Reality Checking Account For Your Big Podcasting Dreams

Evo Terra
5 min readMar 23, 2021
stacks of money
Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Low startup costs get people as excited today about podcasting as was the case 15 years ago. But with the rise in some podcasts’ popularity, are you considering the real costs to compete at the top?

How big is your thinking for your podcast? How big are your expectations of your podcast? When James Gordon Bennett started the New York Herald back in 1835, he wanted it to reach everyone in the city. With the equivalent of about $10,000, he created the first mass-circulated daily newspaper.

Just 15 years later, repeating that feat-creating mass-circulated daily newspaper-would cost $2.5 million dollars. A 250x increase. In just 15 years.

That story was often told during the formative years of the Internet as proof of the ‘net as being “the great equalizer”. Thanks to the digital nature of the internet, startup costs to reach everyone with your website became trivial.

The Massive Cost To Reach The Masses

Looking back that far, it’s unlikely the equipment that transferred the ink to the paper became drastically more expensive in those 15 years. So what did get more expensive almost 200 years ago? Achieving mass circulation.

Huge rolls of paper. Vats of ink. Bigger and faster presses. A fleet of delivery trucks. Creating a distribution mechanism from scratch. And an army of newspaper boys, I guess. If you wanted to publish the must-read daily paper that captured the hearts and minds of a major metropolitan area, you had to out-hustle the other would-be publishing magnates trying to do exactly the same thing.

On the surface, it seems a very different world for those with the aim of making a podcast that reaches true mass circulation. A show that’s widely listened to by everyone, not just lauded by those of us within the podcasting industry.

Podcasting has been around for well over 15 years yet hasn’t seen those huge startup costs increase precisely because we are digital, not physical. OK, maybe the really big shows find it easier to pay for more expensive microphones and professional editing software. But those costs aren’t 250x more. So the startup costs on infrastructure for podcasting haven’t changed much in 15 years or more.

Podcasting also doesn’t have high distribution costs. Thanks to the internet, it’s much cheaper to move electrons than move paper. From a business perspective, the difference in bandwidth costs to reach 100 people, 100,000 people, or 10 million people are negligible, and any increases in cost would be easily offset by the most ham-fisted of programmatic ad implementations.

But All Things In Podcasting Are No Longer Equal

15 years ago, podcasting was small potatoes in both show selection and audience size. By April of 2021, we’ll be able to say there are millions of podcasts available and hundreds of millions of podcast listeners in the US alone. And while the costs to add one more podcast to that list and make it potentially available to all of those people haven’t gone up at all, the cost to actually reach them has increased. Big time.

You’ve probably heard me utter the words “Podcasts tend to get the audience they deserve” more than once. Every time someone reaches out to my company to help them grow their podcast, I repeat that mantra and follow up with a two-step path that we can provide:

  1. Pitfall-mitigation and avoidance to make sure there are no blocks or barriers to would-be listeners (which happens a lot).
  2. Quality matters, especially when listeners are spoiled for choice.

That’s it. Get rid of all the dumb things you’re probably doing on accident, focus on making an incredibly high-quality show that listeners can’t get anywhere else… and see what happens. If the audience loves it, they’ll love it! Your podcast will then get the audience it deserves, thanks to the amazing equal-opportunities enabled by the internet.

But now I’m realizing that’s no longer the case. And probably hasn’t been for some time now.

Putting Podcasting On The Payroll

The harsh reality is this: There’s competition at the top. A lot of competition. A lot of expensive competition. So while there’s a chance that a pitfall-free, high-quality podcast in 2021 and beyond can still become a breakout success that achieves mass circulation, the odds of that happening are dwindling. Rapidly.

Today, and certainly tomorrow, a third step is required: promotion. Marketing, advertising, PR… all those “dirty words”. Doing it right, strategically, and focused on an achievable outcome will likely require more personnel and budget than most podcasters can afford. But it’s our reality nearly two decades into this industry.

But of course, this is only a reality for shows laser-focused on achieving mass-circulation. There are and will always be plenty of podcasts that don’t want massive circulation. Plenty of shows that are big enough and sustainable for the people involved. Not everyone has the budget-or desire-to invest in shooting for mass-market appeal for their show. And that’s OK.

How big are you thinking about your next show? Are you ready for an extensive promotional plan? How are you going to fund that? How much risk are you willing to take if you really do think your podcast should reach everyone? Are you up for that?

If this helped you think about this at all, please go to, because this show is one of those that is never going to have mass appeal. Nor was it designed to have mass appeal. Knowing you get value out of it is enough for me.

And feel free to mention this episode to a friend who’s thinking about growing a really big show. Maybe it will give them the reality check they need.

I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.


  1. Pitfall-mitigation and avoidance to make sure there are no blocks or barriers to would-be listeners (which happens a lot).
  2. Quality matters, especially when listeners are spoiled for choice.


Originally published at, where it started life as an episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇

Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler.Media, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.

Evo Terra

Professional contrarian. On a mission to make fiction podcasting better. he/him. คุณ | |