In the podcasting world, recent announcements about Apple Podcasts and Spotify supporting paid subscriptions have generated a lot of buzz about the latest trend: private podcasts.
So, what are private podcasts, and what makes them a good idea? Just from the name alone, you can probably guess that private podcasts aren’t available to just anyone. So why would a podcaster who’s looking to build an audience (and earn those sweet sponsorship deals) consider going private?
It’s a good question—but there are plenty of great reasons why private podcasting can be a beneficial choice for many podcast creators. Read on for an in-depth explanation of what private podcasts are, when to use them, and how to create and distribute one of your very own.
What Are Private Podcasts?
A traditional podcast works by being distributed via RSS feed. Anyone around the world can download each episode using podcast directories like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. So what on Earth is a “private” podcast—how do you find and listen to one, and why would anyone limit their podcast audience like that?
Well, private podcasts are what they sound like: they’re made for a limited, private audience, and they’re not accessible by the general public. They are on a feed that isn’t listed online or on podcast directories. Instead, the creator distributes the RSS feed URL directly to the audience.
How to Listen to a Private Podcast
Listening to a private podcast is very similar to a public one, but with one major difference: the subscriber doesn’t find the podcast in their podcast app or player of choice.
Instead, the podcast creator sends each private subscriber their own unique RSS feed, usually via email. The subscriber then manually enters that RSS feed into their directory. The directory then automatically downloads new episodes like it would for any other podcast.
Most of the popular directories support private podcasts, including:
- Apple Podcasts
- Google Podcasts
- Pocket Casts
- Podcast Addict
Are Private Podcasts Effective?
As you might expect, the effectiveness of a private podcast depends on the goals you’re trying to meet. If you’re looking to expand your audience and gain a huge following, you’d likely want to go the traditional podcasting route.
After all, most people won’t be able to access your content if you keep it private.
Also, if you don’t already have an audience that’s willing to pay money to listen to your private, it’s likely that gating your podcast will mean the number of its listeners will be few to none.
But private podcasts can be very effective for other purposes and goals, which we’ll get into more below. If your reason for creating a podcast is to have an easy way for your audience to access your content conveniently and securely, without the whole world having easy access to it, then a private podcast can be an extremely easy and effective way to do that.
When to Use Private Podcasts
The right time to use a private podcast is when you want to create content for a specific, limited audience. There are a few common situations where a private podcast is preferable, such as:
1. Membership Sites
Creating a private podcast is a great way to keep your content gated and exclusive for paid members only.
Do you have a private site or members area for your subscribers? If so, providing a source of audio content can be a great way to connect with your existing audience and give them yet another reason to keep paying for a membership to your website (or join your member’s area in the first place).
2. Premium Subscriptions
If you’re looking to monetize your podcast but don’t love the idea of finding sponsorships, creating a private podcast feed could be the solution for you. Your hardcore subscribers can pay for access to that special feed with additional, “bonus” episodes.
Private podcasts are a useful tool for college or high school e-learning courses. Professors can upload recordings of lectures or create supplemental audio materials, then distribute them on the private feed so that only current class members can access it.
Companies may have content they want to distribute internally to staff, such as training materials, corporate news, a message from the CEO, or other company-wide communications.
With more and more organizations embracing remote work on a permanent basis, audio content is a great way to connect remote teams and make sure everyone has access to shared information.
Are Internal Podcasts a Good Fit for All Companies?
Using a private podcast for internal communication comes with many benefits, like making corporate leadership more accessible and meeting younger employees in the communication channels they already use. Podcasts are also a great way to distribute information among a large, dispersed workforce.
But there is a downside to this communication method: since a podcast is by its nature very one-way, you’ll need to have a strong company culture already in place that encourages and rewards feedback in other ways so that employees don’t feel like your podcast is simply corporate propaganda.
The best way to determine whether a private podcast is a good fit for your company is the simplest—ask your employees if they like the idea!
How to Create a Private Podcast
So, private podcasting sounds like something that would benefit you? Great!
Now you’re probably wondering how you create one—and how the creation process differs from making a standard podcast. We’ll explain the basic process and the difference in distribution methods below.
How Do I Record a Private Podcast?
As you might imagine, the process for recording a private podcast is the same as any other podcast. To record a podcast episode, you’ll need the following:
- A laptop or desktop computer
- A podcasting microphone—we recommend one with both USB and XLR connection
- A set of headphones to help prevent your mic from picking up any unwanted sounds
- A camera, if you’re doing a video podcast
- Podcast recording software—choose software that balances high-quality audio with ease of use. And for good measure, pick software that records locally, which prevents you from losing portions of a remote interview due to an interrupted internet connection
- Optional: An audio mixer
Creating a private podcast episode follows the same exact process as any standard episode would. Plan the episode, write your podcast script, hit record, and voilà! You’ve got a brand new episode that’s ready for editing and publication.
Creating a podcast requires the same process whether it’s a public or private one—it’s the distribution method that’s different. You’ll need specific features from your hosting platform that will let you distribute your show to your specific audience only.
What Is a Private RSS Feed, and How do I Create One?
In a standard public podcast, your podcast host would give you the link to your RSS feed, which you can use to submit your podcast to public podcast directories like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Your podcast would then be searchable by anyone using those directories to find and subscribe to new shows. Then each time you upload new episodes to your podcast host, the content will be distributed automatically to the platforms that are linked to your RSS feed.
A private RSS feed is similar, except that it’s not meant to be distributed to public platforms like Apple Podcasts. Instead, you’re the one who knows the private link address, and you distribute it directly to your audience so that they can subscribe manually.
Setting up your private podcast feed is done mostly through whichever host you choose. The way that audiences access your private RSS feed differs across platforms and according to your preferences.
Some private podcasts are password-protected and can only be accessed from your member site. Others have one URL (a global private RSS feed) that you give to all your subscribers. They can manually input that RSS feed into their podcast directory of choice (such as Stitcher or Overcast), then that app will automatically download new episodes as you upload them to your host.
Other private podcasts use individual URLs generated specifically for each user. These are similar to a global private RSS feed, but they let show owners manage individual subscriptions, granting and revoking access to certain users without disrupting other subscribers’ feeds.
Where Can I Host a Private Podcast? Best Platforms for Private Podcasting
There are four common ways to create a private podcast:
- Using a hosting company that supports private RSS feeds
- Creating a membership site
- Building a donation page
- Using a third-party app designed for direct distribution
Let’s take a look at options from each method.
Podcast hosting companies that offer private podcast feeds are often the most cost-effective and versatile choice for most podcasters. Four of the most popular hosts that support private RSS feeds include:
- Captivate—Offers private podcast feeds on any subscription tier, with unique subscriber URLs. Subscriptions start at $19/month.
- Podbean—Let paid subscribers access your private podcast within the Podbean listening app with a 15% fee taken out of the profits. Subscriptions start at $9/month.
- Transistor—Let you host multiple podcast feeds using the same account, with subscriptions starting at $19/month.
Private Podcasts through Spotify and Apple Podcasts
And recently, Apple and Spotify have jumped onto the subscription show bandwagon. Like Podbean, creators can offer private podcasts directly through the directory. Spotify now supports paid subscriptions for podcasters using Anchor, a partner podcast hosting platform. Creators using this hosting service can keep 100% of subscription fees until 2023.
Similarly, Apple Podcasts has introduced the Apple Podcasters Program, which lets podcasters create a channel and add subscriber-only audio through their platform. Apple collects an annual fee of $19.99 for most users, plus 30% of the subscription price for the first year (and 25% each year after that).
If your audience is willing to pay for “bonus” content, you can ask for donations or membership fees to access your private podcasts through your website. Patreon is one of the most common membership sites used to create a paid community.
If you’re already established as a podcaster and you have an audience who would be willing to pay for bonus content, you can ask them to become patrons. Simply create an account on Patreon and include the link to your membership page in your public podcast show notes. Patreon takes 2.9% of every subscriber payment over $3.00.
Create a Membership Site
A membership site is a great option for podcasters who have more premium content to sell besides podcast episodes. Plugins like Buzzsprout let you use your WordPress site to pull episodes from your feed and display them on your website. Then, you can create a paywall using another plugin (such as WooCommerce or MemberPress).
If you’re a company looking to distribute audio content to your employees, the simplest solution might be to ask them to download an app.
Storyboard is a free mobile app (though it also has a paid premium subscription) that was designed with this purpose in mind. It lets companies create podcast episodes and distribute them directly to their staff. The free plan lets you use a private link to invite up to 50 listeners, and the Pro subscription option is priced at $1 per listener.
Private Podcasts: Yet Another Way to Reach Listeners
While they’re not yet the norm, private podcasts definitely have their uses. If you’ve got a company message or educational content for your students, private podcasts can be a great way to create a secure, easily-accessed channel for your audience to hear your message.
And private podcasts also make sense as a way to create subscription content without relying on sponsorships; you’d be surprised at how many listeners are willing to pay money in exchange for an ad-free podcast experience.
As podcasts have skyrocketed in popularity, private podcasts have naturally arisen as another innovative way to create content, connect with your audience, and get paid to do it.