The aim of the program was hard to argue with: podcasters should get paid, regardless of how many listeners they have. RadioPublic says the program it created to do that was, by some measure, successful with more than 3,500 podcasters signing up. But CEO Jake Shapiro says monetization isn’t the business the PRX spin-off wants to be in, and last week the Paid Listens program was shut down.

Launched in February 2018, the Paid Listens initiative was fairly straightforward. Any podcast that signed up would make ad-free episodes of their shows and then RadioPublic would place ads on its platform that bookended each episode consumed on its listening app. It said that would guarantee podcasters payments, saying regardless of how many listeners the episode got the ads would be sold at a $20 CPM. The eventual plan was to sustain Paid Listens by giving listeners the ability to pay podcasters directly to skip them.

“As with many things in the rapidly evolving podcast world, Paid Listens has been an experiment,” said Shapiro. “Ultimately, we have decided to focus our attention and resources on the set of tools that are helping podcasters grow and engage audiences on and beyond RadioPublic—like our podcast marketing landing pages, the embed player, Podsites and other features available to RadioPublic Basic and PRO podcasters.” In a blog post Shapiro said that hundreds of thousands of listening hours were logged to shows that were part of the program, resulting in “tens of thousands of dollars” in per-listen payments to show producers.

In the nearly two year since Paid Listens debuted, the embrace of podcasting by advertisers has only grown firmer and Shapiro said that he believes their initiative has helped influence other companies to explore new ways to help podcasters monetize their content. “We are also encouraged to see more industry solutions emerging for small podcasters to monetize – from listener support to sponsorship marketplaces, and our own PodPass proposal,” he said. Shapiro estimates that if the big podcast apps like Apple, Spotify and Pandora were to create such a program it would result in anywhere from $100 million to $250 million in additional revenue for show creators. 

As RadioPublic winds down the Paid Listens program, it has lowered the threshold to receive a payout to $15 to ensure more participating shows get paid. All shows with a balance of $5 or more will get a free month of RadioPublic PRO.

Podcaster and public radio distributor PRX spun-off RadioPublic as a freestanding unit in 2016 with the mission of distributing podcast content. The effort included financial backing from big-name media organizations such as The New York Times, Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, American Public Media and McClatchy.