Updated: Jan 24
One thing every podcast needs is a podcast host. But how do you choose one?
If you think there's a whole heap of podcasts, then you'll be amazed at the sheer quantity of podcast hosts. All of them do basically the same thing, so how do you choose which one is right for you?
Much like you, I'm looking to get the best solution for my own podcast. And that's changing all the time as new players enter the market. So I thought I'd share my research with you to discover what the best solution might be for right now. So let's get you (and me!) the best deal on a podcast host!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I've tried to cover off most of the big players plus a few from left field. Also none of these companies have given me a cent, so this is my honest opinion formed from listening to folks in the podcast community and doing a substantial amount of Googling. Sadly I can't claim to have used all of them, but I've tried to incorporate the opinions of people that have.
But wait, what is a podcast host?
If you're new to podcasting, you might not know that when we refer to the "host", we're not talking about the person behind the microphone! Instead, a podcast host is the online service where your podcast is stored, ready for people to access and download through their podcast app. They differ from directories like Apple Podcasts or Spotify because those services don't actually store your podcast. Instead, they simply allow listeners to find and listen to your podcast via something called an RSS feed. To actually submit your podcast to Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or Stitcher or Pandora or Podchaser or...), your podcast will actually need a place to 'live'.
If you think about your podcast as a delicious Pad Thai, your podcast host is the Thai restaurant, where all those delicious ingredients are stored and prepared. Whereas the Deliveroo guy is your podcast directory- helping you find the restaurant and then delivering that delicious meal to your house for you to enjoy.
How do I choose a podcast host?
There's really no such thing as a good podcast host, only a good one for you. Level of service and number of features will vary from host to host, so it's important to find a podcast host that works for you and the other members of your team. Many of the features in a podcast host will be the same across platforms. The difference, however, will be what features you'll have to sacrifice to get a good deal. Maybe you don't need the ability to host multiple shows, or you don't care that much for statistics. In each case someone will have a plan for you, you'll just need to weigh up to you what's important and what's not. Pros and cons that you might want to consider would be:
Storage or Upload Limits
Many hosts will cap how much audio or how many episodes you can upload, either overall or per month. If you have a shorter podcast then this may not be an issue, but high quality stereo files (even if they're MP3s) can chew up that data allowance quicker than you think. Take a look at your expected show length and your proposed release schedule, and make sure what you're planning will fit under that cap. An audio file size calculator can help you convert minutes of audio into an approximate file size.
Download or bandwidth limits
Kind of the opposite of an upload limit, this restricts how many people can listen to your show, either cumulatively or simultaneously. For example, Fireside's entry-level plan includes 10,000 downloads per month. You'd have to have a decent sized podcast to reach that number, but it's something to consider if you run multiple podcasts or you're starting to get near that limit. A bandwidth limit will restrict the number of listeners who can listen to your podcast at once. Either way, both can be a great cause of frustration for both you and your listeners!
If you're wanting to have more than one podcast under the same account, make sure you take this into account. Some hosts will incorporate multiple shows into the same plan, with each show contributing to the same upload/download limit. However, some hosts will make you pay twice for multiple shows, but have no download or upload limits. It'll be up to you to do the maths to work out which is more cost-effective for your situation.
A podcast website
Most hosts will offer you some degree of webpage where people can directly access all your episodes without having to go through a directory (a bit like dining-in, if you're still following our Pad Thai example from before!). If you're producing a show for your business it's likely you'll already have a website where you can post your show, but if you're producing a standalone show this may be a preferable option to paying for an external website. Hosts offer varying levels of customiseability based on plans, including the option to remove your host's logo and change the colours and/or theme.
Statistics, analytics, and data
If you're running a podcast for business, or trying to make money, at some point you'll need to tell people how well your podcast is doing. Level and depth of stats provided can make this task easier or harder, with services like Captivate providing comprehensive reporting at every level, whilst others leave their most in-depth analysis for their higher-tier plans.
Depending on your needs, you might find some other features helpful. These aren't offered by all podcast hosts, and you may not have much choice if you have your heart set on a particular feature. But some other deal-sweeteners offered by podcast hosts include:
Audiograms- shareable videos that you can put on social media to advertise your show.
Cloud-based recording, editing and the ability to record an interview remotely
Live podcasting, including the ability for your listeners to call-in.
Monetisation- the ability to connect with advertisers and insert ads into your podcast, and the ability to integrate subscription and patron (think Patreon) funding models.
What features should I look for?
Imagine a car advertisement which gave you these features:
Brakes now included!
Dual-action steering wheel turns right AND left.
New "Engine™" technology means that car moves with a simple push of the accelerator pedal.
If you saw a car advertised with these selling points, you'd think twice, wouldn't you? Sadly the same thing happens with much of the PR around podcast hosts, where hosts advertise "features" that really should be the bare minimum! For a decent podcast host, you should be looking at these features as the baseline:
Scheduling- if you have a regular release schedule (and you should!) then this will save you time- you can upload a show (or a few) at your leisure and then your host will release them at the time you set.
IAB Certified Statistics- As the podcast industry has grown and attracted more advertisers, those who put their money into the podcast industry have (quite rightly) demanded better reports as to where their money is actually going. After a few in the podcast industry gained a reputation for fudging the numbers, the industry has developed its own standards for reporting exactly how many people are listening to your podcast. Some podcasters have reported their listener numbers (according to their podcast host) having decreased recently, and this is suspected to be thanks to listener figures now being a bit more honest than they once were. Your podcast host should be telling you exactly how many listeners you're getting, so you can accurately report this to the people paying for your podcast (even if that's you) so they know exactly what exposure they're getting for their money.
Reliability- This should be a no-brainer. Most podcast hosts these days are super reliable, and anything else is the exception, rather than the norm.
What podcast host should I choose?
Let's take a look at some of our contenders. All prices are in US dollars, but you probably figured that already. And they're as correct as I can get them as at February 2021:
If you're a one-show creator looking for a simple, effective all-round solution, then this is the one to get. If you're brand new to podcasting, they have a fantastic suite of support and help articles for getting your podcast up and running, and it's easy to submit your podcast to all the major directories. Buzzsprout users like the way you can create easily shareable audiograms straight from the publishing page. Plans are based on the cumulative duration of what you upload, so if you're uploading hours and hours of content you may need to spring for a higher plan. The free plan includes two hours of upload per month, but episodes will only last 90 days after you upload them.
Recommended for: Single-show podcasters looking for a simple, easy solution.
Pricing: Free plan (2 hours/month, 90 day expiry), paid plans with no expiry start from $12.
Symptomatic of Spotify's muscling in on the podcast market has been the rise of Anchor in podcast hosting circles. Naturally, thanks to Spotify's position in the music business, a big part of the appeal, nowadays is the ability to seamlessly integrate songs from Spotify's vast catalogue right into your podcast, without the minefield that is copyright and licensing issues. Other neat features include donation buttons for monetisation, the ability to record and edit in the app (with mixed results), remote recording and a cover art creator. AND it's free. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well some podcasters argue it might be. Rumours of distinctly podcaster-unfriendly articles in Spotify's terms of service led some podcasters to believe that by uploading it might mean that Anchor owned their podcasts. Spotify denies this, although some podcasters still criticise their license terms. And I remember what my media studies teacher once said... "If you're not paying for it... you're the product." Service looks a beauty, but those questions are keeping some away.
Recommended for: Single-show podcasters who are comfortable with Spotify's TOS.
Pricing: Gloriously, gloriously free.
As the name can attest, Blubrry's one of the OG's of the podcast hosting world, from a quaint old time at the dawn of Web 2.0 where all you had to do to name your startup was choose a word and then drop the vowels. Blubrry's major selling point is tech support via phone and email, which is a bit of a rarity these days although probably not that necessary when you consider the ease of use and reliability of most podcast hosts. A free Wordpress site to host your podcast on and some nice custom embedded players for your website are the deal sweeteners, along with options for dynamically-inserted ads and podcast networks in the Pro plan. But really, unless you're enticed by the prospect of comprehensive tech support, there are better value options out there.
Recommended for: Podcasters looking for the peace of mind that comes from on-call tech support.
Pricing: Options start at $12/month for 100MB.
If you're looking to publish a whole heap of content across multiple podcasts, this is a great option. Unlimited bandwidth and storage mean that you'll never hit the ceiling like you will with other podcast hosts. A customiseable podcast website is also a great feature, as well as the ability to create a private podcast for subscribers or your internal team. However, the best feature, where episodes will automatically upload to YouTube (increasing your audience beyond traditional podcast listeners), is hidden behind the second tier. Pricing starts at $19 a month, though you'll have to stump up $49 a month for the YouTube publishing package, and $99 a month for advanced analytics.
Recommended for: Pro-level users pumping out lots of content.
Pricing: Starts at $19 a month for the lowest plan, or $190 billed annually.
THE original of the first generation of podcast hosts, Liberated Syndication was one of the first to bring easy podcast hosting and distribution to the masses. Unfortunately, it seems like LibSyn has been left behind by some of the newer players on the market. A basic $5 plan will get you started with 50MB per month, which is cheaper than most, and unlike someone like BuzzSprout your episodes won't delete themselves after a little while. However once you're up and running, you may find that LibSyn's bare-bones features aren't enough to really help you expand your podcast like other hosts will.
Recommended for: Podcasters who just want a place to park their podcasts, and nothing else.
Pricing: Starts at $5 per month for the no-nonsense basic plan.
Another of the smaller players looking to carve out space in the market. Fireside's $9/month starter plan is a brilliant solution for those with a single show looking to get started on a budget, with 5 episodes and 10,000 downloads a month probably being more than most hobby podcasters will ever need. It compares fabourably with Buzzsprout's starter plan (your episodes are published forever) and LibSyn's basic plan (capped at 50MB). However, their standard and Professional plans aren't as attractive, with additional podcasts charged at $8/month in the fine print, despite the "Unlimited Podcasts" claim at the top of their plan comparison chart (a little dishonest if you ask me).
Recommended for: Hobbyist podcasters who find the Buzzsprout and Libsyn basic plans wanting.
Pricing: Basic plan runs at $9 per month, with 'Standard' plan including 1 podcast and 75K downloads in its $19/month, and 'Professional' plan including 2 podcasts and unlimited downloads for $49 a month.
One of the new kids on the block, Pinecast has become somewhat of a podcaster's little secret. The key benefit being that they take somewhat of a 'build your own' approach to their plans. The free version gets you a 48MB limit per episode and a 10 episode limit per feed, while the paid version is $10/month for unlimited shows and an 80MB limit per episode which will be enough for all but the longest podcasts. From there, you can add additional packs for enhanced analytics, "Crew" (allows you to add collaborators or add podcasts to your network), growth tools, or even more storage. A 'tip jar' functionality for listeners to donate to your show and an episode checker that checks your files for problems before uploading completes what is an enticing package.
Recommended for: Podcasters who want the flexibility to pick and choose features based on their needs.
Pricing: Free plan, while Starter plan is $10 per month.
Another podcast host offering unlimited upload and download, Podbean sets themselves apart with customiseable websites, automatic episode posting to social media, and email integrations with MailChimp to help convert your listeners across to your mailing list. Ad management and integrated subscription/patron models helps for those looking to generate income, whilst the Podbean app can facilitate livestream, remote recording and listener dial-in. The only problem? If you want to host a second podcast, you'll have to pay a second subscription.
Recommended for: Single-show podcasters looking to monetise or looking to conduct remote interviews or dial-ins.
Pricing: Unlimited storage plans start at $9/month.
This Aussie podcast host has also been around for a while, and concentrates on the top end of town where they provide plans tailored for business. This is reflected in the bottom tier plan being called the "Semi-Pro", which already includes two shows and 10,000 listens per month. Automated transcription, a cloud recorder and editor, multiple user accounts and private subscribers sweeten the deal for businesses looking to get into the podcasting game.
Recommended for: Businesses looking to dive into podcasting.
Pricing: Starts at $29 a month for the base-level "Semi-Pro" plan.
Transistor's known as being a pioneer of private, subscriber-only podcasts, but their plans and features ensure that they're a great option for public podcasting, too. They have one of the more generous plans too for $19 a month, with 15K downloads included and no storage or upload limits. The best part is that the tap doesn't automatically get turned off once you blow your download cap- instead they'll just send you an email and ask you to upgrade your plan starting the next month. Automatic publishing to YouTube and a nice cusomiseable variety of embeddable players for your website complete an attractive offer.
Recommended for: Podcasters looking to host multiple shows, perhaps one for clients and a private one for their team.
Pricing: Starts from $19 a month.
Marketing themselves as the "growth-oriented podcast host", Captivate will provide you with a number of handy tools to help you show everyone just how successful you are. Comprehensive statistics and a "one click sponsor kit" that gives you a fantastic summary of all your podcast stats to show your success to whoever's holding the purse strings- your sponsors, your boss, your clients, or your parents! Of course, this is all on top of the usual podcast host features, including embeddable players, customiseable podcast website (with donation support), and support for multiple team members. Every plan includes all the features, with download caps dictating which plan you'll need.
Recommended for: Podcasters who need comprehensive stats to show to sponsors or funders.
Pricing: $19 per month for 12K downloads, $49 for 60K, or $99 for 150K.