When you start with Glow, one of the main things you can offer your listeners is access to exclusive or bonus content. Listeners who become a paying member of your podcast are proving that they enjoy your content, so it’s a no-brainer that they’d like to hear more of it. So what kinds of bonus content can you produce for your members? What should you consider when planning this content? What are the pros and cons of the different types of content you can do?

In this post, we’ll talk about four different kinds of bonus audio content you should consider making, with examples of real podcasts making each type for their listeners. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but something to get your creative juices flowing as you think about what premium content might work best for you.

Bonus Audio #1: Behind-the-scenes conversations

Often listeners will subscribe to a podcast because they value the hosts’ knowledge and experience. This is particularly true when the podcast in question covers a specific industry, like investing or national security, or when it is premised directly on a host’s years of experience in particular role. If this describes your podcast, then one relatively easy option for bonus audio content is to an episode between hosts that “pulls back the curtain” of the show, revealing conversations that are high-level but also more informal than those on the regular podcast.

One podcast we’re fans of that does behind-the-scenes episodes is Acquired, one of our partner podcasts. Hosted by startup experts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, Acquired features deep-dive looks at the biggest companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, analyzing how their organization and decision-making have made them successful.

Acquired’s membership program is its “Limited Partner” program. Listeners’ main benefit as a limited partner is access to bonus episodes with Ben and David, who are investors and startup experts themselves. Here is one they’ve released to the public, which covers the subject of product-market fit:

First, notice that the conversation between Ben and David sounds a lot like a conversation they would be having in their office. It’s these sorts of inside-baseball discussions, where both hosts don’t sound like they’re hosting a podcast but instead are chatting with one another, that provides unique value to their paying listeners. Those listeners can feel like they’re gaining access to the privileged conversations that Ben and David have together every day for their business. Both hosts provide insights to their listeners about particular companies and what makes them successful, but more importantly they provide their members with a model of thinking through these topics using the same heuristics that they do.

As hosts, Ben and David can offer this valuable bonus content without spending too much time on episode production. The above episode, for example, is a 1-hour conversation about product-market fit and the issues many companies can have with the concept in product development. For Ben and David, this discussion might have taken them 10 or 20 minutes to prepare for, and then the full hour to record the conversation. Beyond that, the two are leaning on their extensive experience in investing and startups to ensure the quality of the content, including examples of companies they’ve worked with. For Acquired’s production team, the episode requires significantly less post-production effort, perhaps 30 minutes to edit and post, as members don’t expect a fully-produced, crystal clear episode like most of Acquired’s regular shows.

If you’re considering doing bonus episodes that are more informal and have a slightly different focus from your normal podcast, consider releasing the first members-only episode (or a portion of it) for free. This gives free listeners the option to preview the premium content they would be paying for. Fans that are dedicated to your show and listen to it for insight or insider knowledge will likely find your members-only episodes well worth a small monthly fee.

Bonus Audio #2: The Extended Guest Interview

Another option for your podcast membership program is to release unedited versions of the guest interviews that you do for your regular show.

One show that’s done this for many years is On Being with Krista Tippett. On Being is a long-running podcast and civil discourse project hosted by award-winning journalist Krista Tippett. For each longform interview between Tippett and a guest, the On Being team releases a concurrent, unedited version of the interview. These unedited versions often run almost twice as long as the original:

Whereas the edited guest interview includes a introduction by Tippett, breaks for ads, and a full outro, the unedited version is strictly a one-on-one between her and the guest. On Being doesn’t charge listeners to hear these full, unedited conversation, but it’s a great example of how a show can create more content offerings from interviews it’s already conducting. Shows can take their raw interview files and apply simple EQ and other effects before posting the interview to their members-only podcast feed.

If your show consists primarily of longform guest interviews (i.e. longer than 30 minutes), and if you usually cut them down for clarity, then adding an unedited interview offering can be a great option for your membership program that involves minimal extra production effort.

Bonus Audio #3: Q&A and Livestream Episodes

It’s a well-established axiom that listeners feel they have a personal connection with the hosts of the podcasts they regularly listen to. Those listeners can become even more devoted to a show when they have the chance to interact directly with hosts. That’s why doing listener Q&As is another great offering for your members.

There are a number of ways to go about doing this type of content for your members. The more involved method is the pre-recorded Q&A, which looks similar to a regular podcast episode. This involves soliciting questions from listeners (via Twitter, a Facebook group, or other social media platforms), combing through them and picking the best ones, and then recording a podcast where the host(s) answer them. You can then edit out any questions that didn’t go well or if there were any production mistakes during recording.

Choosing to a do a livestream adds the option of interactive member chat and a video feed. You can still choose previously submitted questions to answer, or you can ask for questions from attending members in the live chat. This adds another layer of personal connection between the hosts and members, but it also adds some amount of unpredictability to the quality of the questions answered.

If you’re thinking of doing a Q&A or livestream episode, consider the following:
Do you want to answer questions from your listeners? How often do you want to do a Q&A to ensure enough quality questions? Are you open to recording on a live stream with real-time listener input? Would you want to do audio only or would you add a video component?

One important element that can make or break a quality Q&A episode is to solicit questions from members early on. Give members at least two weeks, and across multiple channels, like the members-only podcast feed, via email, and on social media. If your episode is going to be live, give members plenty of time to put it into their schedule so that you have a big enough audience.

Bonus Audio #4: The Shorter “Deep Dive” Episode

As you develop your bonus audio content, ask yourself why your listeners tune into your podcast. Is it because you explore niche topics, tell great stories, or because you provide great insights based on years of professional experience?

One type of content you can produce for your members is the “deep dive” episode. These are often their a series of podcast episodes that are shorter than your normal show, with minimal intros and fewer topics. You can decide how produced you’d like them to be, but the idea is that they should run parallel to the focus of your show. It’s also important that these episodes are evergreen - that is, they don’t focus too much on news or other topics that don’t age well.

A number of podcasts will develop these “deep dive” episodes as their own series of members-only episodes. These might be episodes that don’t fit into the longer themes of a podcast’s regular show. The benefit for your biggest fans is that they’re getting content that’s similar to what they already like, but with a slightly different flavor that makes the cost of membership worth it. Examples might be:

  • Daily news podcasts offering occasional “explainer” episodes that deep dive into particular topics
  • Narrative podcasts that offer “detour” episodes from the regular run of show
  • Trivia podcasts that provide a behind-the-scenes look into what it’s like to create the show or recruit contestants

As you might expect, this type of audio content can take substantially more time than the other options we’ve discussed so far. Deep dive episodes mirror a regular episode in terms of the amount of planning and post-production required, so there are times where these shorter episodes take comparable amounts of time as a regular episode. No matter what type of type of episode you do, make sure its content is as evergreen as possible, as focused as possible, and that it makes sense given the niche of your show.