to place an ad. Advertisers can view your podcast through a network and decide whether to send an ad buy order.

Initially, this setup seems like the perfect solution for podcasters who want to connect with more brands, but it's crucial to look at the network's advertising model before signing any contracts.

Podcast networks typically use the CPM model of podcast advertising, which pays podcasters a flat rate per 1,000 impressions. A brand often buys three ads placed at different points within the episode for varying durations.

  • Pre-roll (20-30 seconds) at $6-20 CPM
  • Mid-roll (60 seconds) at $11-25 CPM
  • Post-roll (10 seconds) at $4-15 CPM

So, if you have 3,000 downloads per episode and an advertiser buys all three ads, you'll earn $63-180 an episode (depending on the CPM rate). Once you hand over 30% to the network, you'll make only $45-126 per episode.

The average podcast gets 141 downloads per episode, so you can see that this  model is only profitable for podcasters with a larger audience base.

Advertisement-free networks

Joining a network doesn't always mean getting sponsors and earning money — for some, it's just an effective networking strategy that adds your show to a playlist of the best podcasts in your genre (Ex: the Health Podcast Network.)

If this is the kind of network you're interested in, you won't have to jump through as many hoops to join! These kinds of networks usually don't own your show, require a certain amount of downloads, or insert ads into your episodes. They exist solely to connect spread information about a particular topic.

Let's take a look at the requirements for typical networks that focus on podcast monetization and connecting podcasters with sponsors. 

What is required to join? 

Podcast networks typically go after shows with influence; the bigger the podcast, the more money networks and advertisers make. Smaller shows can still join a network, but they'll likely have a harder time striking a good deal without much clout. 

Most podcast networks require the following of their members:  

  • at least 1,000 downloads per episode (or 5,000/month)
  • at least one episode per week
  • a percentage of your ad revenue (usually 30%)
  • mandatory cross-promotion with other shows within the network 

Think you might meet the basic requirements?  Let's weigh the pros and cons of joining a network so you can decide if it's the right move for you.

Pros & Cons of joining a podcast network

Podcast networks exist to solve problems podcasters often face on their own. Here are a few of the perks you can expect as part of a network.

Advantages

#1 Sponsorships

As part of a podcast network, your audience belongs to a larger collective audience, and you have access to sponsorships that would be difficult to get on your own. 

You will have to split the revenue you earn with the network, but you won’t have to worry about hunting down sponsorships yourself. The network handles securing the sponsorships so you can focus on the quality of your show. 

#2 Cross-promotion

When you belong to a network, you can connect with other podcasters who have an audience with similar interests, making cross-promoting extra effective. If someone is already listening to a show on your network and a host suggests your podcast, they’ll probably check it out. 

#3 More exposure

If you have a comedy podcast and are part of a comedy podcast network like Smodcast, your show is in front of thousands of engaged listeners looking for their new favorite shows along the same theme. This kind of targeted exposure can help put your podcast in front of the right listeners.

Drawbacks

#1 Loss of control over creativity and ads 

Most podcast networks won’t force creative decisions on you as a host, but some do. After signing a contract, your podcast network can legally veto any creativity that isn’t in line with the network or its brands.

On top of possible loss of creative control, you usually don’t have a say in the ads put in your podcast episodes, and you might have to back brands or products you can't honestly promote.  

#2 Revenue sharing

The amount of ad revenue you have to share with your network varies, and the amount of money you’ll earn each month usually isn’t guaranteed.

Each network splits ad revenue differently, and the details all depend on the network you join and the contract you sign, so be sure to read it carefully!

#3 You'll probably have to switch hosting services

For convenience, podcast networks like to have all their shows on the same hosting service, and you’ll likely have to change hosts if you join.

Changing podcasts hosts means you'll lose your shows analytics and possibly end up switching to a host you don't like.

#4 You'll have to end current sponsorships 

After signing a contract, most networks require you to remove ads from any previous sponsorships and only promote the brands that buy ad space on your show through your network. 

The freedom to form meaningful sponsorships with brands you believe in is a big loss for many podcasters. Having full creative control of your show is one of the biggest advantages of podcasting, and joining a network often means giving up some of those perks. 

Most popular podcast networks 

The following networks host the most popular podcasts and only accept the top 1% of podcasts with around 50,000 downloads per episode on average.  

1. Gimlet Media: Gimlet was founded in 2014 by This American Life producer, Alex Blumberg, in Brooklyn, New York, and is a division of Spotify. Gimlet primarily distributes digital audio journalism and entertainment.

2. Earwolf:  Earwolf is a Los Angeles-based podcast network founded by Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich. The network was originally known as the home of the biggest comedy podcasts (like Comedy Bang Bang) but has expanded to include shows on a wide variety of topics.

3. Radiotopia: In 2014, media company PRX (public radio exchange) launched the podcast network Radiotopia with NPR producer, Roman Mars, as the network's co-founder. 

4. Wondery: Wondery is an American podcast network launched in 2016 by Hernan Lopez and backed by 20th Century Fox. Wondery features over 70 shows across genres like entertainment, business and true crime.

5. WNYC Studios: While not technically a podcast network, this radio station works to merge the two mediums in this new age of digital audio. WNYC hosts on-demand radio shows in the United States like Radiolab, Snap Judgement, and NPR programs, American Public Media, and the BBC.

Some of these networks don't work with independent creators or aren't currently accepting new podcasts. If you have the influence to pitch to a major network, consider reaching out to PodcastOne and Midroll; both works with over 200 big-name brands and are actively looking for new shows.

Let's review how you can optimize your chances of landing a good deal with a network, so you'll be ready to negotiate when it's time to pitch your show.

Finding the best podcast network for you 

Before reaching out to a network, try everything you possibly can to grow your show yourself; the more you work on developing a strong podcast marketing plan and growing your listenership, the better position you'll be in to negotiate.

Make sure your podcast is listed in all the major directories (Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, etc.) and actively promote your show on social media to build your online presence.

You might be in this stage for months or years before you feel ready to approach a network — and that's okay; the important thing is to create a show a network would be proud to feature in their line up.

When it does come time to pitch to a network, or they approach you with an offer, make sure to ask the following questions: 

  • What percentage of ad revenue does the network take?
  • What, if any, creative restrictions are there on podcasters?
  • Can the network guarantee a number of ads or percent of revenue?
  • Can you issue a trial contract for several episodes before committing? 

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Final thoughts

The most important question to ask yourself is whether a podcast network will truly benefit your show, or if you can achieve your goal better on your own.

Creating high-quality content is always the best way to set yourself up for financial success in podcasting — with or without a network!