After our previous post about distributing a podcast on Chinese platforms, several people contacted us to learn more. Their most important question was: “Can I make money with a podcast in China?”
Hint: The answer is “yes”, or we wouldn’t be writing this post. ;-)
In this post, we’ll focus on how to make money by publishing a podcast on the most popular platform, Ximalaya. For our purposes, we’ll consider a podcast to be any audio production other than audiobooks.
But before we get into the money-making details, let’s take a look at the overall market and how people use Ximalaya.
The Chinese podcast industry has been growing rapidly, and, better yet, many Chinese Internet users are accustomed to paying for content. 42% of Chinese users said they do plan to pay for content in the future (source – Chinese).
How big is it? The online book market is estimated to be worth 4.5 Billion Yuan (~650 million USD) in 2018. We can’t find the specific numbers for podcasting, but we can roughly estimate it at least 130 million USD/year. Another source estimates the broader “pay for knowledge” market in China at 7.3 billion USD/year. That’s a huge range. The numbers vary a lot based on what is being counted – all paid content? All content, including advertising? Is educational video included? Etc.
What interests me in the market is two things:
It really looks like there is room for some great new content providers to enter and make huge earnings. Plus, we’re at an early enough stage that it is still possible for entrepreneurs to jump in and get a head start.
A combination of smartphone usage, podcast platforms, intellectual property rights and social trends have been pushing the growth of podcasting both in China and elsewhere.
Podcasts allow users to listen anywhere – at home, in the subway, walking on the street and in the car. And this can all be done without having to use one’s eyes or hands. Although audio takes up more data than text, it still takes a lot less than video, which suits current smartphone data plans in China.
For at least 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.” Each person learns differently, but her comment brings to mind the busy pace of China. Chinese people constantly use their phones, even while doing other things at the same time.
There are a bunch of different audio platforms in China. Ximalaya is the largest, one source says they have over 450 million users, that may be exaggerated a bit. They have 5 million podcasters that post everything from news to music to novels to language training content.
Chinese people can also access some of the Western audio platforms, such as SoundCloud and Audible. In our last test at least, 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 the #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 a 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’re usually interested in two categories:
Listeners tend to tune in when resting, 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.”
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 general “education”, history, business and language courses.
Audiobooks are somewhat outside the scope of this post. Looking at paid courses in particular, it seems that the same categories emerge, but history takes a bigger share, with 38%.
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 can’t know the exact earning potential of each category. Keep one important fact in mind – they will pay for education.
42% of users are willing to pay for content, and another 23% are undecided. Of those that pay, 2/3 would pay 11-20 Yuan/month and another 22% would pay more.
There are 5 main ways to make money:
Ximalaya targets advertising based on the content and user.
Ximalaya listed some guidelines for how much you can earn with 100 thousand listens.
Some users feel that there’s too much advertising, and there’s even an ad-free version of Ximalaya for download.
All of 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 impressions.
3) Paid content
Charging for content is an interesting way to make money, and many feel that it’s easier to do 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 300 thousand 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 now, 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, then 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 at the moment. 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.
You don’t need to stick to only one way of making money.
If it were me, I’d use multiple. But there isn’t a really easy way to know what will work best ahead of time.
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 highly-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 some more slack.
Before you decide on selling content or giving it away for free, just let me remind you that both ways really could 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.
Ximalaya is relatively easy to sign up on.
To sign up, you will need to use the Chinese website. It’s free, but you’ll just 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.
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 12 thousand listeners and 600 thousand 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, I find his bio to be pretty catchy.
Translated, it goes like this:
“Host: Albert Zhou
It loses just a little bit 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. It’s why each of our teams has a dedicated writer responsible for crafting the best possible content.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of words in marketing. Ximalaya, just like anything else, gives you a limited space to first 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 at all. Personally, I would like to test that image along with one that shows a bit more personality. I would also bet money that the podcasters that 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.
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 you don’t promote it, but your profile and descriptions are really smooth and your content is great, will you get traffic? That’s still 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 could 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 for 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 learn? Or, is there some useful learning that you can add? Let us know in the comments.