People Are Paying Big Money to Be Guests On Podcasts

Zhang Peng/GettyImages

Everyone has a podcast. Some people even have a second or third podcast. We've essentially reached the Audio Singularity. As a result, everyone knows the specific challenges of booking guests for these podcasts. Because anyone who would potentially appear is likely to have their own recording schedule and needs outside voices themselves. Like every other sector, the haves and have-nots have become clearly defined. So while the masses are struggling, the top X percent are thriving and, per Bloomberg, enjoying a new and somewhat dicey revenue stream.

Welcome to the golden era of pay-for-play podcasting, when guests pay handsomely to be interviewed for an entire episode. In exchange, the host gets some revenue, fills out the programming calendar, and might bag a future advertiser.

Determining exactly how widespread the practice is can be tricky. Disclosures, if included at all, might last only a few fleeting seconds in an hourlong interview, and various hosts use different language to describe the nature of such relationships. What percentage of shows accepts payment in exchange for airtime is also difficult to say. According to nearly a dozen interviews with industry sources, it appears the practice is particularly popular among podcasts in the wellness, cryptocurrency, and business arenas.

One platform, Guestio, has raised over $1 million brokering these deals. Travis Chappell, Guestio’s founder and chief executive officer, points out that the typical sausage-making includes public relations firms pitching guests and that the money should go directly to the podcaster. He tells Bloomberg that four podcasters have used the program to generate at least $20,000 over the past six months, including one that broke the $50,000 mark. The suggested charge is $100-$150 per thousand downloads.

Of course, deals that work in reverse are always ongoing. Manny Pacquiao is cited as charging $15,000 per appearance. This financial investment obviously furthers the schism between the viable and non-viable podcasts as the latter attempt to grow.

The problem, if you see it as a problem, is that the practice does not have as clearly-defined disclosures as other mediums the FTC oversees. They tell Bloomberg: "Regardless of the medium in which an advertising or promotional message is disseminated, deception occurs when consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances are misled about its nature or source, and such misleading impression is likely to affect their decisions or conduct regarding the advertised product or the advertising.”

No one appreciates being misled. But it's fair to wonder about the general naivety of the public if it didn't realize that all appearances and cross-promotions are transactional. In exchange for their time and often times elevating the interest around a podcast, a guest gets exposure. If people are willing to pay for exposure, it doesn't necessarily seem like a bad thing. They are using the opportunity for their own commercial and to drive interest in their own properties.

Perhaps some believe that all podcasts are always booking the most knowledgeable guest on a topic without concern for the bottom line, yet continuing that obliviousness seems a hard bit to keep up. I'd wager most listeners long ago came to the realization that guests are chosen primarily based on availability. I'm not entirely sure how the calculus changes if a listener knows the fantasy football expert or nutritionist bought their time because taking everything with a grain of salt is necessary in 2022. Plus, biases and slants are largely no longer detriments but rather attractions.

For now, you can be assured all guests who appear on The Big Lead podcasts are doing so free of charge. Because it doesn't feel right to charge them for their own time. But most importantly because we can't command a significant figure.

This is something to keep in mind, though, as you work your way through your podcast library. If one party seems way more interested in being there, perhaps there's a good reason for that.