Australia might be in the midst of a podcast boom, but that’s not to say anyone’s making much money out of them, yet. Most podcasts produced in Australia (aside from the ABC’s) are supported by advertising, and even then, they’re not making huge profits.

The first truly high-quality podcast to achieve blockbuster popularity, Serial, didn’t make any money and relied on crowdfunding for its second season. Since then, the question of how to profit from the still-growing format hasn’t been resolved. The vast majority of podcasts that aren’t supported by public radio or legacy media rely on advertising, with some also running membership or donation programs. US for-profit podcast company Gimlet Media has included branded content and advertising across its titles, as well as selling some of its concepts for video development. One of Gimlet’s competitors, Panoply, managed to get its GE-branded podcast to number one on the iTunes charts.

All of Australia’s major commercial radio networks have paired up with international audio platforms to distribute their podcasts. Southern Cross Austereo is working with PodcastOne, which claims to be the US’ biggest podcast network. And the ABC has made a concerted push into the format, including a $1 million podcast fund announced last year. They are regularly announcing new additions to their podcast lineup.

Acast’s former chief revenue officer Sarah Van Mosel told Nieman Lab in 2016 that on-demand audio content is likely to follow a similar path to that of digital video. It’s a view shared by Audible head of Asia Pacific Matthew Gain — and a hopeful one considering the success of streaming video on demand platforms such as Netflix and Stan.

Gain told Crikey that it was unlikely that podcasts — no matter how popular — could be profitable and sustainable on advertising alone. Audible made its name and business model around audiobooks under a subscription model, and has recently been trying its hand at podcasts (or “short-form audio content”), including in Australia, with an audio series last year about marriage equality.

“Advertising will always be there, but the vast majority of podcasts aren’t making a vast amount of money from advertising,” Gain said. “We have no plans at this stage to be an advertising funded service. People are more than willing to pay for good quality content.”

Gain said that while the start of the podcast boom is widely attributed to Serial (produced by long-running radio and podcast program This American Life) there are a combination of factors responsible for changes in listening habits, including long commute times. Research out of the US last week found an increase in the number of Americans consuming books in an audio format. And research from the ABC last year also found an increase in the number of people listening to podcasts in Australia.

Gain said that Audible was planning to produce more audio content out of Australia, with stories that would appeal to a growing audience, both in Australia and globally. “I do think it’s going to keep growing, and that’s because Australians are getting more and more busy. The beauty of audiobooks and audio content more broadly is it allows us to make the most of time when you’re doing other things,” he said.

He said research that indicated podcast listening was mostly concentrated in inner city areas, and especially in Melbourne, was unreliable because it was a relatively new format. “It’s so early in that space there’s not a fully-established marketplace, and we hope that that keeps growing,” he said. “Our members aren’t confined to the urban centres: we have customers who take long trips to their neighbours’ houses, truck drivers moving across the country, I don’t think this is just an urban thing.”

Peter Fray

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