By Andrea Rumbaugh Houston Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Beau York, founder and CEO of Satchel, a location-based podcast discovery tool says shows launching in 2017 will need a niche or local focus to succeed in the more crowded podcast world. He says, "It's all dependent on whether or not you can connect with the audience."
The three men leaned into their microphones and began their favorite pastime: talking nerdy to fellow comic book, board game and movie lovers. This week's topic was the blockbuster "Logan" and the death of its claw-wielding main character.
"For me and you as avid comic book readers, we understood why Wolverine was dying," Joey Kay said to his co-hosts during an April episode of their year-old "Nerd Thug Radio" podcast. "They could have explained it, I guess, a little better for the average viewer."
Then they launched into a detailed explanation for their "Nerd Thug" listeners. The banter later veered to their favorite non-comic book movie characters and the game Cardfight Vanguard, wrapping up their 51st episode in as many weeks.
As podcasts become increasingly popular, local entrepreneurs like Kay, 33, and his cousins Cory De la Guardia, 33, and Nico De la Guardia, 18, are polishing their radio voices with hopes of turning passions into salaries.
But making full-time money isn't easy, especially compared with the early days, a decade or so ago, when people could build successful podcasts around virtually any topic, said Beau York, founder and CEO of Satchel, a location-based podcast discovery tool.
Shows launching in 2017 will need a niche or local focus to succeed in the more crowded podcast world, he said. "It's all dependent on whether or not you can connect with the audience," York said. "That is the trick."
Fortunately for the startups, that audience is growing. A recent Edison Research phone survey found that 24 percent of respondents had listened to a podcast within the last month and 60 percent were familiar with the term podcasting. That was up from 9 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in 2008.
This growing acceptance is creating more opportunities to monetize podcasts, said John Lee Dumas, who launched "Entrepreneurs On Fire" from his then-home in Maine in September 2012. Last year, his podcast and its related products posted a net profit of $1.7 million.
The "Nerd Thug Radio" trio is not at that stage yet, but the men hope to soon attract national advertisers and, eventually, make the show their full-time jobs.
Being featured on Conroe's FM 104.5 and 106.1 radio stations was key to attracting advertisers Space Cadets Gaming Gaming and Wild Thing Bar & Grill. Kay, who goes by "Joey Savage" on the podcast, and the De la Guardia brothers each pocket about $200 a month.
"It's very easy for people be like, 'Oh, I'm going to podcast and I'm going to make some money doing it,'" Kay said. "But then having to actually get out there and hustle yourself. So basically you're having to get someone to believe in you."
It took Dumas seven months of daily episodes before "Entrepreneurs On Fire" began making money. His advertising revenues, however, zoomed to $12,000 in a single month. He calls it "an amazing time to start a podcast because things were just starting to come together."
Advertising has been key to the success of "Entrepreneurs On Fire," and this type of money is being increasingly allocated for podcasts.
U.S. podcast advertising revenues are expected to surpass $220 million in 2017, up 85 percent over 2016, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reports.
A separate report showed a more modest increase. Media agency Zenith projects U.S. advertising expenditures for podcasts to reach $101 million this year, up from $97 million last year, and grow to $110 million in 2019.
That's still small potatoes compared with the $68.4 billion expected this year in total U.S. TV advertising and the $17.6 billion this year in total U.S. radio advertising that Zenith reported.
Dumas realized that advertisers and affiliates -- companies that pay him to recommend their products -- could take his company only so far. So he used the podcast as a springboard for other business ventures, which include writing books and teaching the art of podcasts and webinars.
And like York, he said successful podcasters will create shows around topics that pique their passions and curiosity. Niche shows are the best way to bring in money right now, he said, though these shows can become broader once the podcast has a core audience.
Anita Joyce's niche is home decorating. The Heights resident is author of the "Cedar Hill Farmhouse" blog and "French Accents: Farmhouse French Style For Today's Home" book. Earlier this year, she launched the podcast "Decorating Tips and Tricks" with bloggers Yvonne Pratt and Kelly Wilkniss.
"It's hard to make an income, I think, with just a podcast or just a blog," she said. "You really have to add some other services."
She started the blog in 2011, and it became her full-time income about three years later. The blog makes money through sponsor companies that pay Joyce to promote their products as well as online advertisers. She also makes money from her book, speaking opportunities and consulting gigs. She declined to say how much she earns on the ventures.
Having this base of loyal followers was essential for launching "Decorating Tips and Tricks," Joyce said. The group released three podcast episodes on their first day that received a combined 9,000 downloads.
Sponsor companies began contacting Joyce and her co-hosts during the first week. They've had at least 10 sponsors since the podcast launched. With three episodes a week, "Decorating Tips and Tricks" gets about 100,000 downloads a month.
Joyce and her co-hosts will soon launch new podcasts around the topics of gardening, cooking and reinventing oneself.
Joyce is no stranger to diversifying. As a blogger, she's pondered a popular industry question: Are blogs dead? Page views are down, Joyce said, yet bloggers are reporting an uptick in income. She doesn't think blogs will disappear, but many people have transitioned to shorter forms of social media. Joyce has incorporated Instagram and the like into her sponsorships packages.
"I still do as well financially from the sponsorships," she said. "But now instead of people just paying for a blog post, they pay for a blog post plus social."
She's not worried about the future of podcasts. Joyce believes they're an even better avenue for promoting companies' products. Hearing her voice makes it more personal, she said, and it's harder to tune out advertisements. A 30-minute podcast episode also captures the audience for longer.
Plus, podcasts are great for multitasking.
"That's the beauty of it," she said. "It goes with you if you're exercising, gardening, driving."
Like Joyce, Dumas said podcasts are made for specific parts of listeners' day, such as commuting to work or going for a run. He doesn't believe they will ever be mainstream because people won't sit around and listen like they might watch television.
York, however, sees podcasts becoming mainstream. He said it's a more intimate experience because people choose to listen to podcasts that align with their interests and passions.
"It really does create such a unique connection," he said.
Brenda Valdivia, creator and owner of the Mocking Bird Network, wants to help Houstonians develop that connection. The Mocking Bird Network promotes a variety of local podcasts and provides them with studio space. In the coming weeks, it plans to offer classes on podcast basics.
Valdivia said Mocking Bird Network has helped some of its podcasts get sponsors and advertisers. She plans to launch a Patreon campaign, an online platform for artists to collect money from their fans, for Mocking Bird Network's expenses including rent and equipment.
Most of the network's podcasts are comedic, but Valdivia is looking to add more community and cultural podcasts.