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Indonesian podcasters turn passion into business | Tech in Culture

Written by Ursula Florene Published on 

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Podcasts have become a new source of entertainment for Indonesians. But could they become a sustainable source of income for their producers?

Podcasts have become a new source of entertainment for Indonesians in the past two years. As more people tune in, users are also setting up audio channels to share their thoughts, and maybe even gain a new income.

For Evan Yonathan, the medium is perfect for staying connected with his homeland, Indonesia, and introduce what he has learned abroad in Munich, Germany. “I wanted to share the different social and cultural perspectives based on my experience here. I browsed several platforms and decided on podcasts, as its presence was growing in Indonesia,” he told KrASIA.

Equipped with an Android smartphone, a USB microphone, and a piece of free audio editing software, he launched Podcast Progresif in March 2019. Yonathan does all the research, scriptwriting, recording, and editing from his small room in Germany, he said. The pilot “episode zero,” had scratches and background noise, a problem he managed to solve as he gained more experience as a producer. Now, Podcast Progresif is available on Spotify and Google Podcasts. His tiny room still functions as a makeshift studio.

Evan Yonathan and Syifa Maharupini, hosts of Podcast Progresif, while recording a podcast at Yonathan’s home in Munich. Screenshot from Podcast Progresif’s YouTube channel.

Podcast Progresif currently has five sub-segments addressing different user bases, from youths to adults. Yonathan has a team of nine people spanning Indonesia, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany, all working together. They share a passion for podcasting, and work despite the absence of financial compensation or incentives. Each host is in charge of their own segment, and they coordinate in a WhatsApp group.

“That’s why each segment has different audio quality. We’re using a subscription platform that helps reduce background noises, but [the records] are still not radio-quality yet,” Yonathan said.

Even though he never considered monetizing his podcast, Yonathan managed to earn several million rupiahs—IDR 1 million is roughly USD 71—from an exclusive contract with a local audio platform that operates like Soundcloud. “Other than that, I get to become a speaker in webinars or workshops about podcasting, but so far, none of them are paid,” he said. With just around 3,000 monthly listeners, Yonathan’s podcast has a loyal fan base, but this isn’t a gig that will replace his day job any time soon.

Indonesia-based Mursyidatul Umamah, the host of the “I Think I Wanna Date You” podcast, interviews people and discusses the ups and downs of online dating, a topic that still carries stigma in the country. At present, she has around 100 daily listeners. A friend who is a sound engineer lent her professional recording equipment when Umamah started her project in May 2019. This friend also helped her with audio mixing and editing to release very clean final cuts, she said. Even recordings made in public places such as coffee shops or restaurants weren’t a problem, thanks to the sound engineer.

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“I finally bought my own recording equipment in late 2019, with a budget of around IDR 6 million (USD 426),” she said. “It gives me more flexibility in arranging interview schedules with guests.”

This investment and her dedication resulted in an exclusive contract with local audio platform Penyu FM. Umamah secured an undisclosed payment of “several million rupiahs” for uploading ten exclusive episodes on the platform. Umamah was invited to be a speaker at various workshops, some of which offered remuneration, and she also recorded voiceovers for an audio drama series.

In 2020, Umamah joined a local podcast network called Podluck Podcast, which she believes has taken her channel to the next level. Interacting with other hosts from different backgrounds gave her more insights into developing content, and people who are part of the network have helped her with sound mixing and editing, she said.

“I never thought about getting income from podcasts, but joining the network opened my eyes to the possibilities,” Umamah said.

Options for monetization

Mursidatul Umamah (center) as a speaker in a podcasting workshop. Photo courtesy of Mursyidatul Umamah.

Joining a network for podcasters could be helpful, especially for amateur hosts without professional equipment. Ranaditya Alief, the content director for Box2Box ID, one of the first podcast networks in Indonesia, said that his group provides paid production and post-production services for its members.

“We support promotion and collaboration between talents within the Box2Box network, linking them to potential clients like brands or media,” he told KrASIA, refusing to disclose the fee structure.

Currently, Box2Box comprises almost 50 podcasts covering a range of topics like sports, daily life, pop culture, love, and even storytelling, with millions of monthly listeners.

Yet, monetization is still a challenge for most hosts, according to Box2Box ID co-founder Tio Prasetyo Utomo. Typically, podcasters generate income by airing segments sponsored by brands and through “blocking,” where clients book an entire episode to promote themselves. Utomo described these methods as “similar to radio.”

“The difference is that, compared to radio, we provide more accurate data, such as real-time number of listeners and reach to clients,” he said.

However, Utomo said that podcasters could gain additional income by becoming speakers in offline workshops, just like Umamah. A podcast’s social media channels can disseminate materials for paid campaigns too. Podluck Podcast’s co-founder, Patricia Wulandari, added that podcasters may also benefit from offline options such as public events, merchandise sales, publishing content on paid platforms, or even producing podcasts for clients.

Contracts with platforms like Spotify are currently highly sought after. In 2020, Spotify signed exclusive deals with almost 20 Indonesian podcasts. One of them is Box2Box Football Podcast, which is co-hosted by Alief and Utomo.

“It’s a way of making money, because Spotify paid us to publish exclusively on their platform,” said Alief. “I can’t disclose the amount, but let’s just say that it’s a valuable source of income.”

Utomo said that exclusive contracts with platforms like Spotify have increased podcast penetration in Indonesia by whipping up public interest. More people, even celebrities, have started to host their own podcasts. Many have dreams to score a contract with Spotify.

“I think in the next two or three years, we will see more platforms doing this move [exclusive contract]. I think it will be good for growth,” he said.

Joseph Phua of Singapore-based Turn Capital, a family office that invests primarily in digital entertainment companies, said that podcasters can also tap sources beyond advertising. “The subscription route is one possible method to monetize podcasts, and we already saw Spotify and Apple hinting at a subscription model in the past couple of months,” he added.

The future: Clubhouse and narrative podcasts

In 2020, Spotify reported a significant bump in the number of podcast listeners in Indonesia. Around 20% of Spotify’s subscribers in Indonesia listened to podcasts, which makes it the highest proportion among Southeast Asian nations. The number of hours spent listening to podcasts also increased tenfold compared to the previous year. 

Phua said that the industry around podcasts is a “giant” one that exceeded USD 10 billion in 2020. He forecast this number to double within the next two to three years.

“If we’re looking at Southeast Asia specifically, podcasts are ripe for adoption in the region. The industry is still in its nascent phases, so we can expect the rate of growth to be very high,” he said. To accelerate adoption, industry players need to increase awareness about the platform and equip content producers with the skills and tools to deliver high quality podcasts.

Echoing Phua, Box2Box’s Utomo said that for now, podcasts are only popular among listeners in urban hubs like Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung. He is eager to see people in smaller cities and towns become new listeners and podcasters.

Recently, audio-based livestreaming platform Clubhouse has been gaining steam in Indonesia. Alief said the platform offers a “different flavor” of audio entertainment in the country. Listeners can “use them like livestreaming podcasts,” he said. Alief also mentioned how content creators can use Clubhouse to engage their audience directly, all while promoting their own podcast.

Utomo added that even if most Indonesian podcasts currently prefer interview or discussion, formats that are also popular in Clubhouse, narrative-style podcasts will receive more attention in the future. “I think the newest trend this year and the next one will be audio dramas and documentary podcasts. There are still many possibilities to explore.”

Podcasting is still merely a side gig for most hosts, Utomo said. However, as more people become listeners and producers, it may not be surprising to see podcasters live off their hobby just like their predecessors did on YouTube and TikTok.

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Tech in Culture” series, where the writers of KrASIA unpack how tech is changing the status quo across Asia. 

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