This is the first of my monthly traffic/income reports for my podcast. This one is going to be quite long as I’m going to give the backstory behind everything and how the show was created.
I launched my show on July 1, 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. Since then, it is occupied almost all of my time and it has constituted a dramatic shift in my focus and business.
Prior to this, I guess I was what you could call a travel blogger or a travel influence. I made money by working with brands and tourism boards, through advertising on my website, and via affiliate sales.
Almost all of that vanished in March 2020 when the pandemic lockdowns started. I never thought that the travel and tourism industry, one of the largest industries in the world, could just vanish overnight, but it did.
All spending on marketing and advertising by brands in the industry disappeared. Most companies had to focus on staying alive and they didn’t have to money to invest in growth and business acquisition.
Almost all business and recreational travel disappeared. No one was booking trips, no one was doing trip planning, and basically no one was paying attention travel when they were cooped up in their house.
Pretty much every stream of revenue I had either totally disappeared or dwindled to next to nothing.
At first, I thought everything would be over quickly. Things would be back to normal in April or May. As it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, the enormity of what was happened dawned on me.
This wasn’t a temporary blip. This was something which was going to take at least a year, if not two or three, to play out. Especially for international travel.
Countries will open up at different rates. Individuals will become comfortable traveling at different rates. Many people who lost their jobs or businesses won’t be in a position to travel, even if travel bans are lifted. Companies which relied on travelers will be bankrupt by the time everything sorts out. Tourism boards who rely on tax revenue from hotels might take years to get back to where they were before.
In other words, this wasn’t something I could just wait until things went back to normal. At least in this industry, things will never go back to where they were before.
Moreover, even before this happened, I wasn’t comfortable with the state of where the travel blogging business was going. I follow a lot of travel blogs via RSS just to keep up to date with what everyone is doing.
I noticed a disturbing trend: almost everything now is about SEO. Your actual experiences traveling, your thoughts and opinions, the quality of your content don’t really matter that much. SEO now rules everything.
So many of the ‘top’ travel blogs are now churning out pretty much the same SEO-optimized posts. No one even seems to be trying to get posts to go viral on social media anymore. It has become a one-dimensional game.
SEO is fundamentally a game that rewards those who are good at SEO. You don’t have to even travel to have a successful travel website. There are several very successful travel websites that are nothing but articles cranked out by teams of writers, using stock images, and buying links.
Despite what Google says, this works.
SEO is also a zero-sum game. If I rank #1, you can’t rank #1.
It is a bucket of crabs with everyone competing against each other, and against large media companies.
Yes, there are sites out there that are successful with this approach. However, it isn’t something that I particularly enjoy. I started traveling to travel, and SEO doesn’t play to my strengths.
Also, I think that Facebook will do what it can to kill the influencer economy because they want at least a cut of all the money that is going to influencers.
So….in June 2020, with the lockdown in full effect, I found myself needing to do something…..different.
For two years I’ve had the idea of a podcast floating around in the back of my mind.
I’ve done several podcats before, all travel-related.
This podcast wasn’t going to be travel per se. I was also, finally, going to use the name of my website/brand, “Everything Everywhere” for the podcast.
The show was basically going to be a longer-form version of my current show. An educational show on various subjects.
I commissioned some cover art, purchased some theme music, and began doing research.
I found myself going down huge rabbit holes doing research. My first show was going to be on the Mona Lisa. I had had notes for a 2-hour show, which to be honest, was way too long, and would be way too difficult to monetize.
I put the idea aside and moved on to other projects.
In June 2020, I revisited the idea.
The more I looked at it, I realized that the math worked out much better if I published more frequently. In fact, when I sat down and actually created a spreadsheet, I was sort of astonished at how well a daily show worked.
I flipped my original idea for the podcast on its head. Instead of super long-format shows, I could do the exact opposite. More frequent shorter shows.
I sat down and came up with a list of about 100 show ideas. It was really easy. In fact, I have that same list which I am constantly updating, and I now have close to 250 show show ideas, and I’m adding ideas every day.
I could take the artwork and music that I had made 2 years earlier and just plug it into this show. I didn’t need to do anything special.
All of my podcaster friends I bounced the idea off said the same thing: “its a good idea, but it will be a lot of work”.
Well….I got lots of free time right now.
I developed a very set format with audio transitions, and on July 1, I published episode #1.
Why A Podcast?
So, of all the things I could have done, why did I do this?
Why not just double down on travel?
Many people I know have done exactly that. They are either putting more effort into their main websites, or they have launched destination sites for their town.
This is not a bad idea, but it wasn’t something I really wanted to invest my time doing. I totally understand why most people have done this, and I don’t think it is a bad idea for many of the people who have been doing this a long time.
I also didn’t want to do straight travel. Most people only care about travel when they are about to go on a trip. There is very little new that happens with travel unless you are an aviation or points geek. The average travel website will get much less traffic than a food or fashion website for this reason.
Basically, I’m bearish on travel until 2023 at the earliest. Even if people start traveling this year, there are going to be issues with the industry for years.
Why not start a YouTube channel?
There are some very successful YouTube channels to be sure. You can certainly get more eyes and ears on your content more quickly via YouTube can you can with a podcast.
However, at the end of the day, you don’t own YouTube. I’ve been burned before by big internet companies and their algorithms.
Every single YouTube channel runs the risk of being shut down at a moment’s notice and not even being given so much as an explanation why. I wanted something that I owned and controlled. In theory, I could host the show out of my house on my own servers if I really wanted to.
Also, CPM rates on YouTube are much less than with podcasting, and video product just takes way more work than it does audio. From the start of recording to uploading the finished file usually takes me no more than 20 minutes.
Why do a podcast on this subject(s)?
I was the kid who read the encyclopedia. I’d go to the library, wander around, and pull random books from the shelves.
Between my years and years of academic debate, college bowl, and a decade and a half of traveling around the world visiting obscure places, this show is something that I think I’m uniquely suited to do.
It isn’t a travel show per se, but it does still have one foot in the travel world. I can still talk about all the stuff I’ve seen, the stories I’ve heard, and the places I’ve been. I’m just doing it in an educational framework, not a travel one. I’m not talking about cafes, airports, and hotels because I don’t care about any of those things.
This show will cast a much wider net than a straight travel show will. You can enjoy the show even if you don’t travel.
How do I produce the show?
The most time-consuming part of each show is writing and research. It takes me about 3-8 hours to write and research each show. Oddly enough, the longer shows are often the easiest to write, because I’m usually writing about something I already know quite well.
I write each script in Google Docs. This allows me to switch computers and keep working on the same document.
I will usually have anywhere from 6-20 different websites that I use to research each episode. It totally depends on what the episode is about.
I write everything including the intro, advertisement, and sometimes an outro.
The script is published as a blog post when a new episode is published.
I record using Garageband. I have a Rode Podcaster USB microphone, and I record with a -40db noise filter on Garageband. There is nothing else fancy about my recording setup.
I record each segment separately: intro, Instagram intro, advertisement, outro, and the body. I then drag and drop the segments together along with the intro music and sound effect to create a final audio file.
I run the file through Levelator, convert it to mp3, and upload it to Libsyn.
I had a good-sized following on several social media platforms as well as an email list. However, these people weren’t following me because I was podcasting on educational topics. They were mostly following me for pretty travel photos.
So, I wasn’t starting from square one, but I was probably starting from square two.
I had an initial burst when I launched the show back in July. I sent out emails to my list and promoted it heavily on social media. I probably got several hundred subscribers this way. The algorithms really prevent you from reaching the people who follow you. Even after 8 months, I still have followers who didn’t know I have a podcast.
The biggest single variable which determines the size of a podcast audience is time. Most really successful shows have been around a while. As there are no algorithms in podcasting, you need word of mouth, and that takes time.
Another variable is the number of episodes. As I have a daily show, I figure I have that base covered.
Having grown large followings on several social platforms, one thing I’ve learned is that the best way to grow a platform, is on that platform. You get Instagram followers on Instagram. You get YouTube subscribers from YouTube.
Likewise, if you want podcast subscribers, you have to go where the podcast listeners are.
In November, I began running ads on several podcast apps. These are just the apps people on their phones use to listen to podcasts. Some of them let podcasters buy display advertisements on their apps to promote their shows.
So far I’ve run ads on Overcast, Castro, PodcastAddict, and Podcast Republic. The results have been mixed. However, in every case, the cost of acquisition per subscriber was well below the value of a suscriber.
Advertising performance is the only data I’m not going to share on these monthly updates. The reason is simple: this data is almost impossible to find online because no one shares it, and it cost me quite a bit of money to collect this data. Right now, it is a strategic asset that I have.
My other marketing is currently just posting episodes everywhere I can. I create custom videos for every episode for Instagram Stories and TikTok. I have no clue how well they convert because that is almost impossible to track.
I’m also publishing the scripts with an embedded player to Substack. I just started that, so it might take a while to figure out how well it works.
I’m also doing trailer swaps with other podcasters, but it is really hard to find other shows who want to do this. Most podcasters are horrible at marketing themselves.
I’m putting most app advertising on hold for March and April and I’m going to focus on appearing on other podcasts as a guest, and possibly buying ads on other shows.
This is pretty straightforward. Podcasts can run ads.
The average CPM for an ad right now is about $25. This is the number I’m using for my planning. I could also probably tack on a lower CPM ad as a post-roll, or maybe a 2nd ad.
One problem with podcast advertising that advertisers really only want to advertise on the top 1% of shows. The number which is usually thrown about is that you need 5,000 downloads per episode to even get ad networks interested in talking to you.
Until you can get to that point, it is really hard to monetize via advertising.
When I get to that point, I’ll see a big jump in my ad revenue.
I’m calling 5,000 downloads per episode “escape velocity” because that is really what you need to achieve to get anywhere with a show.
Everything right now is about trying to hit escape velocity. I’m hoping I can do this in late summer 2021.
One reason I’m running ads now is to gather data such that once I can begin bringing regular adverting revenue, I’ll know where I can most efficiently reinvest that money to grow the podcast even faster.
Once the show is bigger, I’ll have more leverage for doing promotions with other larger podcasts.
Until I can get to that point, I just have to grind it out and grow the show one listener at a time.
Beyond advertising, my plan is to eventually run listener tours when that is possible again. These tours will be more vertical than horizontal. They will be deep dives where we just explore the hell out of one city, and see all the things which most people never bother to see.
Because I’m also writing scripts for every episode, I have hundreds of thousands of words which I publish as a book(s) at a later date. I haven’t done anything with this yet just because all my time is taken up researching, writing, and recording a show every day.
Likewise, all of my audio can be re-edited and turned into YouTube videos.
Basically, I have a ton of content that can be repurposed at a later date.
As you can see from the graph, I’ve grown every month except September, and that was because I missed a week worth of shows due to moving. Downloads per episode grew during September, but I just didn’t pump out enough episodes.
February had 60,733 downloads. This was a 14.2% monthly growth over January. Note that February only has 28 days and January has 31, so I had 10% fewer days to count.
For March, I’m estimating 75,000 downloads, but that could be much higher depending on what happens. If I extrapolate the first two days in March, it would be 87,000.
I figure 150,000 per month is where I can start to get ad networks interested. 150,000 downloads doesn’t necessarily mean 5,000 per episode because it also represents downloads from the back catalog.
Not a whole lot to show yet. However, I already have revenue in the pipeline for March, and I had a few thousand dollars in 2020 already.
This is 100% from Patreon this month. This is down $20 from the previous month, but it has to do with merchandise being paid for and shipped. I grossed $214 from Patreon for the month.
Podcast Hosting: $22
I’m hosting with Libsyn. My current plan can cover a month worth of downloads, so I don’t foresee this number climbing as the show grows.
Headliner Monthly Fee: $19.99
I use this tool to make custom videos for Instagram and Tiktok.
This number might be lower or higher in March. I don’t know. I’m not going to renew on two of the platforms I advertised on in February. They didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. Advertising is hit or miss and right now I’m mostly gathering data. As there is so little information available on this topic, I don’t have much choice but to experiment to see what works best.
- Things are growing. The trend is positive.
- I’m nowhere close to where I want/need to be yet. I have to double or triple my monthly downloads to get to that point.
- The primary goal right now is hitting escape velocity.
- I’m constantly looking for promotional opportunities. If you have a suggestion, contact me.
Next month I’ll break down how I evaluate the value of a subscriber and how I use that value to determine the success of running ads to grow the audience.