Podcasts are booming, but are they really a windfall for book publicity? The numbers are impressive:

  • There are currently over 800,000 podcasts and 30 million episodes.
  • In 2019, weekly podcast listeners totaled 62 million.
  • Fifty-one percent (144 million) of Americans have listened to a podcast.
  • Podcast listening has increased by 122% over the past five years.

Now that podcasts have gone mainstream, major media companies are jumping in:

  • In 2018, iHeartMedia acquired Stuff Media.
  • January 2019, Spotify acquired podcast company Gimlet Media and other properties making it the second largest podcast platform after Apple.
  • May 2019, Sony Music announced a collaboration with podcast developers Adam Davidson (co-founder of Planet Money) and Laura Mayer (veteran podcast producer).
  • In July 2019, Apple announced it would begin producing its own podcasts.

What accounts for this increase in popularity? The combination of easy, portable access, the ability to listen on demand, and the wide variety of diverse, niche programming means it’s easier than ever for listeners to find and stick with shows that reflect their interests.

Not All Podcasts Are Ideal for Book Publicity

On the other hand, although podcasts are a great new vehicle for publicizing your book’s message to an engaged targeted audience, there are a few things to keep in mind.

We’ve had authors acknowledge that, while podcasts are really hot, they only want their book publicity campaign to include the “big ones.” However, a quick reality check reveals that of iTunes’ top 20 podcasts, only four have guest interviews, and then only with household names.

Some podcasts with the largest audiences have become so inundated that they no longer accept guest suggestions. For example, The Tim Ferriss Show, often ranked as the #1 business podcast, no longer accepts unsolicited books. (All books are immediately donated to libraries).

At the other end of the spectrum, many small podcasters also have day jobs and don’t book guests or record interviews on a regular schedule, or they may have very few downloads.

The Requirements for Podcast Guests

As of this writing, January 2020, this medium is in its infancy. Podcasters are still figuring out the best way to monetize their shows, experimenting with advertising, subscription, and “sponsored guest” models. We’ve also noticed an emphasis on reciprocal booking (“You book me on your show and I’ll book you on mine.”), and many are requiring guests to have large social media followings to help promote the interviews afterward.

Podcast advertising rates are currently ranging from $20 for small shows to a whopping $100k+ for the big ones. Tim Ferriss says, “Per-episode sponsorship is currently $54K, and we ask for a minimum of 2 episodes to start.”

Podcast or AM/FM Shows?

Even though podcast listening is exploding, it has a way to go before catching up with traditional terrestrial radio. While 62 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly, 227 million adults tune to AM/FM radio each week. Radio still offers excellent interview opportunities for authors and we recommend including both radio shows and podcasts in your book tours.

The lines are also blurring. AM/FM radio finds enormous additional listenership when released as podcasts following their initial airdates. Radio companies NPR and iHeartRadio are two of the most successful podcast publishers in the world, each boasting around 150 million global downloads and streams.

However, successful radio and podcast campaigns aren’t necessarily all about audience numbers. Terrestrial radio needs to program for as wide an audience as possible, whereas podcasts are more niche. They can delve deeper into their subject matter and, even if their audiences are smaller, they typically have better audience engagement than radio shows.

The Podcast Search

As you can imagine, there are many book review podcasts, for example, BookRiot; the New York Times’ The Book Review Podcast; The Guardian Books; and Just the Right Book; as well as specialty review podcasts like Read to Lead (business and leadership); Science Fiction Book Review; AAWW Radio (New Asian American Writers & Literature); and Black Chick Lit.

Your book may have appeal to other genres as well. With nearly 200,000 new podcasts launched in the last year alone, it can take a tremendous amount of research to find all of the potential targets for your campaign. Some authors think they can simply scroll through the Apple Podcast and Stitcher rankings and send an email blast to the top handful of shows.

If only it were that easy. Many of the podcasts don’t have guests, only record sporadically or are on hiatus, or don’t list any contact information anywhere. And there aren’t many searchable podcast lists online, although I think we’ll see more in the future.

Carney & Associates subscribes to Cision’s expensive online media database, but when it comes to having more information on podcasts, shockingly their response is, “At the moment our vendor does not monitor podcasts.”

I compare it to trying to find blogs 10-15 years ago. Everyone was launching blogs, but there wasn’t an efficient way of finding relevant ones for book promotion. That’s why the podcast research is so slow at this stage. You can find some by googling—for example, 21 of the Best Book Podcasts to Listen to When You’re Not Reading, but they only scratch the surface.

The Podcast Pitch

If you want to pitch podcast hosts, remember you are often approaching individuals, not professional radio show producers, and they require a much more personal approach.

I’d suggest the following:

  • Let them know you’ve listened and are familiar with their podcast.
  • Explain why you think their audience would be interested in a conversation with you. Emphasize the expertise that you have to offer, not the other way around (“Your listeners are perfect customers for my book!”).
  • Include your social media following (many podcasts hosts give preference to guests with large followings) and assure them you will promote your episode heavily.
  • If possible, offer something reciprocal. If you have a blog or podcast of your own, offer to feature them as well.
  • Be prepared to fill out a lot of online contact forms. They typically don’t include hyperlinks so you’ll need to type out URL addresses for relevant links you’re including in your pitch.

In the end, even though podcast research and pitching can be a challenge, you’ll be rewarded by reaching engaged, loyal listeners who are interested in your specific knowledge or book. If you have the time to invest in research, or you can hire a professional publicist, I highly recommend adding a radio and podcast tour to your book publicity campaign!

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About Carney & Associates

For more than 20 years, Carney & Associates has been providing publicity services for authors, experts, products and services that improve our world. We specialize in providing earned media coverage for clients whose mission aligns with our values, with an emphasis on sustainable living, lifestyle topics, thought leaders and books. We share their stories through strategic placements in radio, podcasts, TV, print and digital media.

We originally wrote this post for Nancy Christie’s A Writer’s Place, “Where writers share their tips, thoughts and observations on writing and the writing life, and toss in their “two cents” on the topic of the month.”

Written by Kathlene Carney

Kathlene Carney provides publicity services for authors, experts, products and services that improve our world. She shares their stories through strategic placements in radio, podcasts, TV, print and digital media.