This week, Forbes released the list of top-earning podcasts.
Not surprisingly, The Joe Rogan Experience podcast topped the list, bringing in an estimated $30 million in 2019 alone.
With 190 million downloads per month, JRE has consistently held the top spot on Apple.
JRE goes against just about every universally-accepted marketing “best practice.”
Ignored best practice #1: The riches are in the niches
JRE doesn’t really have a “niche.” Personally, I listen to JRE frequently because I’m interested in neuroscience and behavioral psychology. Joe Rogan interviews scientists and researchers in these fields just about once a week.
As I was scrolling through iTunes, I realized that I skip about 80% of the episodes because there is such a diverse guest list. He brings out a lot of comics because he does stand up comedy. He brings up a lot of MMA fighters because he does that. But he also brings scientists, ecologists, journalists, international relations experts, inventors. He runs the gamut.
Why we like it: Although I only listen to 10–20% of JRE episodes, I’m still hearing the ads and his comments just about every week. Others who are into MMA or crime or health or politics might skip out on my favorite episodes. There’s something for everyone on a nearly weekly basis.
Joe brings on guests he is interested in. Full stop. So each interview he’s authentically interested in his guest.
Ignored best practice #2: Keep content short
There are literally thousands of articles about the shortening human attention span. Keep videos less than 2 minutes! Interviews should be 12 minutes! Ads need to capture attention in the first 5 seconds or you’ll lose them! People won’t listen to you for very long.
An average JRE episode is 2+ hours. There are some that pass the FIVE HOUR mark. The ads at the beginning of each episode run from 5 to 10 minutes before the content even starts.
Why we like it: There’s an old copy adage, “make the copy as long as it has to be and no longer.” Joe Rogan has a knack for keeping the conversation engaging and interesting for as long as possible and ending it at the right time.
This eliminates the “soundbite” interviews that we so often see during a book launch or movie premier. There are no “talking points” on JRE. Joe is able to go deep into issues and ask questions that listeners have (more on that below)… and, he’ll wrap just when the conversation starts to slow.
In the “binge-watch” generation, people will put up with long… they won’t put up with boring.
Ignored best practice #3: Be the expert
In late 2019, Joe interviewed Boylan Slat, the founder of the Ocean Cleanup Project.
Slat is an extremely intelligent guy working on a massive, complex project. While listening to this episode, I had so many questions. Slat would talk about an aspect of the Pacific Garbage Patch and I felt like a total underachiever.
And as Joe asked his questions, I realized something. Joe Rogan is not afraid to be the idiot. He asks questions that us “normals” have… no matter how simple or dumb they may sound to the guest. Slat would get on a roll about some engineering concept or how the project works. And Joe would interject with, “Wait, I don’t understand. What do you mean by that? Or why don’t you do this other idea?”
Why we like it: Most interviews fall in one of two camps — making an adversary of the guest (“take down” style interviews) or placating the guests (PR spots — think late night TV). Joe does neither.
He’s a smart guy and while he’s generally respectful of his guests, he’s not afraid to cite conflicting articles or books he’s read or ask clarifying questions. He speaks on behalf of a curious, but skeptical audience.
Joe has a diverse set of interests and the knowledge that comes with that. But he’s okay with being the idiot in the conversation.
What we can learn from JRE
Through my organization, The Freelance Co-op, I work with creative freelancers to grow their businesses.
My own freelancing journey has been a bit counterintuitive and I’ve struggled with how to reconcile the “best practices” with my own experience.
My client filter has always been that I only work on projects that excite me. That’s a big wide open and nebulous category.
Throughout my career, mentors and coaches have recommended I niche down and pick a product category. Be a health writer. Only work with personality-based brands. Stay in one lane so you don’t confuse your prospects.
Last summer, I launched the Get More Clients Masterclass with a colleague and through that process, I reflected on the last decade of my career. I made a list of niches (this experience was a lot like the week before I got married and I listed my previous relationships to try to find a common thread).
My list was over 40 when I stopped counting. (the niche list, not the boyfriend list)
I realized that what’s made my work good is that when I’m interested in something, I write about it. I don’t know the through line of my work… I don’t think we have to.
Like Joe, being curious has always been a huge advantage of mine. I love to deconstruct things that get my attention. Why does this work? Why did this other thing not work?
It works because people will listen to you if you have something to say.
And, what we can learn from Joe Rogan is that if you speak on behalf of your listeners they’ll listen to you talk about anything.
Have a take.
Joe has a voice. He has an opinion. He doesn’t provide a platform for people to prosthelytize their view unchallenged. At the same time, he doesn’t bring people on he’s not interested in.
And while you’re creating content or teaching, have a take but be curious.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t try to look like anything but what you are. Ask questions.
Sharing your interests — no matter how diverse and passing along what you find interesting to your audience allows you to become a really interesting freelancer. And more than that, an interesting person.
That’s how your content becomes something that people want to read.
Be a translator.
Inside my Codex Persona Workshop, I break down nine different voice types.
Joe Rogan is the translator. He speaks on behalf of the audience.
I got into David’s work because he made design really simple and really understandable. He acted as translator for graphic design for me.
If you’re a freelancer, you can do all these things that Joe Rogan does so well. When you ask yourself, What content should I write? Write the stuff that interests you and you’re curious about.
Read and study and write along the way and you’ll find a subset of people that love your curiosity and want to learn with you.
Share what you love — all of it.
All the people aren’t going to like all your content all the time.
I don’t listen to every Joe Rogan podcast. I’m not interested in MMA. So I hardly ever listen to any of those interviews.
You can be prolific and talk about the things that are interesting to you without feeling like you have to fit into this niche-theme bubble.
Some people will read some of your stuff some of the time… and that’s all you need.
Just ask Joe.