Last updated on March 30th, 2023 at 07:34 pm
As I rollover in bed at night to go to sleep, the last thing I hear before falling asleep is Ashley Flowers’ soothing voice and captivating narration as she has become a daily part of my partner’s nighttime ritual.
Then again the next day while she’s working on her latest project (she’s a phenomenal DIY YouTuber and Broadway actress… but that’s another story for another blog), I get to learn about Gabby Petito or any number of missing persons cases.
You see, Crime Junkie has become one of the top 5 crime podcasts since its inception in 2017. It has amassed over 500 million downloads in less than 5 years. So, having it play day and night in my home is, not only not odd, it’s to be expected. I imagine that thousands upon thousands of homes across the U.S. are experiencing the exact same stories at the exact same frequency.
We’ve become obsessed.
And as such, Ashley Flowers, along with her partner Brit Prawat, were able to take this side hustle podcast (though she says she never considered it a hobby) and turn it into massive bucks.
I’m going to try to break down what I think their annual revenue is, where they can improve, and what they’ve done well to get to this point.
(note: I’ve not had the opportunity to talk with anyone at AudioChuck, the production company behind Crime Junkie, to verify any of my initial assumptions. But, I’d love to, so if anyone knows anyone over there, send ’em my way)
So… how much does a podcast make?
First, let’s look at their bread and butter — their podcast numbers. As of May 2020, Crime Junkie had crossed the 31 million monthly downloads mark. Now, good luck finding episodic download numbers for any individual podcast. It’s a black box. The public gets the aggregate monthly number. Period.
But, if this is anything like YouTube, then we can assume for a healthy podcast that roughly 35% of their monthly listens comes from new content, while the remainder of the the listens come from older podcasts (I’ll break this down in another blog post soon). If that’s the case, we could assume that of CJ’s 31 million monthly downloads, then 10.85M would be on new content. With their roughly 5 episodes monthly (sometimes 6), then I’d assume ~2.17M downloads per episode on average.
With sponsorships, podcasts don’t typically charge based upon all-time downloads. They typically charge a CPM based upon that month’s expected downloads. The more downloads you get in a given month, the more you can charge. And, standard CPMs range between $18-$25. Meaning for every 1000 downloads, you would get $18-$25.
But, here’s where it gets fun. If you listen to ad spots in a podcast, you may notice two things. First, there are oftentimes more than one sponsor. And, second, you’ll hear the same sponsor in multiple podcasts. The first allows a podcast to collect ad revenue from multiple sponsors and the second means they likely give a slight price break to lock a sponsor into a longer term agreement.
My assumption is that the CPM lands in the $10-$20 range for a 3+ month commitment. If that’s the case, with 5 episodes in a month and 3 sponsors per episode at a $14CPM (or a 20% price break from the low end of standard CPMs in order to lock in a long-term commitment), CJ would be realizing about $5.6M from Sponsorships.
That is wholly feasible, if not low.
Now let’s look at CJ’s monthly membership via Patreon. According to a recent interview in the New York Times, CJ’s monthly membership (fan club) has “tens of thousands” of members paying between $5-$20/mo.
To again make assumptions, tens of thousands would mean multiple tens. Let’s stay conservative and say that it’s no more than twenty thousand (or 2 ‘tens’ of) members and they all pay the bare minimum of $5/mo. That would be an additional $100K/mo. in top-line revenue. Or $1.2M annually in memberships (on the low end).
Conservatively they’re showing $6.8M annually so far.
It also looks like they’ve had merch and tours at different times, but both seem to be inactive now (I’ll update if this changes). My guess is that merch ended when inventory dried up, logistics became a hassle, and/or they weren’t getting the traction they desired. And, COVID definitely impacted their tours.
Without an active storefront, I’m not able to make any solid assumptions around their merch sales. But, given it’s inactive, I’m going to assume it’s negligible.
That said, their last US tour was 15 cities with houses in the 800 seat range and tickets selling for about $35 a pop. If they sell out (which I wholly believe they do based upon the cost, house size, and city selection), then they’d see top-line revenue of $420,000.
This puts their numbers at $7.2M.
While the reasoning makes sense, I don’t have access to their books. Still, I believe that to be on the most conservative end of what they’re doing in annual gross revenue.
Now, here’s where I see opportunity for improvement:
- Email or text list — they currently receive more than 568K monthly visitors (275K uniques) to their website. Outside of their fan club, I wasn’t able to find a way to sign up to their contact list. (update: I later found it buried in their events section). Let’s ignore the assumption of 20K members in their fan club and assume they have 50K members, that would mean that they still have more than 225K people who are coming to their site every month that they aren’t able to connect with on demand. Having a clearer path to building your contact list would allow for on demand connection and give ample opportunity to give early drops, let listeners know of upcoming tour dates, survey their audience, and so much more.
- Monetizing their social — they currently have over 1M followers on their Instagram, 343.5K followers on Ashley’s TikTok, 128K followers on Twitter, and 371K followers on Facebook, but appear to only give updates and PR. This is a built in audience (with built in purchase mechanisms) to sell products or convert their social following into members of their fan club by giving teasers of the perks, engaging their audience, and building solid community involvement. With some slight tweaks here they could more easily turn those followers into buyers.
- Create a course — I may be biased (running strategic partnerships for Teachable and all), but with a legion of crime obsessed followers in the millions, it seems highly likely that there would be a significant number of people who would like to know more about how they research their stories or building a podcast or running a digital business or…you get the picture (note: if anyone from AudioChuck is interested in exploring this, shoot me a message — I’ll build the course for you. Seriously.)
Here’s what they’ve done extremely well and where you can learn from them.
- Quality & Consistency — According to DiscoverPods Podcast Trends Report, “Quality content is essential to 97.7% of podcasters, 96.5% of them cherish engaging listeners, and 89.7% of them know that publishing content regularly is important.” Audiences know what to expect and when to expect it. And they’ve not been let down on either quality or consistency for years. This breeds trust. CJ nailed this. With your side hustles, where can you focus your energy to replicate their success? Perhaps you can do this with your newsletter, Instagram feed, blog, etc.? Whatever you choose — Deliver quality. Deliver it consistently.
- Identify a Trend — From Amanda Knox to Steven Avery to Carole Baskin, we cannot get enough of trying to understand the inner workings of criminal minds or trying to piece together the puzzle of the unknown before the answers have been revealed. There’s something extremely addictive about this. What are other areas of interest that are addictive? Or trending? Maybe your obsession with scrolling through Zillow offers an opportunity to become a middle man identifying hot Airbnb locations for budding investors. Look for areas that are trending and capitalize upon it.
- Love What You Do — as much as riding a trend is important, if you can’t see yourself doing it for the long haul, then you’ll never have consistency, quality will drop, and trust will be lost. Make sure that you actually enjoy whatever it is that you’re pouring your energy into. That’s the only way you can sustain it.
Hope this helps you think of the potential every time you ask yourself “how much does a podcast make?”. There’s opportunity everywhere. I truly hope you can take something from this and build something great. If you have anything to add, let me hear it. If you’re thinking of starting a side hustle podcast, let me know so I can subscribe.