How Spreaker Prime Made This Part-Time Podcast Hobbyist Into a Full-Time Podcast Host

How a podcaster made nearly $20,000 in 3 months by trying programmatic ad sales after years of making hardly any money

Business Insider · by Alyssa Meyers

  • Darren Marlar launched his podcast “Weird Darkness” over four years ago, but until recently, he was hardly earning any money from it.
  • “Weird Darkness” is downloaded more than half a million times per month, but since Marlar doesn’t work with a major podcast network, he had no easy way to conduct ad sales.
  • Three months ago, he started using Spreaker Prime, a podcast-ad service that sells ads programmatically as opposed to person to person, and has since earned almost $20,000 in ad revenue, he said.

Podcast advertising is taking off, with the industry expected to bring in more than $1 billion in ad revenue by 2021, but it’s often hard for independent creators to land ad deals.

Darren Marlar, who hosts the paranormal storytelling podcast “Weird Darkness,” had been podcasting with various shows for about a decade before he was able to start earning substantial revenue from ad sales.

“Weird Darkness” airs five new episodes per week to rack up more than 500,000 downloads per month, Marlar told Business Insider. That’s significant for an independent producer but pales in comparison to the listener traffic generated by major podcast networks like iHeartMedia.

This imbalance makes it hard for independent podcasters to sell ads the traditional way, as sales representatives often won’t take on clients with fewer downloads.

“Weird Darkness” first launched in 2015 as a YouTube series and became a podcast in 2017, Marlar said. He found more success with audio than with video, but for the next couple of years, he earned only about $100 maximum in ad revenue per month — sometimes as little as $12.

But when Marlar started using a programmatic-ad-sales platform this year, he found a way to generate about $7,000 in ad revenue per month.

“After the first month, I realized I was making more there than I was at my full-time radio job,” Marlar said.

In only about three months, he’s been able to earn almost $20,000 from the podcast, he said.

Programmatic ads can generate revenue for independent podcasters without sales reps

Over the summer, Marlar began to get emails from a podcast-hosting platform called Spreaker about Spreaker Prime, the company’s programmatic-ad-sales service. Francesco Baschieri, the president of Spreaker’s parent company, Voxnest, described it as “Google AdSense for podcasts.”

Programmatic typically refers to online ads sold automatically as opposed to by a human sales representative, and the automated process also works for podcasts. The ads are dynamically inserted into podcast shows, allowing podcasters to update the ads in their audio files with new ones if they sell additional ads into their back catalogs, which Marlar does.

If a podcast has less than about 50,000 to 35,000 downloads per episode, Baschieri said that show would have a hard time attracting salespeople and advertisers.

“The only shows making money are the very popular shows,” Baschieri said. “No sales rep will agree to do these manual operations if your show is small.”

Spreaker Prime allows podcasts with as few as 5,000 downloads per month to have ads sold automatically, eliminating the need for a sales rep.

Spreaker keeps 40% of the revenue, and 60% goes to the podcaster, Baschieri said. Three months after launching, the program has generated more than $1 million in ad revenue between about 200 podcasts.

Many in the podcast industry favor host-read ads — sold without automation — because they’re more engaging and cost more per impression. But Baschieri thinks programmatic ads will make big inroads in podcasting, as they have done in other digital mediums.

“Selling over the phone and going back and forth with the host works great, but it’s not the way digital media is traded,” Baschieri said. “Every digital medium has been going programmatic over the past few years.”

‘I was floored’: Marlar now earns more in podcast-ad sales than from his full-time radio job

Marlar first tested out Spreaker Prime by using the company’s introductory-level sales platform Dynamo, which doesn’t require podcasters to use Spreaker to build and edit their shows and is open to those with fewer than 5,000 downloads per month. After one month of using Dynamo, Marlar earned $600.

“That’s more than I had made in all my years podcasting combined,” Marlar said. “The first month I was floored.”

The next month, he switched to Spreaker Prime and brought in about $4,000 in programmatic ad sales. The second month he used Spreaker Prime, his check was up to about $7,000.

After three months, Marlar has now earned a total of almost $20,000 from dynamic ads, including the occasional payment from a more expensive host-read ad (sold nonprogrammatically), and additional income from Spreaker Prime’s revenue-share policy.

When Marlar realized he was making more money from podcasting than from his full-time job, he handed in his resignation. But the radio station he works at convinced him to stay on. Still, Marlar’s new income from podcast ads has given him financial stability and allowed him to spend money on promoting “Weird Darkness” for the first time.

Because Spreaker Prime sells ads into Marlar’s archived episodes — which he replays on the weekends when he doesn’t produce new content — he’s also been able to take time off for the holidays while still earning money.

“I knew I was just throwing money down the drain in the past,” Marlar said. “For the very first time in my life, if the radio service were to let me go, I would still be fine.”

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