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6 Ways to Make Money from Audio Content

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October 24, 2020 8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you’re in a content-centric business — you write books, sell courses, run coaching programs, etc. — it’s worth paying attention to this emerging trend in content monetization. Audio.

Audiobooks and podcasts have taken the content publishing world by storm in recent years and the market’s impressive growth is projected to continue. If you haven’t started monetizing content in audio yet, this article will suggest several great ways to get started, with real-life successful examples for your inspiration. Some of them don’t even require you to create any new content.

But first, why should you create content in audio?

It is popular (and getting more so by the day)

For eight years straight, audiobook sales have experienced revenue growth in the double-digits, with sales totaling $1.2 billion in the U.S. last year. Similarly, the podcast market continues to grow – there are now 100 million monthly listeners in the U.S. alone. 

Audio content’s rising popularity can largely be attributed to the fact that we’re all living hectic, on-the-go lifestyles. Multitasking is the new norm, and given that the average American adult spends over four hours per day on their smartphone, mobile-friendly audio content is perfectly suited to capture your audience’s attention. 

Related: Why Audio Content Works for Engaging Audiences

The production cost is low

Unlike video, you don’t need makeup, lighting or an expensive cameraperson to make quality audio. All you need to get started is a decent microphone.

Done professionally, the cost of video production can range from anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per minute, as you need to factor in things like equipment, editing, a production crew and more. 

On the other hand, audio production is fairly inexpensive, and even more so if you choose to narrate your audiobook yourself. To start a quality podcast, you can expect to pay around $200 to $500 total for the equipment, editing and software — a far cry from what it would take to produce video content.

The content engagement is high

Because audio content enables people to listen everywhere, consumers don’t need to sit down and carve out time like they do when reading a book or watching a video. Therefore, there are many more opportunities throughout the day for your audience to engage with your content.

One study found that over half of audiobook listeners choose audio content for its convenience, and 41 percent enjoy audiobooks because they can listen when reading is not possible. 

Now if you’re considering selling your content in audio format, what are some of the ways to go about it?

1. Sell an audiobook version of your ebook

If you’ve already written and published books, fiction or nonfiction, you can immediately act on this option.

While fiction audiobooks still make up the majority of sales, nonfiction sales remain solid and are expected to grow by over 25 percent annually in the coming years. So if you’ve already published a nonfiction ebook, there’s never been a better time to convert it to audio. 

When nutrition coach Joyce Laszloffy first published her I Kicked Sugar program as an ebook, she made only 80 sales in an entire year. But after converting the same content to an audiobook, she sold 4,000 copies in three months. When promoting her program via Facebook advertising, she found that her audiobook offer stood out and garnered more attention amid a sea of health and fitness ads.

Fiction authors can also boost their success with audio. Children’s story author Fahad Tasleem picked audio as his main content format after getting feedback from parents. He made over $100,000 from his Quantum Chronicles audio series alone last year.

2. Sell your webinar or live event recordings as audio courses

Do you host live workshops, seminars or webinars regularly? If so, repurposing your live recordings into audio courses may allow you to create an additional income stream without additional work.

Heather Robertson, a weight loss coach, did just that when she created her membership program, “Half Size Me,” which now has close to 1,000 subscribing members. Webinar recordings and various audio recordings are the mainstays of the program because they are convenient to create and easy to consume. Similarly, personal growth teacher Matt Kahn records the talks from his live events and sells them as audio courses.

3. Sell a streaming library as a subscription

For creators who have a large number of existing recordings or record content regularly, take a page from the business model of Audible and , and consider offering your entire recording library as a streaming subscription. Selling a subscription provides recurring income and predictable revenue. It also allows you to build a loyal audience who tune in to your content regularly. 

Selling audio streaming subscriptions is not just the specialty of blockbuster platforms. Many independent creators have done it successfully. Renowned meditation teacher Andrew Johnson packaged his life’s work of over 30 meditation albums as a subscription program, and he made over $10,000 on the program’s launch day alone. The ease of access that the audio streaming format provides is a big draw to his program.

Or take author and activist Marianne Williamson, for example. Since she gives talks every week, she has enough content to offer them as both video and audio subscriptions to fit different customer needs.

4. Sell premium (a.k.a. paid) podcasts

If you have a free podcast that’s attracting a growing number of loyal listeners, consider creating a paid version of it. This option is likely more profitable for independent content creators than selling advertisements. 

It takes serious listener volume to make a meaningful profit from ads. If you have 1,000 regular listeners and are publishing a weekly podcast with two 30-second ads per episode, you can expect to make around $144 a month. Additionally, many podcast ad sponsors have minimum download number requirements.

In contrast, if you create a paid podcast that charges $10 per month, and 10 percent of your regular listeners sign up, your monthly revenue would be $1,000. 

One thing to note is that the run-of-the-mill interview-style podcast may be easy to create, but it’s usually not good enough to be the flagship content of a paid podcast. Creators who run successful premium podcasts tend to share some common traits:

  • Have a distinctive point of view 

  • Offer information or teaching not available elsewhere

  • Exist in a well-defined niche that an audience feels passionate about

Controversial radio personality Jeff Fillion, the host of the popular RadioPirate premium podcast, is an example of someone who embodies these traits. Love him or hate him, he has a clearly defined voice and set of opinions, and his niche content is in contrast to what you can normally find in most mainstream media. Together, these qualities have enabled him to attract a loyal audience willing to pay for his podcast.

Related: 5 Vital Aspects That Make a Podcast Show Succeed

5. Convert your YouTube channel or blog into a paid audio series

You may be surprised to know that you can actually sell your content that’s already available for free. For example, Canadian vlogger Shi Tao sells an audio program with hundreds of subscribers. Many of the episodes in the program are audio versions of videos on his YouTube channel.

Why does this work? Again, audio content’s convenience and ease-of-access is a value add for customers on its own. When watching a YouTube video, you must either be on your computer or keep your phone active to view the content. But if you’re streaming audio, you can listen anywhere with ease.

6. Publish free podcasts as lead magnets for your paid content

Given how popular podcasts have become among consumers with high purchasing power, if you’re not using free podcasts as a lead generation tool for your paid content, you’re missing out!

USA Today bestselling novelist Sarina Bowen publishes the First Chapter with Sarina Bowen podcast, which offers free sample chapters from her paid audiobooks. Sales coach Victor Antonio runs the popular Sales Influence podcast, and many of his episodes are snippets from his paid training materials. They help drive listeners to his paid content. 

Related: Is Audio the Future of Social Media? Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thinks So

Whether you’re converting your ebook into an audiobook or creating a new premium podcast, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to monetizing your content in audio. By offering your audience an audio option, you not only create another income stream but also boost the content engagement from your customers, many of whom are craving the intimate and personal listening experience provided by the audio medium. Now that’s a win-win situation.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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