One of the biggest recurring costs for podcasters is hosting. While there are free options, like Spotify’s Anchor, most will run you between $5-50/month depending on the number of uploads or downloads.
Podcast search engine Listen Notes hopes to cut costs for podcasters everywhere by announcing that later in 2022 they’re launching a service called Listen Host. Listen Host will provide free, unlimited hosting to podcasts.
Let’s take a closer look at what it offers, how it works, and answer the all-important question: “what’s the catch?”
Listen Host Features
There are two features that Listen Host touts the most:
The ability to upload unlimited shows and episodes. That means unlimited storage and downloads.The ability to use a custom domain for your RSS feed.
Each of these features kind of has a caveat. The first is that episode file sizes have a limit of 250MB. If you’re thinking, “that seems really big,” it is. Even at 128kbps encoding, you can have an episode well over 2.5 hours. I only mention it here because that technically is a limit…though probably not one you’ll need to worry about.
About That Custom Domain
The other caveat is the custom domain. One might read that feature as you “can” use a custom domain. But you have to use a custom domain. Listen Host will not provide a generic URL for you to use.
This may be a barrier for entry to people who don’t know how to buy a domain, or more likely, people who don’t want to mess with a DNS (I’m a web developer of 20+ years, and I still get nervous touching the DNS sometimes).
They do list a number of benefits for using a custom domain — chiefly that if you ever need to move hosts, you won’t need to update your feed.
Depending on how they create the URL structure, this may or may not be true. For example, if their service uses customdomain.com/feed.rss, and the service your moving too uses customdomain.com/podcast.rss, you’ll still need to update your old feed to point to the new one.
This is pure speculation, but in the FAQs, they talk a little bit too much about switching services. It’s probably nothing, but it raised a small flag for me.
What’s the Catch?
There’s an adage online that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. So you might be wondering…free podcast hosting? What’s the catch?
It turns out they’ve anticipated this question and have that exact verbiage on the website.
To Listen Notes’ credit, they appear transparent about the free hosting. First, they say they’ll fund the free hosting (which is low-cost to them) with their commercial offerings. You will likely need a Listen Notes account to sign up, bringing you into their entire ecosystem.
I could also imagine that files hosted on their servers will be easier and faster to index for their search engine.
They also plainly state that the core hosting will be free, but they may add more advanced features at a cost.
For example, the first version of Listen Host is rolling out without analytics, which means you won’t have download or demographic information. They encourage users to integrate with a third-party analytics service like Podtrac if they want stats.
Analytics (or advanced analytics) is a perfect candidate for the “premium feature” moniker. If you’re just looking for a place to host audio files, then you can do that free of charge. But if you need first-party download data for sponsorship or other key performance indicators (KPIs), it’s worth paying for.
Similarly, they list private/member RSS feeds — something missing from many podcast hosting solutions — as well as a feature where listeners can send you some money for your efforts. These two could help Listen Host differentiate from most other hosting solutions.
Looking for a Streamlined Hosting Alternative
While free hosting is great for hobbyists or testing the waters, if you’re going to stake your business on your podcast, you should pay for it. This applies to any tool or service crucial to your income.
Listen Host could be a fantastic option when you need the cheapest alternative. But you may run into workflow issues if you have big files or don’t want to rely solely on your custom domain and a DNS.
A most streamlined alternative might be our own product, Alitu. On top of recording and editing features, it just rolled out podcast hosting, which you as part of any plan. When you combine all of Alitu’s features, the hosting is basically free anyway!