How to Monetize a Podcast in China with Ximalaya
We had several readers who contacted NMG following our previous post about distributing a podcast on Chinese platforms. They wanted to know more, and the most important question was: “Can I make money with a podcast in China?”
The answer is yes!
In this post we will focus on how to make money by publishing a podcast on the most popular platform: Ximalaya. For our purposes, we consider a podcast to be any audio production other than audiobooks.
First, let’s take a look at the overall market and how people use Ximalaya, before we get into the important money-making details.
The Chinese podcast industry has been growing rapidly. Better yet, many Chinese Internet users are accustomed to paying for content. 42% of Chinese users said they plan to pay for content in the future (source – Chinese).
For 2018 the online book market was estimated to be worth 4.5 Billion Yuan (~650 million USD). We don’t have the specific numbers for podcasting but we can roughly estimate it to be worth at least 130 million USD/year. Another source estimates the broader “pay for knowledge” market in China at 7.3 billion USD/year.
What interests me about the market are two things:
- Ximalaya users can have thousands of sales for their paid content.
- There exist niches that are not yet well covered with high quality content.
There is room for entrepreneurial content providers to jump in, get a head start and make huge earnings.
The growth of podcasts has grown with smartphone usage, and in the past few years this growth has accelerated.
Podcasts allow users to listen anywhere and although audio takes up more data than text, it still uses up a lot less data than video, which suits current smartphone data plans in China.
For some people, audio is the best way to learn. My colleague Olivia explains her opinion in a way that sounds like an economist: “audio provides the lowest cost for information absorption. It only occupies one of my senses – hearing – leaving all my other senses available.”
What is Ximalaya? Who uses it? How do they use it?
There are a bunch of different audio platforms in China. Ximalaya is the largest. One source says they have over 450 million users, but that may be exaggerated. They have 5 million podcasters that post everything from news, music, novels to language training content.
Chinese people can also access western audio platforms, such as SoundCloud and Audible. In our last test, these were accessible although in the past they were not. Regardless, relatively few Chinese people use them.
To check out Ximalaya, just search for the Chinese app “Ximalaya”. There is also an English version called Himalaya, but it is a different thing.
Ximalaya is #1 in its category (books) on the Apple App Store and has a 4.9/5 rating.
47% of Ximalaya users are female, 53% male. Users tend to be on the younger side.
Overall, Ximalaya’s users tend to be under 39 and they have high spending power. They’re distributed across China, in third-tier cities and above.
Internet users in that age range are willing to accept new ideas. They can easily accept the concept of paying for content. They are also moving up in their careers, so they believe in the value of educational content.
For our purposes, we are interested in two categories:
- Urban white-collar workers: They have a busy work life, so it can be tough for them to find dedicated time for learning. But they can make use of short chunks of time here and there, such as the commute to and from work or the time before bed. It is this group that is also the parents of young children.
- University students: They have more time and are extra accepting of new things. They might be willing to invest extra time in education, but they are also likely to absorb entertainment.
Listeners tend to tune in when resting, such as before bed or on their commute to/from work. One trend to look out for is increased listening in the car. China Today reports “Today, Ximalaya works together with well-known car manufacturers such as Ford, BMW, and Cadillac in the development of car entertainment systems for the Chinese market.”
What types of podcasting topics work?
Since Ximalaya is a Chinese platform, most content is in Chinese. Ximalaya allows content in any language though, and there are popular English podcasts on it.
Audiobooks make up 75% of paid content. This is followed by content for children with 13%. The rest is a category simply termed “education”, and then history, business, and language courses.
Audiobooks are outside the scope of this post.
Looking at paid courses, it seems that the same categories emerge, but history takes a bigger share, with 38%. History then seems to be a popular category.
When looking at these numbers, remember that it is only based on the stats that have been made available. Since podcasters can make revenue via different sources, and the data is often private, we cannot know the exact earning potential of each category.
Keep one important fact in mind – they will pay for education.
Two-thirds of users would pay eleven to twenty yuan every month, that’s 1.6 to 3 USD per month, while another 22% would pay more.
Ximalaya Monetization Methods
There are 5 main ways to make money:
- Advertising – profit-share on the platform.
- Be an influencer – charge companies for exposure.
- Paid content – charge users for content
- Get tips
- Promote your own product
Ximalaya targets advertising based on the content and user.
Ximalaya listed some guidelines for how much you can expect to earn with 100,000 listens.
- A “节目冠名” (program sponsor) ad will net you 2-5K Chinese Yuan. That’s a five second ad, such as: “this episode was brought to you by ____.”
- An advertorial is worth 6-12K Chinese Yuan. That would best be read by you.
- A dedicated episode is worth 8-15K Chinese Yuan. That means a special episode that you create just about the advertiser. For this type of advertising, it is even more important that the content is genuinely useful and interesting to your listeners. Otherwise, why would they listen?
Some users feel there’s too much advertising, and there’s even an ad-free version of Ximalaya for download.
All the above is what you should expect to receive from advertisers, with Ximalaya brokering the deals.
Of course, you might also connect directly with advertisers, especially for advertorials and product placements within the podcast. That brings us to the next point.
2) Be an influencer
The ecosystem of influencers in China is very well developed. They are called “KOLs” in both English and Chinese, which is short for “Key Opinion Leader”.
Good influencers focus on a topic in which they are especially knowledgeable. Their listeners trust them, and brands pay to be promoted.
This isn’t unique to China, but it is probably more common and more profitable in China, based on our experience.
3) Paid content
Many feel that it’s easier to charge for content in China than in the West.
It seems that Chinese users are just more willing to pay. Why is that? It’s tough to answer for sure. Why is it that Western users will pay to download music but not podcasts? Perhaps China’s just ahead of the curve on this trend.
Still, the vast majority of content on Ximalaya is free. Of 100 million recordings, only a fraction, 300,000, require payment to access.
During live broadcasts, the host can also receive tips from listeners.
Since this is only useful for live sessions, it requires the host to spend a lot more time. But it provides additional benefits too. You can get closer to your audience and interact in real time.
5) Promote your own product/service
This is the method that I know best. After all, I’ve been posting on this blog for ten years, and my monetization method is to sell our marketing services.
If you have a relevant service, you can definitely attract some interest via your podcast on the same subject matter.
I talked to Ben Worthington of IELTS Podcast. He provides free content to help English learners prepare for the IELTS test, and he also provides paid services. This model works for his English marketing.
He’s also started building up a following on Ximalaya, although it’s quite small compared to other channels for now. For comparison, he has well over 36,000 email subscribers but only 255 Ximalaya subscribers. See his Ximalaya profile here.
Why has it been tough to build a following? We think that’s normal, and we’ll give a few marketing ideas below.
Which monetization method should you use?
You don’t need to stick to only one way of making money.
You can use multiple ways. There just isn’t an easy way to predict what will work best.
There is one important decision you should make ahead of time though – will you offer content for free or will you charge for it? This should have a big impact on both the style of content and target listeners.
If it’s paid, listeners will hold you to a higher standard. As mentioned above, you should aim to educate. You shouldn’t use advertising or ask for tips, but you could still promote a relevant product/service.
If you go the free route, you can reach a larger audience. If you recommend services, they should still be relevant, although listeners will give you more slack.
Before you decide on selling content or giving it away for free, just let me remind you that both ways can work.
Every Western podcaster I’ve talked to has told me that it is very difficult to get non-Chinese listeners to pay. Yet, this model does work for some Chinese podcasters.
It will also take time and grit. Unless you are already famous in China, you can expect that you’ll need to consistently put in work over a year or more in order to make a go of it. While China may be a very good market for podcasting, it is not a winning lottery ticket.
How to Sign Up and Post Content
Ximalaya makes it relatively easy to sign up.
To sign up, you will need to use the Chinese website. It’s free, but you’ll need a copy of your passport. Do not use the English website Himalaya. There’s some overlap, but they are essentially different systems.
There’s a free video course available here. It shows the specific details, like exactly what to click in the interface.
It is possible to post English content on Ximalaya. It will be placed in the foreign languages section. In that case, your target listener will likely be somebody that wants to improve their English language ability. Otherwise, they should be able to find similar content in Chinese.
It’s possible to upload pre-recorded audio, or record live via Ximalaya.
How can you make your podcast popular enough?
Regardless of which monetization model you choose, you’ll make more money by having more listeners. Plus, it’s always better to have a well-targeted group of listeners. If you were to advertise or promote services to a very general group of people, your rates would be on the low side. But if you could laser-target your message to a certain niche group, your earnings per person would naturally be higher.
There are two ways to prepare. The first is to make sure your profile and content are written in a way that catches the attention of users.
Example 1 – To The Point
He has over 120 thousand listeners and more than 600,000 listens so far. Olivia likes him because “he’s funny and teaches people how to speak English.”
His bio is very short. Here’s the translation:
“Learn American-style spoken English and American culture from a real American. Experience another USA. Just come along with Tyler.”
It’s nice, and to the point. Nothing wrong with it. It’s possible that the repetition of words is done on purpose to optimize for Ximalaya’s algorithm.
Example 2 – Catchy Bio
Here’s another example to stand out from the crowd. I find his bio to be pretty catchy.
Translated, it goes like this:
“Host: Albert Zhou
- No famous university education, no major in English.
- No study abroad experience, no English living environment.
- Became an English instructor in a Fortune 500 company at age 22, audio courses used by all employees.
- Became simultaneous interpreter through self-study, interpreted for President of Switzerland at 25.”
It loses a little in translation. I like it because it just drives me to read on. The first two lines make me think “What? Who is this guy with no credentials? And then he marches on to give the feeling that any reader can also become a great English speaker.
By looking at the Chinese text, you might also notice a symmetry. The first two lines are in sets of 8 characters - 8, 8, 8, 8. When spoken, it just flows.
This is the kind of writing that speaks to the heart, and good Chinese writing obviously has its own special considerations. It’s why each of our teams has a dedicated writer responsible for crafting the best possible content.
Ximalaya, just like anything else, gives you a limited space to grab the attention of people and then convince them to move onto the next step, in this case, starting a podcast.
One more thing I’ll mention about his profile is that he chose to go with a professional look. It’s a very standard look among Chinese professionals – suit, tie, glasses, trim haircut. It’s not a bad choice, but personally I would like to test that image with one that shows a bit more personality. I would also bet money that the podcasters who use few words and a large face pic get more clicks than others.
Example 3 – Chinese Harry Potter
Here's one more example. Sun Liang chose to go with the Harry Potter look. It’s catchy too, right?
He reads out Harry Potter in English and Chinese. The first lessons are free but later ones cost 199 Yuan. I can see 18,000 listens on the first paid podcast. And the English quality? … Well, I bet you could do a better job at it than he does.
Tips for Podcast Traffic Generation
Besides writing the bio, it’s also useful to write an introduction to each podcast in Chinese and English. The concepts are similar to what I explained above.
But, after that’s done, how can you drive traffic to your podcast? If your profile and descriptions are really smooth and your content is great, will you get traffic? That’s hard to say. It’s still mostly up to luck. If you continue at it, you should succeed. If you need to gain followers more quickly, you should promote yourself.
Here are a few ways to get started:
1) If you already have Chinese followers elsewhere, let them know about your new Ximalaya podcast. For example, you might inform them via your newsletter or website.
2) Start a WeChat group. Let your followers know. It’s fine to start a group with even just a few people. Share your content there, ask questions, answer their questions. These could be your biggest fans. Encourage them to support you by adding friends that are also interested in your content.
3) One word: Weibo. Weibo is normally the first platform we look to when we’re promoting a totally new account. It’s very interactive and helps spread the word from one person to another. Share your posts on Weibo, share other content as well. Engage in conversations related to your topic online.
4) If you also share short videos, that would help. That could be done on Weibo or a short-video platform like Douyin. To streamline the process, make a video version of your podcast, then cut out some of the most interesting clips and share in video format.
5) Advertising is always an option. It’s expensive but would allow you to move faster. For example, on Weibo, it would be possible to target people that already follow other content similar to yours.
That wraps it up for now.
I hope this post was useful to you. Writing it, I realize there’s still a lot more to discuss and a lot more for me to learn.
What questions do you have? Is there more you’d like to know? Or, is there some useful learning that you can add? Let us know in the comments.