There are four ways to promote your book on podcasts: 

  1. You can listen to a podcast like this one to improve your skills. 
  2. You can be a guest on podcasts where you talk about your book for free.
  3. You can start your own podcast.
  4. Podcast advertising

Podcast advertising is one of the most undervalued, underused advertising techniques. But before we dive deeper, I want to offer a warning. If you don’t have an audiobook, don’t get into podcast advertising yet.

Podcast listeners expect an audiobook version to be available. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on creating the audiobook first. But if you already have an audiobook or if you plan to have one, it’s a great time to investigate whether podcast advertising can be effective for you.

Last month, Podsights presented research to the International Advertising Bureau. They studied 232 brands across 532 campaigns and found that, on average, $1,000 spent on podcast ads returned $2,420.

That’s a better ROI than you’re likely to find anywhere else, partly because so few people are advertising on podcasts.

When you buy Facebook ads or Amazon ads, you’re bidding against an army. When you buy podcast ads, sometimes you’re bidding against nobody. It’s like pushing on an open door.

I recently interviewed Heather Osgood, who specializes in podcast advertising. She’s the host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook, which is a podcast about podcast advertising for people buying ads. She’s also the CEO of True Native Media, which connects podcasters and advertisers.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: How do authors get started with podcast advertising? What are the steps?

Step 1: Create an audiobook.

Heather Osgood: I want to reiterate that an author needs an audiobook. If you don’t have one, do not invest in podcasting. I love podcasts and audiobooks. When I’m looking to buy a book, I always go straight to the audiobook. Generally, I start with the audiobook, and if I like it, I buy the actual physical book so that I can dive into the printed version. Make sure you know your market and what your market wants. If you’re going to advertise on podcasts, your market definitely wants an audiobook to listen to.

Thomas: In the early days of podcasting, there was only one podcast advertiser for most podcasts, and it was Audible. Hardcore podcast listeners have heard hundreds Audible ads in their podcast-listening lives.

That means podcast listeners not only believe in audiobooks, they already have an Audible membership, and they probably have a stack of credits ready to spend on a book. They just need to know which book to spend it on.

Step 2: Learn which podcasts your ideal readers listen to.

Heather: After you have an audiobook, you must decide where your audience is and who will purchase your book. Hopefully, you have a clear idea of who your customer is. You have written your book for someone, and you must make sure you’re also buying ads to reach that person.

The power of advertising is in the targeting. One of the great aspects of podcasting is that we can get down to specific audiences and topics.

You need to understand your reader/listener and then look for podcasts where those people congregate. If you can speak directly to that person who’s likely to be interested in buying your book, you’ll have a much better chance of making those sales.

Thomas: One way to help you figure out what podcasts to approach is to ask your beta readers and launch team what podcasts they listen to. If you see certain podcasts that multiple readers are listening to, that’s a podcast you need to consider buying ads on. 

It’s not a matter of asking the host’s permission, and it’s not like pitching yourself as a guest. It’s a different exchange where you offer to pay the host to talk about your book.

 If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, the people who listen to history podcasts are the same people who watch fantasy and science fiction. Once you drink the nerd Kool-Aid, you are a nerd. And while it may not be 100% of your audience, it’s a good fit for your audience. And history podcasts have huge downloads. The history category has the largest number of median media downloads. The median download number is five times more than the typical podcast, and yet nobody’s advertising on them. 

Heather: And it’s evergreen content, which is terrific because if you’re running your ad embedded, you can listen to a podcast about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln for a very, very long time. It never goes out of style.

Step 3: Determine your budget.

Heather: You need to establish a budget for yourself. How much would you be interested in investing? Within the podcasting space, there are huge differences between these mega shows and little shows

If your readers say their favorite podcast is The Daily, you might think that it would be a great place to market your book. But you would also need a couple hundred thousand dollars to advertise because it’s a huge show with tons of listeners.

On the flip side, there are many tiny shows out there because now there are over 1.3 million podcasts. Many of those podcasters have very few listeners, and you don’t want to spend $1,000 to reach ten people.

If you’re going to invest a certain amount of money, make sure that audience is viable for you. In most cases, authors aren’t looking for those uber-huge shows because they are such a big investment.

Authors are probably looking for the middle-of-the-road podcast, and that is what I recommend.

If a podcast has a couple thousand listeners, they have a very engaged audience. Those people listen because they really love that show. Listeners enjoy the host and his or her thoughts, opinions, and information. So that engagement level is going to be much higher.

Thomas: There’s a podcast for every budget. If you want to spend $1 million, there are podcast networks that will spend that million for you. If you want to spend $20, smaller podcasts will be thrilled to run your ad. Those smaller podcasts may not have many listeners, but if it is a good fit, every listener will be interested in checking out your book.

If you’ve written a dragon-rider book and advertise it on a dragon-rider podcast, every listener is your target reader. It may be totally worth your $20.

Of course, that doesn’t scale. Podcasting is different than YouTube. On YouTube, I can buy ads for potential readers that I think would be a good fit for my book regardless of what video they’re watching. Maybe they’re watching a music video, and before the video plays, my ad plays. But I’ve somehow identified them as a potential reader based on their demographics.

Facebook is the same way. I target people based on demographics.

Podcasting doesn’t really allow for thin slicing like that. It’s starting to happen a little bit, but for the most part, especially with the host-read ads, you’re paying somebody to read your ad to their whole podcast listenership. You don’t have to get a fancy radio announcer or cool music and produce an ad. That would cost a lot more, and it’s not as effective.

Step 4: Send the host a free copy of your audiobook.

Heather: The power of podcast ads is the host-read endorsement type ad. Ideally, you’d sent the host a free copy of your audiobook, have them listen, and then say to their audience, “I really enjoyed this audiobook I listened to last weekend on my getaway, and you should grab this book and curl up on the couch or go for a long walk and listen too.”

Smaller shows are more likely to do the host-read endorsement, and it is most effective. Bigger shows have less traction around the host. They are less likely to do host-read ads.

Decide how much you can spend and how many people you want to reach.

Step 5: Contact the podcasts you want to advertise on.

Thomas: What are some tips for reaching out to podcast’s?

Heather: One reason podcast advertising isn’t more prolific right now is because it’s difficult to buy podcast ads. There isn’t a central receptacle for podcasts where everybody is listed in one place. You can’t just click over to a platform and say, “I want to buy ads for this kind of listener.”

If you’re buying YouTube or Facebook ads, you go to the platform and buy the ad based on the people you want to target. It’s pretty easy.

Searching for the right podcast to advertise on is more of a manual process. Because it requires more work and digging, it’s more difficult. But the payoff is greater because the engagement is greater.

You start by surveying your audience, and if they all listen to The Daily, but you can’t afford it, look for other news podcasts in that genre. You can drill down and find the smaller shows where your budget could go further.

Contact Individual Podcasts

I like to identify podcasts by genre. If you’ve written a romance, you may find the female lifestyles podcasts are perfect for your book because those are your readers.

If you’ve identified that your audience is more male-focused, think about the type of content they’re going to be around.

You can also open up some of the different platforms that have players and look through podcasts. There is a platform called Player Data FM. It’s a player for your phone as well as a website. You can search for topics through that platform.

When you search, it will show a list of the different podcasts related to your topic. You can use Apple podcast’s search tool as well. Any of the apps out there can be helpful when you’re looking for different shows.

Once you have found the podcast, you can easily Google that podcast or find their website. If you can’t find their website, but you can find them on Apple, many times, Apple has a link to their website or contact information.

Ideally, you want to identify exactly who you should talk to for that podcast and then reach out to them. Sometimes they’ll list rates and stats on their website, and sometimes they don’t.

Keep in mind, many of these podcasters are doing this as a side-project, just like many authors write part-time. If they don’t write you back immediately, it doesn’t mean that they’re not engaged or they don’t have great audiences, but it can be a little trickier to get a hold of them.

Thomas: One way you can find contact info is with the Podcast Host Directory.

Contact a Podcast Network

Heather: You can also identify networks of podcasts. Podcast networks are groups of shows based around a genre or a topic. You might have a true-crime network or a sports network where many podcasts are the same.

Those can be nice because you can approach a network about advertising, and sometimes you can buy across their whole network of shows.

Contract with a Podcast Ad Agency

Lastly, there are companies like mine, True Native Media. We are a representation firm. We work with 60 different podcasts in a variety of different genres. You can talk to us about advertising. In terms of investment levels, the independent podcasters you identify on your own will give you more range in terms of budget. Some of those can be priced very reasonably, but the audiences are smaller.

The networks are going to be more expensive because there are more hands in the pot. They’re going to cost a little bit more.

Representation firms like ours work with clients who can spend $5,000 or more for their campaigns in order for it to make sense to work with us.

Thomas:  Some of you fell off your chairs when you heard $5,000 dollars, which is not far off from what a PR firm would cost. But don’t worry, you can do this yourself. You can work with a smaller podcast and do the labor yourself. When Heather says it’s a manual process, it means actually talking to people, sometimes on the phone.

You may be able to do it all by email. The Podcast Host Directory is helpful if you want to reach out to the podcasts who seem to be hard to contact any other way. The Podcast Host Directory will provide their email address so you can ask if they are open to advertising.

Step 6: Negotiate the cost of ads.

Thomas: Some podcasts have an established advertising rate. But for others, you can negotiate. What does that look like?

Heather: The first step is to get really clear information on the audience size because the last thing you want to do is spend thousands of dollars to reach a small audience.

One of the biggest mistakes podcasters make when it comes to advertising is giving you a big cumulative numbers. They might tell you they’ve had over 100,000 downloads. That sounds terrific for a $150 ad.

But what they neglected to mention is that they’ve been publishing 150 episodes each year for the last 20 years, and that means they have very few listeners.

Cumulative numbers don’t mean anything for you, the advertiser.

Most smaller shows will do an embedded ad-read. An embedded ad-read is when the host of the show reads an ad during the show so that anyone who listens to that episode will hear that ad. It’s terrific. As the advertiser, you want to know how many people you can expect to listen to that episode.

It doesn’t matter how many people listen in a week or how many people listen cumulatively over their 200 episodes in a month.

You only care about how many people are listening to the episode with your ad over a 30-45 day period.

It might be that 100, 1,000, or 3,000 people listen to that episode within a 30-day period.

That number will help you determine whether you are comfortable paying for that size of an audience. Make sure you’re clear about their audience size. If you aren’t clear about how many people will listen to that ad and what your reach is, then what’s the point?

As an author-marketer, you need to know how much your ads are costing you to reach 1,000 people. In the podcast industry, we call it CPM, or cost per thousand. How much does it cost you to reach 1,000 potential readers? Does it cost you $150, $10, or $500?

Once you know, you can do the math and find out what your ROI should be.

Understanding the audience size is so important, and it’s something that is often overlooked.

Thomas: Knowing CPM and the audience size allows you to make an apples-to-apples comparison between vastly different podcasts. That cumulative number is a product of the age of the podcasts and the frequency of the podcast. A daily podcast will have a huge number of total downloads because you have 365 episodes every year. It doesn’t take a lot of listeners multiplied by 365 episodes a year to get a big cumulative number. And yet the per-episode downloads would be very different.

Another podcast, like Dan Carlin’s, is twice a year, but millions of people listen. When he puts out a new episode, people like me stop everything and find two hours in the day to listen to the podcast.

But an author looking to advertise on a podcast must know that 30-45 day download number. It’s the industry standard.

That number allows you to compare the daily podcast with the semi-annual podcast, and you can figure out the size of the audience.

Even after the first 30-45 days, those episodes continue to get downloads. The Novel Marketing Podcast continues to have downloads on episodes we recorded seven years ago. If you have an embedded ad, your ad continues to be heard as long as people are listening to that podcast.

For some products, it’s a problem. If you’re advertising the iPhone 6, but now the iPhone 12 is out, then the ad feels dated.

But most books are just as good six years later. Most novels are timeless. It’s a really great fit between the product that you’re selling (your book) and the format.

Step 7: Supply talking points for the ad.

Thomas: Do we also send them a sample copy of some text to read on the air? Or do you recommend having the host create it themselves? How involved should the author be in creating that ad?

Heather: You want a host-read ad to be as authentic and organic as possible. If a friend says, “Heather, I just started using this terrific skincare product. It’s absolutely amazing. You need to check it out.” I’ll be much more likely to check it out because my friend said I should.

We want the ad to feel like a friend is recommending a book. It shouldn’t sound scripted. You don’t want the ad to sound like you. You want the host to personalize it as much as possible.

On the flip side, you know the unique selling proposition of your book and why people are attracted to it. We recommend providing four or five talking points for the host to choose from. Then give them free rein to use as much personal experience as needed to make that ad feel authentic.

Thomas: Your talking points provide the host with the ingredients they need to cook the meal that will resonate with their audience. 

If you send five bullet points, but the host reads your book and uses a sixth point to sell it to their audience in the ad, don’t email them and complain.

They know their audience, and it’s likely they’ve chosen the best bullet point to highlight the benefit of your book. Even if it wasn’t the best argument they could make, the fact that they made it in an authentic, believable way will be more effective than reading the obligatory party line.

This is just one more reason podcast advertising is cheaper. Many advertisers don’t want to work through the steps. While the extra work might seem like a downside, it’s actually the best part of podcast advertising. You’re not bidding against those people who aren’t willing to do the extra work, and therefore you’re paying less for that ad than you will for the same ad years from now when the technology is better.

Heather: When I worked in print, we used to talk about ad clutter. Sometimes a publication is made up of 75% ads. Your one ad doesn’t stand out amongst the ad clutter.

Same with Facebook. We constantly see ads on Facebook. And they are effective, but when you are constantly bombarded by ads, individual ads do not stand out.

On the other hand, there are many podcasts out there right now with zero ad messages in them. It floors me! I look at the media landscape, and I can’t believe how many listeners we have who aren’t being served ad messages.

Now is a great time for advertisers looking to reach an engaged audience. Listeners of these smaller and mid-level podcasts don’t hear many (maybe not any) ads. When your ad runs, you will stand out in such a strong way. It’s so valuable for you to be highlighted in a way that’s not followed by 20 other ad messages.

Thomas: And that’s not always going to be the case. Right now, you’re not bidding against anyone else when you approach that podcast and ask to be a sponsor. Usually, no one has approached them before, and they’re glad to accept your $20 offer.  

 You can smile all the way to the bank because you’re selling dozens or hundreds of dollars of books off of that ad because nobody else is advertising there.

Not many authors are using this strategy right now. Most podcasts are self-funded. The Novel Marketing Podcast is funded by our listeners and our Patrons. I advertise my courses, and I’m the only advertiser on this show.

This is not an old, tired technique. You’re out in front of the case studies here, which is a little crazy because podcasting is not new, and there have been podcasts that promote books.

Pro Tip: Cross Sponsor Audible Ads

You may want to look for podcasts sponsored by Audible and ask to co-sponsor their Audible ad. You can say, “I know Audible encourages you to recommend a specific book. Can I pay you to recommend my specific book?” It allows them to double-dip on the same ad spot, and as long as your book is a good fit for the audience, everybody wins.

Heather: That is a brilliant idea because there are so many podcasts out there advertising Audible. The other little secret about Audible is that their affiliate program pays well. Many podcasters will run Audible ads just as an affiliate, and they may be very open to paying you in partnership with Audible so that they can double dip for that, and everybody wins. Good recommendation.

How do advertisers navigate the lack of marketing data from podcast ads?

Thomas: One thing that scares a lot of people away from advertising on podcasts is the fact that you don’t get the same data that you get from Facebook advertising.

When I advertise on Facebook, I can see exactly how many people clicked, what mood they were in, where they were living, what kind of device they were on, and then I can follow them around the Internet for the rest of their lives and peer into their souls and know their innermost secrets.

With podcasting, you don’t get that kind of data. It’s a more private ecosystem.

Does that mean that we shouldn’t buy ads on podcasts? How do we navigate that lack of marketing data?

Heather: There’s no doubt podcasts lack marketing data. But more information is available than there used to be. If you are dealing with an independent podcast, which most of you will be, they’re probably not going to have the rich data you’re looking for. As an industry, we really don’t have that rich data. You have to decide if you’re OK with that. And if you aren’t, then don’t run podcast ads.

For a long time, traditional, offline radio and newspaper advertising had absolutely no idea how many people they were reaching or how effective their ads were.

Thomas: I hosted a drive-time radio show, and I asked the station how many people were listening to my show. They could not answer me. They didn’t know.

They would say a segment was good or bad based on how many people called in. But that had more to do with how controversial I was.

When advertisers compare Facebook or Google ads to podcasting ads, they are startled by the lack of data. They can’t re-target people. They can’t pixel them. But we still have more data than we did in the radio world. Podcasters know how many people are listening. We know what countries and cities they live in.

Heather: It’s so fascinating because when you look at the billions of dollars that are spent on TV, which is not nearly as trackable as other forms of advertising, billions of ad dollars get spent where there isn’t the trackability.

In our industry, marketers have always wanted rich data. Suddenly, we’re like kids in a candy store because we have so much detail. It’s difficult for people to pull back from that and be OK not having the mountain of data. What does that mean for your campaign? Is it OK that you don’t have all that data?

It’s more important to identify the market you want. Even if you don’t know exactly who is listening, you can look at the content of the show and determine fairly easily who is listening to the show.

If you’ve got a history podcast and you’re talking about the Civil War, you can pretty much guess who’s going to be listening. If you’ve got a show about parenting and motherhood, it’s not difficult to guess who the audience is.

Look for podcasts your audience or your target market would listen to. And then determine how many downloads have occurred for that episode and what countries they are in.  

That type of information is available.

Thomas: And you can still answer the most important question: Was this effective?

Assuming you’re not simultaneously running Facebook and Amazon ads at the same time as your podcast ads, you’ll be able to get a pretty accurate idea of how many sales resulted from your ad.

If you’re only running one campaign at a time, and you’re only spending money in one place, you can see your baseline. Let’s say my book is normally selling ten copies per day, give or take five copies. That’s your variation. That means I’m selling 300 copies per month.

When you start podcast advertising, you can compare that period of running podcast ads to the period before the podcast ads. But you need to account for the fact that it takes people a while to listen to a podcast.

The results of podcast advertising take longer to see. It’s not like a BookBub Featured Deal where you go from selling ten copies per day to selling 3,000 copies in one day and then back down to ten a week later.

A successful podcast ad will ramp up sales quickly and then trickle off after the campaign ends. But it will trickle off slowly because people will listen later.

Heather: If you’ve got a baseline of sales, it will be easy to determine whether your podcast ads boost your overall sales.

It’s important to remember that podcasts are slow-moving vehicles because people will listen to this episode for years to come. And sometimes podcasts get more listens in the second month than they did in the first month. You must realize podcast advertising isn’t like YouTube or Facebook, where you want to reach 10,000 people today, then you just buy an ad and reach 10,000 people that day.

If you’re projecting that your ad is going to reach 10,000 people, it may take at least 30 days to get that number of people to listen.

It’s also important to remember that one impression isn’t typically going to be enough to get people to run out and buy something. They’ll need multiple impressions of that one ad.

If you only buy one ad on one podcast, it’s not going to produce results. You’ll need to buy multiple ads on a single podcast over several months to see real traction and results from your campaign.

Thomas: You also host The Podcast Advertising Playbook. Many listeners of the Novel Marketing Show have started podcasts, and they’d like to start selling ads. 

We’re creating a market right here. Authors want to advertise on podcasts, and other authors are starting podcasts. Together they have the potential to make some great music. If you want to learn how to sell ads, I encourage you to listen to The Podcast Advertising Playbook hosted by Heather Osgood.

Now is a prime time for authors to buy podcast ads on smaller and mid-level podcasts. Pop into the Facebook group and share your experiences with podcast advertising.

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