The cover image for this post is by Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka
This blog post was written by Jamie.
Should you pay for a podcast host? Should you use one of the free ones? Should you build your own? Let’s find out.
But What Is a Podcast?
A podcast isn’t really a very well defined thing. Like, what is a podcast? I see it as something which:
- can be accessed on demand
- can be subscribed to
- can be consumed in a way which fits the consumer
- has an RSS feed (or some other similar technology that a consumer can subscribe to)
Notice that I didn’t say anything about mp3, audio, or listening in that description. And Wikipedia seems to agree with me:
A podcast is a program made available in digital format for download over the Internet
Whilst many people don’t accept Wikipedia as a “good” primary source, in this case the editors at Wikipedia have used the Cambridge English dictionary, Miriam-Webster, and the Encyclopedia Britanica as primary sources for their one-sentence definition.
Regardless of whether your podcast is audio, video, PDF (or other binary documents), it will likely fit the above description.
Buy vs Build
This is an age old dilemma in software engineering. In fact, it’s something that we brought up on the fifth episode of Tabs and Spaces. Spoiler alert: we couldn’t decide if there was a definitive answer to whether you should buy or build - as with everything in software engineering, it depends.
And the same can be said with podcast hosting. Do you buy (or in real terms: pay a subscription fee for) hosting, or do you build your own?
And just to level set here, we’re talking about the podcast hosting not website hosting.
there’s a blog post coming which talks about website hosting for podcasters
So what is podcast hosting?
Essentially, podcast hosting is an allowance of a certain amount of upload bandwidth or listens per month
some companies lock you down to so much uploaded content per month, and some lock you down by the number of downloads your podcast gets
a prepared and curated RSS feed, and auto publishing to certain platforms; sometimes at a cost, though some services are free.
You pay (or maybe you don’t) every month, and your podcast feed (the RSS feed) is managed for you. All you need to do is upload content and provide show/download notes. The hosting provider takes care of ensuring that your content is pushed to the relevant third parties (Apple Podcasts, etc.) so that you don’t have to. Most of the good podcast hosts even keep up to date with new podcast services and changes to the RSS specification (like the Podcasting 2.0 changes).
And the best ones even have a CDN (Content Delivery Network) as their backbone, so that your consumers get the fastest possible download speeds when they are accessing your content.
So why would you build your own podcast hosting platform, when you can get one for cheap or even free?
Well, some people like to have full control over their content. This is fully commendable and understandable. Most of the podcast hosting platforms have terms specifically stating that they don’t own your content and will not do anything with it without your say so - some have the opposite, and take full ownership of anything you upload to them.
But there’s a large overhead with setting up your own podcast hosting. Putting aside the issues of initially building it, you’ll need to ensure that it’s maintained, it provides fast enough download speeds, and has access to all of the relevant podcast services and aggregators
to make it easier, once you have your content on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, you’re pretty much set as most of the other podcast services pull from them
This can run into a lot of time on your part. Not to mention the cost of hosting the platform, total bandwidth used (an oft overlooked aspect of web hosting), and the cost of any CDNs that you choose to use. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but creating your own platform has the potential to be a time sink.
What Would You Recommend?
Depending on where you are in your journey, I would recommend going with a well known and well trusted paid podcast hosting service.
I can imagine that a lot of the engineers will be yelling
But I can build one!
as they read that last sentence. And some readers might even be wondering, “but if I can get it for free…” but hear me out.
To the engineers: you want to prove that there’s legs in your podcast idea before investing a lot of time into the infrastructure around it. It might be that you’ve got the idea for a podcast, but don’t have many episode ideas to record, or (and this is the worst, I hope this doesn’t happen) you might find that there just isn’t an audience for your show
You don’t want to spend your evenings and weekends building out a full hosting suite, complete with API access to Apple Podcasts and Spotify, to find out that your show either passes people by or podfades.
To the non-engineers: it will be tempting to go with a free offering for now, don’t let me stop you. But take a look at the differences in offerings between the free and paid services and make an informed decision. If you can, find impartial video reviews which show off the workflows, UI, and features of the services you are considering. That way, you can get a feel for whether the services are for you.
If you do start with a free service, take care to read their terms of service before signing up. You don’t want to accidentally find out that the thing you’ve put your heart and soul into suddenly belongs to someone else.
And I would also recommend that if you start with a free service, have a plan to upgrade to a paid service. You don’t have to do it right away, but the differences in how much effort you have to put into uploading and managing your content cna be night and day.
What Did You Do?
For complete transparency, whilst I work on three separate podcasts, I was the decision maker for hosting on two of those shows: The .NET Core Podcast and Waffling Taylors. For Tabs and Spaces, the decision of how the podcast was hosted was left to my co-host (and show creator) Zac. However, I will say that all three of them use paid podcast services.
When it came to getting both The .NET Core Podcast and Waffling Taylors started, I wanted to hit the ground running and just get episodes out there. I’d already spent the time planning out a number of episodes for both, and was pretty invested in them both as creative endeavours, so I was more than happy to pull out the credit card and start paying so that the feed management tasks became someone else’s problem.
I’ve no empirical data to back up whether either of these two shows would have been as successful if I’d have used a free service, and we will never know for sure. But I did my homework and really liked what was on offer for the price offered.
You could build your own podcast hosting server, including RSS generation, API connections to Apple Podcasts and Spotify (almost all of the other podcast aggregators use Apple podcasts, your RSS feed, or scrape from Spotify). But there’s a lot of work involved in doing that; and not just the initial set up. You’ll have to keep an eye open for any other services, and changes to the RSS specification and podcasting landscape (like the podcast 2.0 ideas), and adjust your platform accordingly. You’ll also have to pay for any CDN, storage, and bandwidth you’ll be using (both uploading to your storage, and the bandwidth of users downloading your content).
Or you could rely on a free or paid podcast hosting platform. Most of these have similar features and offerings, but it will be worth reading through their terms or service and watching some impartial video reviews so that you can get an idea of what they offer and how easy they are to use.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. But I would offer the following advice: read, watch, and learn as much as you can so that you can make in informed decision.