Most Podcast Listeners Still Lukewarm on Paying for Podcasts, Data Suggests

Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

There certainly has been a subscription revenue boom in the media space in recent years, but it may not have benefited podcasts as much as other forms of media. 

That’s suggested by new data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by YouGov, which in an early March survey found 75% of U.S. podcast user-respondents saying they had never paid in any way to listen to a podcast. 

That figure is essentially indistinguishable from the percentage who said as much when asked the same question by YouGov in June 2020 (read our write-up on that survey here).  

Moreover, willingness to cough up a few bucks for access to podcasts may not significantly change in the near future. YouGov found 83% of surveyed podcast listeners saying they were “not very” or “not at all” likely to pay in some way to access podcasts over the next year.  

That figure was virtually flat when compared with the 80% who said the same in June. 

While perhaps not too shocking to those who keep a close watch on the podcast biz (sorry to reference you here, Luminary), these March YouGov findings provide the latest suggestion that paying for podcast content likely remains something done by a smaller subset of dedicated podcast listeners, rather than the average casual podcast listener.   

That doesn’t mean there’s no money to be made in chasing podcast subscription dollars, as Spotify has confirmed it is planning on experimenting with in some way moving forward.  

Back-of-the-napkin math would suggest somewhere in the ballpark of $13 million could be spent by U.S. consumers (who have not previously paid for podcasts) on podcast access per month over the next 12 months, for example.  

This figure assumes that 2.61 million consumers pay $5 monthly. Multiplying 3% (the percentage saying they’re “very” likely to pay for podcasts) by 87 million (or 75%, the percentage above who said they’d never paid for a podcast before, of 116 million, which Edison Research and Triton Digital just estimated the U.S. monthly podcast listener base to be) gives 2.61 million. And $5 is how much platforms like Wondery/Stitcher charge monthly.  

In respect to growth of the entire paid podcast market, $13 million a month is a conservative figure given it doesn’t capture podcast listeners who have paid for podcasts previously and those who are iffy on paying for podcasts in the future.  

Still, this type of revenue growth could be attractive to indie podcast studios (likely to be the ones reaching dedicated podcast listeners) looking to expand beyond ad revenue in the year ahead. 

For companies like Spotify, $13 million a month is surely unexciting, though moves by tech giants into the podcast space are likely to accelerate willingness to pay for podcast shows. A person is likely more willing to pay for a podcast on an app they already have that has their payment information (like Spotify) rather than an app they’ve never used.  

Companies currently chasing podcast subscription dollars need willingness to pay for podcasts to grow, given sentiment toward the overall podcast ecosystem hasn’t really changed much since March, YouGov data suggests.