The True Cost of High-Quality, High-Value Podcast Production
Okay. Pet peeve time.
A while back, I was listening to a competitor’s podcast, just to scope them out. I'll admit, I was entertained for a while.
Until, that is, the host announced they had a caller on the line, and HELD AN iPHONE UP TO THE MIC on speakerphone to continue their conversation.
My blood pressure shot through the roof. This is a company with which I compete for corporate clients, resorting to a level of professionalism that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school broadcast club.
I will repeat this until I am blue in the face: production value is critical, especially for creators who aspire to make their living through podcasting. If you’re not investing the time and effort needed to make your podcast sound professional and polished, that doesn’t just reflect on you.
If reflects poorly on the entire medium, and undermines the monetary value of the product hardworking podcasters produce. And as podcasting reaches its next inflection point, it’s time for producers to step up the professionalism of their craft and reassert the value they provide to listeners, advertisers and clients.
Pitching the Value of Podcasting
I see this sometimes when I make a pitch to potential clients. They’re hanging on every word, getting excited about the potential that podcasting has to engage their brand’s most dedicated followers.
However, when we reach the subject of cost, I’ve learned to recognize the short intake of breath, the creased eyebrows and the pursed lips of a marketer who has vastly underestimated the costs of producing a podcast.
I get it. We all know someone who produces a DIY show without really putting a lot of effort into sounding professional. One of the wonderful things about podcasting is that it’s accessible to anyone, after all.
But just because anyone can do it doesn’t mean that anyone can do it well. If you’re going to put your brand’s name on a podcast, it needs to meet or exceed the level of professionalism consumers expect in the other media they consume.
Producing a quality podcast involves logistics, guest-booking and scheduling. It requires expertise in equipment, software and acoustics. It entails time-consuming research, fact-checking and interview prep. And all that happens before the recorder even starts to roll—not to mention post-production processing, multi-track editing and file-hosting distribution that provides actionable metrics.
But sure, if a client wants bargain-basement prices, there’s someone out there who will hold an iPhone up to a mic for them, too. Sadly, those kind of cheap production shortcuts make all podcasters look bad and devalue podcasting as a medium.
What Does It Really Cost to Produce a Podcast?
$11,000 per minute of finished product. According to multiple sources I met at the world’s largest podcasting conference this summer, that’s what it costs NPR to produce the industry-leading podcasts it distributes to the world.
(I should note, I’m unable to confirm that figure as accurate. But based on what I know, and the level of quality and detail in NPR’s product, that feels right.)
That’s nowhere near what Podcamp charges its clients, of course. We’re also not on NPR’s level, though I like to think we’ll get there.
But when I’m explaining the value I provide to clients, I make sure to note some other marketing comparables. Marketers won’t bat an eye about spending tens of thousands of dollars to produce and air a 30-second TV spot. Anyone who approached a documentary filmmaker to make a 30-minute film would likewise expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars—or more.
Done correctly, podcasting can offer similar reach and impact as these media—but for significantly better value. Yes, it’s cheaper, but it shouldn’t sound cheap.
That’s why podcasters as a community need to rally around the concept of elevated production value. Our medium is finally coming into its own as a recognized, powerful tool for connecting with listeners.
But in order to compete with established media for listeners’ attention, podcasting must meet or exceed the quality level of those entrenched content creators. And until that level of quality becomes the expected norm, podcasters will bear the burden of having their work undervalued by advertisers and clients.