Photo by Matt Duncan / Unsplash
Last month I set up the Apple Podcasts paid Subscription feature for my podcast. In this article we'll go over how it's been going.
What I Offered
I create the podcast Darknet Diaries which regularly gets over 300,000 downloads an episode. I already have a Patreon which has 5,962 subscribers. Patreon subscribers get an ad free version of the show and bonus episodes.
So I set up a "Darknet Diaries+" channel on Apple Podcasts Subscriptions to provide listeners with bonus episodes and ad free episodes for $4.99/mo USD.
It took a few weeks to get all the ad free episodes uploaded and bonus content and to get everything set up. It's now been a month and a half since launch, let's see how it's been going.
New Subscribers Over Time
Let's get right to it. How many paid subscribers do I have after 45 days? 670.
Here's how that's grown over time.
That's an average of 13 new paying listeners per day so far.
Acquiring Paying Listeners
The most incredible part of this is that I've done nothing to convince or even tell my audience that they can get bonus content and ad free episodes through Apple Podcasts Subscriptions (I plan on it soon though). Which means 100% of these customers have discovered this on their own through the Apple Podcasts app. Which is huge.
This means that the Apple Podcasts app is incredible at converting existing listeners to paying listeners. And I think that's the biggest value to all this. For the listener, it's an easy and simple experience to get the paid content. Once they become a listener and get into the show, the app will then start showing them that there's bonus content and ad free content if they become a paying subscriber. And to become a paying subscriber is a simple few click process all done in the app itself. Compare that with Patreon where first I have to tell them extra stuff even exists, then they have to go to a the Patreon website, sign up, enter billing information, and then they have to figure out how they can get the bonus content (either listen on the website, or go through a clumsy method and hoping your podcast player supports adding RSS feeds). In fact 1 of every 10 messages I get on Patreon is how to get access to the extra stuff. But with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, once a listener signs up for the paid version, it's immediately available on their phone to listen to.
In the last 45 days I've had 102 cancellations. That means they became paying subscribers then cancelled their subscription, and went back to just a free listener. I don't know what to make of this. There is no exit interview or reason people give. So I'm only assuming they consumed the bonus content and were done, or didn't think the price was worth it, or their economic situation changed.
One thing Patreon does better here is they do ask people why they cancelled, but more importantly Patreon allows me to make relationships with listeners. Patreon asks subscribers for their home address and then provides their name and address to me. I like to send people stickers for being a Patreon subscriber so that's why I ask for their address. On top of that it opens a communication channel between me and the listener and I get many messages on Patreon. Compare that to Apple Podcasts and I don't even have a single name of any one of my subscribers, let alone their address. So I can't send them gifts or message them to say thanks. Which when a creator can make some kind of personal connection with a paying subscriber, that person will maintain their subscription longer. So without any way to connect or know who's subscribing I should expect a higher rate of cancellations vs Patreon because there's nothing I can do to show thanks to my supporters other than deliver more exclusive content.
New Artwork Options
There's options to add extra artwork in these paying channels when you're setting up. And I highly recommend taking advantage of every opportunity you get when it comes to making your show look cooler on Apple Podcasts. Hire some extra graphic design help if you need to, but it really adds to the subscriber experience to sprinkle in cool graphics and stuff to pull them in more.
Apple takes 30% of all the money I've earned through Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, on top of a $19.99/year fee I have to pay them. I find that to be unusually high. Compare that to Patreon where they take 5%-12% (plus a 9% payment processing fee). Or compare it to Substack who takes 10% (plus a 9% payment processing fee). Or compare it to Supercast who takes 59 cents per subscriber (about 12%).
But the biggest difference is when you compare it against Anchor who just announced a paid subscription option for their podcasts. Anchor will charge nothing until 2023, and then after that only 5% (plus the payment processing fee)! 5% is what Patreon started as and they were profitable at that rate. Charging 3x or more than this doesn't make sense to me. Which honestly was my biggest hesitation with going in.
Now if your Apple Podcasts Subscriber pays for a whole year then they reduce the amount down to 15%. But that is based on a per subscriber duration, not per podcast. Which is kinda weird too.
It's work to set up the paid channel. There's lots of agreements to sign, artwork to create, and messaging to create. On top of that, if you want to add ad free episodes, you have to go back and upload all your old episodes. Or add all the bonus episodes. All these require wav format too so I had to convert from mp3 to wav before uploading. In my case I have about 100 episodes in my back catalog already so going through and uploading 100 episodes took weeks. In fact I hired someone to do it for me as well help in the future since all new episodes need to have their ad free version added too. I wish the process was somehow more automatic, but I'm not sure how that would look yet.
The analytics and reporting is still very clunky. If you want to see how many subscribers you have you have to download a zip file, then extract a gzip file from that, then open that file in Excel, then do a sum on the last column. That's a lot of steps to see how many subs you have. To create the graphic at the top of this page I had to download 45 different reports, and mash them all up. Took me a good 30 minutes.
There's only one price you get to pick for people to pay to subscribe. This is probably fine, but I'm used to Patreon where there are multiple tiers and pricing. People who want to pay $20 a month can, or even they can enter a custom amount if they want and pay more. But Apple only has the one option for how much people pay. I would like to see an option for listeners to pay more if they want, or even a sliding scale is fine. Pay what you want kind of thing like HumbleBundle where you can see what the average person pays and you can decide to pay more or less than that.
Should You Set Up Your Show For This?
If you're considering setting up your show to be on Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, keep in mind you have to pay Apple a $19.99/yr fee and you have to be in an eligible country. So if you get this all set up and nobody subscribes to you, you'll be out this money.
Your mileage is going to vary on how many subs you get. We can take some clues from Patreon though. Graphtreon reports there are 16,048 podcasts on Patreon (not including those with 0 subscribers). And here's how they break down.
14% of all Patreon podcasts only have 1 subscriber. And 41% of all Patreon podcasts have less than 6 subscribers. Podnews reports there are now 672 paid channels on Apple Podcasts. So we can guess and say probably 100 of those have 1 paying subscriber or less.
I always recommend people focus on making their show great first, then grow its size, then try to monetize it. If you do it in the wrong order your show will have a really hard time taking off and you're putting your efforts in the wrong areas.
I'm glad I jumped in on this early as I know it takes time to grow a sizable paying subscriber base, but I'm ecstatic about the size it is already! It stings that Apple takes so much but maybe they make up for that by making it easier for Apple users to sign up. It's been a bit bumpy for Apple for a while as they were setting this up and I did hit a few bugs myself, but it's all been sorted at this point.
I think this is a great service for giving your fans ad free episodes, early access to episodes, or bonus content. Unfortunately it's only available to Apple users which means Android users don't get any of this. So it can't be your only solution for offering bonus content, because of this, I still plan on keeping my Patreon along side this.