Subscribing to Joe Rogan
Patrick Campbell May 6 2021
This week, we're talking about a little-known podcaster, who is also a UFC commentator—former host of Fear Factor, and stand-up comedian. And we're talking about a hypothetical Joe Rogan subscription.
The idea of "subscribing" to someone, whether by agreeing with their views or following their content, is becoming more in vogue. And it's not just for podcasters—business creators like us and our media site Recur, as well as a host of other creatives could benefit from this concept. What we want to explore today is:
- Spotify dropped $100 million for exclusive rights to Joe Rogan's podcast—should they have?
- What could Joe Rogan have done to not be tied to Spotify? He's always wanted freedom, so how could he have created his own subscription service that still would have been competitive against the likes of YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts?
When he first signed the deal, some were saying that Rogan himself was making a larger mistake than Spotify. The data may suggest that's true. But I also think the data will show that making a $100-million deal is never too bad of a decision. In that light, we're going to talk about what Joe Rogan could be doing to monetize his brand and content, all within the constraints he's placed on himself. We'll also take a look at the things he's not doing so well, and bundle all of this information into a case study that's applicable to your own monetization.
Watch the full episode
Joe’s thirst for knowledge has brought him tremendous success, including the $100M Spotify deal. But was it actually good for him? He was able to keep his editorial freedom, but could there have been more financial gains for Joe staying independent?
Below are some valuable takeaways you can implement in your own business.
- Hone in on your biggest fans.
For those who work in the content world, focus on the people who have a positive or strong positive affinity for you. That's your target market.
- Understand why people appreciate your brand.
Content creators should go after their super fans, understand their preferences, and price based on them. Build your brand around those who are going to pay you and drive more users.
- Membership actually improves the user experience by taking advantage of community.
All of the things that people prefer inside a membership are things that your listeners, followers, etc., are already doing. Creators should realize that you don't have to create exclusive content. You can ask for the membership and give a few things. As long as you're providing value, people will continue to use it.
Joe Rogan just wants to learn. And that’s what gets him and his podcast into trouble. It’s also what got him a $100M deal from Spotify for exclusive rights to his podcast.
From talking to Bernie Sanders and Alex Jones to Tulsi Gabbard and Elon Musk, as well as an endless stable of comics like Tim Dillon, Tom Segura, and Bert Kreischer—Joe just wants to talk and learn from people without an agenda. This is why people love listening to his podcast—the non-agenda focused questions, learning, and calling B.S. if someone goes too far. This is also why people hate his podcast. He gives sunlight to the ideas from seemingly controversial figures, which causes controversy.
Joe came a long way to this $100M podcast empire though. Growing up in New Jersey, a bit of time in California, and then Boston—Joe had a good, but tough childhood. He found his journey in martial arts when he started lessons at the age of 13 before touring the country in tournaments and even thinking he’d go pro. As Joe said, “[martial arts] gave me not just confidence, but also a different perspective of myself and what I was capable of. I knew that I could do something I was terrified of, and that was really difficult, and that I could excel at it. It was a big deal for me.” That confidence led to four years of Massachusetts full-contact Tae Kwon Do championships.
After getting into the MMA, some head trauma convinced him to shift his career down a less violent path. So, at the age of 22 he entered the aggressive Boston comedy scene. Using his determination and confidence learned in fighting, Joe rose the comedy ranks, moved to LA, and found success in comedy specials, sitcoms like NewsRadio and Hardball, as well as being a long-time color commentator with the UFC since 1997. You also probably know him most from his long-time hosting gig of Fear Factor, which let’s just say, he has some stories.
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Joe Rogan's success
In 2009, he started his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” just as a way to talk to his comic friends. Although Joe admits the early episodes were terrible, within a decade the show gained a massive following with 190 million monthly downloads—especially as his guest list expanded to scientists, authors, political figures, athletes, artists, and really just anyone that Joe finds interesting. Clearly, many other people find them interesting too, as Spotify convinced Joe to go exclusive with that $100M deal.
Joe’s success stems from trying to seek the truth, a refreshing notion in this day and age. Yet, some critics question whether or not the $100M deal was good for Spotify, let alone Rogan, considering he lost some of his audience who didn’t or couldn’t move to Spotify. Sure, he did keep his editorial freedom, but could there have been more financial freedom for Joe staying independent. So the question becomes: How should Joe Rogan monetize his audience in a manner to not only gain financially, but also pull the community together? Is Spotify monetizing Joe’s content properly through ads? Should Joe have a subscription like other artists and creators are doing?
It seems Joe’s doing many things right, but we’re going to explore how he could be doing even more while answering these questions by collecting data from 10,542 current and prospective Joe Rogan fans. Keep reading for the answers to these questions.
Working within his constraints
I got sucked into Rogan's world via video clips on YouTube. All of sudden, he was just in my feed all the time. I'd see things and be like, "Okay, I'll listen to that. I like Tom Segura. I like this topic." From what I gather, he just likes to talk to people who are super interesting and he appreciates understanding new perspectives. When you're creating in the space that Rogan is, that's huge. He's not making it about himself, he's making it about the guest. It allows the listener to feel more included—you're not eavesdropping on a conversation between Rogan and his guest, you're enjoying a guest's point of view alongside Rogan.
He's also done a good job of not alienating any markets. While he's not necessarily apolitical, he has guests with extremely varied backgrounds. He doesn't worry about being "safe" and simply sticks to doing what he loves. It's great but—from a monetization perspective—it also adds some constraints. There are so many more things he could do that would earn him more money, but he's happy where he's at. He's down to keep doing what he's doing and isn't interested in being someone's employee.
With that knowledge, we're going to talk through what a Joe Rogan subscription could really look like. But these lessons won't just be useless for him. Ultimately, we'll demonstrate how you can monetize subscriptions—content-based or otherwise—and ensure you're doing it the right way.
Where does our data come from?
Here at ProfitWell, our Price Intelligently software combines proprietary algorithms and methodologies with a team of pricing experts who think about this stuff more than anyone else to help companies optimize their monetization strategy. We do this by going out into the market and collecting data from current and prospective customers, having the ability to collect data from everyone, from a soccer mom or dad in the middle of Kansas, all the way to a fortune 500 CIO in South Africa. We then take that data and run it through our algorithms and analyze it in every direction to determine a company's ideal customer profiles, as well as which segments value, which features and which segments are willing to pay more, all in the spirit of determining how a company can use monetization for growth.
Subscriptions hedge against platform and ad fatigue
A subscription fights back against platform and ad fatigue. One thing we've noticed with creators in the past is that when a particular personality is knocked off a platform, they'll be completely derailed. These folks are typically a bit more controversial, but anyone who experiences one of these bans is a clear example of platform problems.
There are also ad problems. There are a lot of creators who like creating hour-long shows that get into a really specific topic. And while that content is great from a length perspective, the subject matter won't necessarily bring enough volume to be successful. When you're seeking those thousand true fans, the model isn't really right from an ad/platform perspective. It starts to more closely resemble a subscription.
Hone in on your biggest fans
The first thing we wanted to do was collect willingness-to-pay data. This would show us the feasibility of a fan paying someone like Joe Rogan enough money monthly to sustain his particular lifestyle or business. This was calculated by first measuring affinity—when it comes to Joe, are you weak, neutral, or negative? Or maybe even strong, if you're listening to every episode, reading his content, or visiting his Reddit page.
For those who had a weak affinity, the willingness to pay was only $1-$2. Obviously, these people aren't primed to pay anything to support Rogan. They could maybe be persuaded by a good offer, but this probably isn't Joe's target market.
For those who work in the content world, you should focus on the people who have a positive or strong positive affinity for you. Just look here—moderate to strong folks are ready to pay $5-$15 per month for a subscription. That's about $100 per year, per person, plus all of his ad revenue. It's really crazy.
He could even break it down based on his different topics, if you will. He tackles MMA, comedy, and more deep-thinking. If he is able to divide these into separate subscriptions, he could be more deliberate with his advertising and have a huge opportunity for monetization.
Understand why people appreciate your brand
If you're creating content, you have to understand why people appreciate your brand. When we cross-referenced willingness to pay with a listener's favorite topic of Joe's, we learned some really valuable insight. As it turns out, the people who love political or academic commentary are the ones who absolutely adore Rogan. They're also the ones who put him most at-risk on traditional platforms.
The big takeaway for your business is, if you're doing something in the content space, you have to go after your super fans. Price based on your biggest backers. The folks with a weak affinity are going to turn out anyway. Why build the subscription and the brand around them? Build your brand around the folks who are going to pay you and drive more users.
What you're looking at is called a value matrix. We collected data from the group comparing feature preferences and plotted those on the horizontal axis. More valued features are on the right, and things become less valued as you move to the left. We then measured "willingness to pay" for the overall product and plotted that based on their number one feature preference on the Y-axis. Analyzing data in this manner allows us to determine which features could be differentiable, ad-ons, or commoditized for each segment.
Memberships actually improve the user experience
Let's talk about membership. Although you may think a subscription cost would be off-putting, it actually improves the user experience by taking advantage of community. We already talked about how Rogan doesn't want to create a bunch of swag or additional brand elements. Still, he could probably outsource it or be convinced based on some of the data we're about to show.
Differentiable factors are things that could drive a Rogan subscription, things like preferred discounts for products curated by Rogan. He already talks about all of these different causes and products. People are willing to pay for this stuff just to support him. I know it seems kind of crazy, but that's only because we haven't been looking at podcasts as art. We support bands. We support artists. We buy their art! Rogan's podcast is his art.
More creators need to look at this data and realize, you don't have to create exclusive content. You don't have to give an insider look or producer credits, like the traditional kickstarter model. You can just ask for the money and give a couple of things here and there. As long as you're giving value, people will continue to use it.
Would it really work?
It's interesting with Rogan in particular, because his following is so aggressive for him—they love him. But Tim Ferris has also tried to do this. A little while back, Ferris got rid of his podcast's advertising and instead tried to solicit donations. People were looking at it and they're like, "This guy's worth over a hundred million dollars." Now Joe Rogan has a deal of his own, and it might create the same dynamic. Will people pay for his content, when they already view him as a wealthy person of authority?
When you pivot from an ad model to a subscription model, you have to do it properly. Because Ferris didn't market his new set-up as a subscription, opting instead to just ask for "donations," people were put off. You don't think of a millionaire as needing donations. I think Joe Rogan would see the same response. The word "donation" is so strongly associated with helping people. If his podcast started asking for donations, people would be confused because Rogan doesn't need any help.
There's something here for you and your business if you're thinking of a content subscription. In a lot of situations, it's likely going to be B2B brands that have the potential to create these memberships, like a recurrent network premium subscription for different access to things. Don't worry about doing ads, because I don't think the ad model works as well as many think it does. It also pushes you to make a certain type of content, and you may not want to be limited to "brand-safe" guidelines.
- Subscriptions hedge against platform and ad fatigue. What's brilliant about a subscription is that it allows you to go for the ads you want and not worry if a platform shuts you off. Of course, you still want to stay on top platforms. But depending on your content, actions, and monetization plans, you'll appreciate the increased flexibility.
- B2B brands: Leverage your diverse offerings. It's easy to think that the only potential subscription you can have is your software. Take advantage of things like groups, events, communities, et cetera. It can help promote the rest of your offerings as well.
- Know why people like you. We saw with Rogan that the thing that people truly love about him isn't his MMA or comedy content. The deep thinkers and controversial guests drive all of his audience's willingness to pay. You need to hone in on your biggest fans.
- Membership actually improves the user experience by taking advantage of community. All of the things that people prefer inside a membership are things that listeners are already doing. All Rogan needs to do is provide a priority line or significance to those subscribers. It'll boost his revenue and strengthen the connection for them.
Who's up next?
Next week, we have a fascinating B2B case study. We're going back to our roots in terms of B2B software. This is about monday.com, which I'm sure you've seen YouTube ads for. You might not be sure what they do, but they've revolutionized the next wave of project management software with really, really good design. Unfortunately, they're making a couple of pricing decisions that I think are costing them millions.
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By Patrick Campbell
Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.