Why I Stopped Using Stitcher

[Update: We have negotiated a way to get back on Stitcher. They are now streaming directly from our podcast feed and are showing no ads over our content. My original post follows.]

Stitcher is an extremely convenient mobile app that allows you to subscribe and listen to your favorite podcasts by streaming them (i.e. without having to "sync" them). Over the past few months, I've encountered many listeners who have appreciated consuming my shows in this way, and I've used the Stitcher app myself a bunch of times. Unfortunately, I can no longer support this service.

Since I learned about Stitcher, I always just assumed that the service taps into the content directly using a podcast's RSS feed (similar to how Downcast, which is a spectacularly great app, does it). I started to suspect that this was not the case when I noticed differences in audio quality between an "official" episode of one of my podcasts and the Stitcher version of the episode. They were clearly compressing the audio of the show in some way. Compressing makes it easier to listen to the show if you're streaming it over a mobile data connection, but I wondered what the implications were for show producers such as myself.

I recently had the chance to learn about these implications through a blog post by Nerdist podcast host Chris Hardwick. His post is long and detailed, but it comes down to this: Stitcher essentially creates a copy of each one of your episodes, compresses the audio to facilitate streaming, then serves up that copy via their servers. They also sell in-app adds on this content.

As a podcast host/producer, there are two important implications for this:

1) People are downloading episodes in a way that prevents us from keeping track of these downloads. Whenever we are lucky enough to have a sponsor, that sponsor typically pays us based on how many downloads we have. No Stitcher downloads/streams counted towards these totals.

2) Stitcher sells advertising on top of our content, essentially making money off of our "free" labor. This is a bit unjust on its face, but moreover, as Hardwick points out, this can become complicated when Stitcher's sponsors conflict with our own.

Earlier today, I requested that both of my shows (The /Filmcast and The Tobolowsky Files) be removed from Stitcher. The representative I spoke with was incredibly accommodating and professional and as of now, both podcasts have been removed.

I know many of you listen to our show using Stitcher and I am deeply sorry for any inconvenience this change may cause your routine. That being said, if you listened to our show via Stitcher, it means we didn't get to track your downloads and any revenue generated from your downloads went straight to Stitcher (Stitcher has an ad partnership program but why would I enlist in that when I can just sell advertising on my own?). While being de-listed from Stitcher nominally takes away from our exposure, it will maximize our ability to monetize  our podcast and thus, will hopefully increase our overall longevity.

In my interactions with the Stitcher representative today, I learned that Stitcher apparently now has a way to tap into original podcast feeds, thus allowing us to keep track of downloads. Obviously this method comes with a number of disadvantages for the listener; most importantly, audio with large file sizes is difficult to stream and can end up costing a ton of data. Nonetheless, we may want to take them up on this option one day.

I'm not ready to do that right now. The problem is that for many months, Stitcher scraped our content, streamed it from their own servers, and sold ads on top of it. I find it objectionable and baffling that any company would think this is acceptable behavior, especially a company that purports to support a community of DIY bootstrappers that is the podcasting community. As a result, even if Stitcher has improved their ways, they've already destroyed a lot of trust in my mind. It may be possible for them to rebuild it, but that will take a long, long time.

26 comments :: Why I Stopped Using Stitcher

  1. There seem to be a lot of independent podcasters that avail themselves of Stitcher. Mark Maron is on stitcher, Tune in Radio and he has an app for getting his shows. Citizen Radio is also on stitcher as are many regular shows like Bill Simmons, some ESPN Podcasts. Not being very technically oriented can you keep track of how many people are listening directly from the slash film site. I can do that from my phone as well. I am surprised you don't have an app for the slashfilm cast

  2. Sometimes I am on the road and have listened to all the podcasts I have on my iPhone. If this happens, I hit 'Get More Episodes' on a particular podcast and it goes directly to iTunes, where I tap on the episode I want to listen to (not the download button) and it streams it without "downloading". I know that it uses up the same amount of data if I were to download it, maybe around 70mb, so I only do it if I'm in a bind a few times a week (im on a 2GB a month plan). Whats the point of enrolling in a new Stichter plan that uses original feeds with the full audio file if it's already possible through iTunes?

  3. @Sanford - I can only guess at why other podcasters use Stitcher. My guess is that they don't fully understand the implications of what Stitcher does, or they do understand, but decide that the exposure and convenience is worth it. As for an app, that may come in the future.

    @Daanish - The advantages of Stitcher are obvious: If you stream a podcast using Stitcher, it consumers MUCH less data than if you stream it off iTunes or using a true podcast catcher like Downcast/Instacast.

  4. @sanford I think Apple has cracked down on apps that are simply distributing podcasts. I'm pretty sure Chris Hardwick has mentioned on his Nerdist podcast that he wanted to make a Nerdist app similar to the WTF app, but that Maron got his app in just before Apple changed their ways. I suspect the same is true for Filmspotting and its app.

    Now, to be approved, an app apparently has to do more than just allow you to listen to a backlog of podcast episodes.

  5. @Dave - I know, I was referring specifically to the new Stitcher option you mentioned at the end of the piece.

    "In my interactions with the Stitcher representative today, I learned that Stitcher apparently now has a way to tap into original podcast feeds, thus allowing us to keep track of downloads. Obviously this method comes with a number of disadvantages for the listener; most importantly, audio with large file sizes is difficult to stream and can end up costing a ton of data. "

    My original question was, if the advantage of the smaller file size is gone, then whats the point of this new Stitcher model when you can do it with iTunes?

  6. @Daanish - Stitcher is a lot easier to navigate than iTunes. And as I'm sure I'll soon learn, there are some people that use Stitcher exclusively to listen to our show.

  7. A while back Greg fitzsimmons had this same issue with stitched, and also called to have his podcast removed, he said that when called they offered him some sort of cut of the revenue or playback, but he turned it down because the principle matter, they stole first and asked later. Not personally affected by this, but I think you clearly made right decision. I not cost money, but there's always the option of creating ur own app to stream the show or shows.

    Ps. Just heard you on avclub, hopefully you pop up there more often, good stuff.

  8. Ugh, I hate t9.... hopefully you can make sense of what I was trying to say haha

  9. Dave,

    First of all, I love both your shows and try not to miss an episode. I also enjoy hearing all /filmcasters takes on technology which is why I am very interested on your decision when it comes to Stitcher.

    I am a Stitcher user and have been for some time now. It is BY FAR the easiest way to organize and play all my favorite podcasts while I am at work. So everytime a podcast that I am a fan of drops off Stitcher I have decide whether I’m going to deal with extra inconvenience and listen elsewhere (like Earwolf) or abandon the podcast (like Nerdist) and this whole debate becomes of interest to me again. I fully respect everyone’s decision to do what they wish with their own podcast. You offer great content for free with limited ads so who are we to complain when you decide where you will or will not let it be played from. However, I do have a few questions about the decision and your thought process in weighing the pros and cons. Hopefully this won’t sound like I’m criticizing the decision, just trying to gain some insight.

    My first question comes from the issue of stitcher selling ads. You’re post seems to give the impression that ads actually interrupt the listeners experience in Stitcher. In the over a year that I have used Stitcher I have rarely come across an audio ad and when they have come up they have always been before or after the podcast, never in the middle of an episode. The only ads that are consistently on Stitcher are the tiny banner ads on the screen. These are very small and are probably (though I certainly don’t know) covering barely more than the cost of running the app. These ads certainly don’t interfere with any specific podcast that is being broadcast. I fully understand the potential conflict that could arise but Harwick’s issue (and he seems to have had some influence) kinda seemed like he had a problem with Stitcher using his product (Nerdist) to sell ads. Don’t they provide a service though and shouldn’t they also be allowed to profit off the wonderful app that they have developed? They certainly have to work hard to keep an app with so much content working smoothly (if you don’t agree just look at all the apps with problems, including Earwolfs)... cont.

  10. My biggest question though concerns exposure and accessibility. On the /filmcast you guys, specifically Adam, have railed against Film Studios, Television Networks, and Producers who make their content less accessible to consumers. Take film trailers as an example. I believe you would agree that it is silly for film studios to yank leaked trailers off youtube because that content is available for free anyway and gives exposure to the film. I am wondering how this is much different. If the main goal is to eventually monetize the podcast (which I hope works since podcasting is my favorite medium right now) wouldn’t more exposure be the best thing that could happen to you? I actually started listening to your podcast when it was recommended (by Stitcher) while I was listing to Filmspotting, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. An itunes subscription, while easily tracked, does not allow for that same type of cross promotion. This is especially important for something like The Tobolowsky Files which seems to be moving toward live shows. If that’s the case, the real money will be made through selling tickets to the show, not advertisers on the podcast. This is why you see so many touring comedians embracing the podcast medium. The long term money will be made in exposure, not itunes numbers.

    I’ll try to cut this short since this is in the comments section though I’d love to discuss more if only just to educate myself. I’m certainly open to the possibility that I am completely wrong about everything I’ve said. I’m just afraid that podcasters will alienate listeners by shunning Stitcher seems oddly parallel to TV networks discounting Hulu and DVR and the music industry shunning itunes a decade ago. Either way, you do have two podcasts that I will follow regardless of the platform. In fact, its probably about time for me to become a paid subscriber as well. Good luck with everything and thanks for all the valuable content.

  11. @Dan,

    I'll try to respond to your points as best as I can:

    1) With regards to Stitcher's ads, my argument wasn't about how obtrusive they are. Rather, I was bothered by the idea that someone was taking my work without my permission or knowledge, slapping ads onto it, and making money for themselves. True podcast catchers (such as Instacast or Downcast) don't make money this way. They design good software and profit when people make money to download it. I have no problem supporting Instacast or Downcast.

    2) Due respect but I think your analogy is pretty ridiculous. First of all, the studios we speak about are multinational conglomerates with market caps in the billions. We record our podcast using tin cans and string (metaphorically). Furthermore, we don't resist new fangled technology! as I mentioned already, I SUPPORT apps like Downcast and Instacast. But some apps are clearly designed to respect the rights of content producers and some are not. We support the apps that are the former, as opposed to the latter.

    Second of all, the whole point is that exposure on Stitcher provides us with very few actual benefits. Our tracked downloads don't increase at all. And even if we get popular on Stitcher, all the benefits from that redound to Stitcher, not us. Sure, more people will know about our show, but Stitcher is only one avenue. There are many other avenues to spread the word about the show THAT WILL ACTUALLY BENEFIT US.

    Also: the /Filmcast will never make any significant money from live shows. Ever. The Tobolowsky Files might, but that's a whole other argument.

    In summation, I can't support a company that made carbon copies of our content and profited off of it for months without our knowledge. In time, Stitcher's value proposition may become so irresistible that we will be stupid not to be listed on its service. I do not believe that day has come yet. And thus, given my philosophical objections to them, I cannot support them at this point.

  12. @Dave,

    Thanks for the response. My post was very stream of conscious and I didn't read through it before posting. As a result I think my feelings came through the wrong way. I really am interested in the business behind podcasting and where its going so I hope my curiosity didn't sound like a criticism.

    In regards to the ads, I always thought of the ads to be on their app rather than on your work. I think of your work as the audio and their work as the actual app itself. I can see how you would feel differently though, and while I still am not sure I agree, I do understand your point. I will try out one of your recommended apps.

    My analogy was ridiculous, apologies for that and for sounding as if you resist technology which is obviously not the case. The point I was making was just that more often than not, shutting out consumers hurts more than helps, ESPECIALLY as an upstart. I thought of it as free advertising and that more listeners might help with more page views at slashfilm.com. However, I think you are right in this case since the impact would be minimal and /filmcast cannot benefit from live shows. Plus, with the /film brand you aren't exactly an upstart so my logic was very flawed there.

    I do think our whole disagreement came down to the moral aspect of it though. I definitely thought of stitcher ads as being ads on the delivery medium (the app) and not the content. However, I think I am in the minority on that and may be starting to come around.

    Thanks again for taking time to respond, looking forward to whats to come in 2012 on your podcasts.

    -Dan

  13. @Dan - You already pointed this out, but yes: it doesn't make a difference to me whether the ads are in-app or actually in the audio stream. They are making ad money off of my content without my permission. It's the principle, not the specific format in which they do it.

  14. Fair enough, I see your point. Thanks for the insight.

  15. Thanks for posting this David! I'll RSS from Google Reader and listen through Google Listen. While it is a lot easier to have everything in one place on Stitcher, you're worth the trouble and I completely understand why you left. I've been listening since the beginning and I don't intend to stop now.

  16. Well, technically, if you have a site, Google makes money out of your content by indexing it. And Facebook targets ads to your users because they liked your site. There is no free access to users. Apps and services that cost money to be mantained need to make money somehow. I don't see why Stitcher would be different. Come back to Stitcher, please :)

  17. Ugh, I can't believe you bought into Hardwick's BS. Stitcher isn't selling ads on *your content*, they're selling ads on *their service,* which provides something *you don't provide* -- the ability to stream the show, sort it into personalized categories, and refresh, along with dozens of other shows, every day with a single click.

    What this debate boils down to is podcasters putting their own interests ahead of the interests of their listeners. "Us first, you second." It's not only "uncool," it's fairly foolish from a business standpoint. Funny how both Carolla, Maron, and Smith -- probably the three biggest names in podcasting -- have managed to squeak by, while still making their shows available to a larger audience. Fascinating.

    I used to listen to the /Filmcast show, and I haven't since it disappeared. Wanna know why? Here it is:

    "...this method comes with a number of disadvantages for the listener; most importantly, audio with large file sizes is difficult to stream and can end up costing a ton of data. Nonetheless, we may want to take them up on this option one day."

    Meanwhile, you'll just make your show more difficult for us to listen to. Awesome.

  18. Carolla, Maron, and Smith squeak by BECAUSE they are Carolla, Maron, and Smith. If your audience is over 500,000, then a few thousand lost to Stitcher doesn't make a difference. You're already raking in literally tens of thousands of dollars. Any money lost to Stitcher can be written off as an advertising expense.

    If your audience is the size of OUR audience, then a few thousand lost downloads is the difference between being able to monetize the show at all or not.

    We put out tons of hours of content for free on a weekly basis. All we ask is that you download it from our servers. In my opinion, this is an extremely minor request for what we are willing to provide. If doing us this one small favor of actually downloading the podcast from us is too much to ask of you, then I don't really think you're a fan I'm interested in having.

  19. Right, first I'll apologize for the acidic tone of my previous post. Had just come off a heated debate with someone else, and found your post while looking for further information about this topic. I was still hot.

    My argument, however, remains the same -- and I can't help pointing out that you begin by saying your audience is small enough that you need everyone you can get, then finish up by saying I'm not the sort of fan you want. Doesn't this seem like a slight contradiction between practice and theory?

    You note that you're only asking one small "favor" of your listeners, but that attitude doesn't take into account the fact that many of us follow loads of shows. When you fragment access, it's one small thing. When you, along with Nerdist, fragment access, it's two small things. When you, Nerdist, and Fitzdog fragment access... do you see how this becomes exponentially more cumbersome for the listeners? And doesn't a successful business go where the customers are, rather than asking the customers to come to them? Isn't that Service 101?

    Of course, you have every right to run your business however you see fit, and as fans, we have no right to make demands about how content is delivered. But withdrawing from a free service that provides your content to a wider audience, and makes it more easily accessible to your existing audience, looks like hard-headedness -- even if it creates a greater challenge for you. Successful organizations aren't about making things less challenging for themselves, but for the audience they're trying to find.

    I know that many sites like yours are built around the concept of community, and therefore you will always be a contingent that follows wherever you go. If that's all you care about, then I guess it makes sense to dismiss the fans you're "not interested in having." Fair enough. But imagine if you thought just a little further out.

  20. It's not a contradiction at all. There are a few things in your issues in your comment that I need to point out.

    1) The idea that we are a "successful business" and you are a "customer" and we are "going to you" by being on Stitcher makes no sense. We derive basically no benefit from anyone listening to our show on Stitcher. Sure that person might tell others to listen to us, but what if they tell others to listen to us on Stitcher? We could theoretically end up having TONS of people listening to us on Stitcher. The benefit to us? None. Stitcher collects all the ad money and we get none of the impressions.

    We don't do live shows. We don't charge money for live shows. We don't charge money for special subscription content. We get no benefit from more people knowing about our show UNLESS they listen via iTunes or a regular podcast catcher.

    2) "withdrawing from a free service that provides your content to a wider audience...looks like hard-headedness -- even if it creates a greater challenge for you." Again, it's not that it creates a "greater challenge." It's that Stitcher completely destroys any value we derive from the show. Why should I support a service that does this?

    I'd rather have a community that understand this issue and chooses to support us anyway, than one that insists on consuming our podcast through THIS ONE SPECIFIC APP.

    Finally, you say "imagine if you thought just a little further out." I have. We may one day return to STitcher. But at this point, the community they have and their value proposition is not compelling enough for me to re-consider this decision.

    Fireflyfellow (or whatever your name is - please leave it in your next post): I spend a ton of time thinking about this topic. I study it for a living. Please try to recognize that in this instance, the most convenient thing for listeners might not be the best thing for the show.

    -David

  21. Thanks for the response. It seems from your arguments that you are not interested in the big picture, but are instead focused on what directly benefits the podcast monetarily. I don't understand that sort of thinking, but if that's where you want to be, I don't expect I'll change your mind.

    To address your points specifically:

    "We derive basically no benefit from anyone listening to our show on Stitcher. [...] We could theoretically end up having TONS of people listening to us on Stitcher. The benefit to us? None."

    This is, of course, nonsense. What you mean is that it wouldn't increase your podcast ad revenue. And you're right, it wouldn't. But what it *would* do is drive people to your website, increase traffic, and presumably create ad revenue there. It creates awareness of your brand.

    As you know, there are a million film-related websites out there. I was vaguely aware of /Film, but had never visited the site until I discovered the /Filmcast on Stitcher.

    When a new product hits the supermarket, they give away free samples. Why is that? They could theoretically have TONS of people eating their food for free. Does that benefit them?

    "I'd rather have a community that understand this issue and chooses to support us anyway, than one that insists on consuming our podcast through THIS ONE SPECIFIC APP."

    Yes, you're only interested in attracting devoted fans, who will do whatever they need to do to support the show. That's the vibe I got from your last post, as well.

    The point isn't that that I (or others like me) "insists" on listening to the show through ONE SPECIFIC APP. It's that we don't insist on listening AT ALL.

    We listen because it's entertaining, and interesting, and *there* -- where we are. When it's no longer there, only the most devoted listeners are going to change up their routine to seek it out. You seem okay with that, and that's your prerogative.

    "Please try to recognize that in this instance, the most convenient thing for listeners might not be the best thing for the show."

    Obviously, I disagree, and I think I've demonstrated why.

    I don't expect you to shed a tear for the loss of this single listener, but I would implore you to think about how many people like me discovered /Film because of the podcast, and discovered the podcast because of Stitcher (or whatever other distribution system may come down pike).

    Then think about how many other communities I'm involved in, and how many times I posted links to /Film stories in those communities, or on Facebook, where people who aren't even film fanatics might have clicked on that link. Or how many times I recommended the podcast to friends. And how many of those people *don't* use Stitcher, preferring to download it from you directly. And on and on -- I don't have to explain this stuff to you, you know how it works. But all of that residual awareness and traffic can be traced right back to an app that you feel doesn't benefit you at all.

    -Paul

  22. Paul,

    You make good points, and I'm aware of the ancillary benefits of being listed on Stitcher. That being said, as I've already said, I just don't feel the community there is big enough to warrant the disadvantages of going back to them. In other words, at this point, the downsides outweigh the upsides for me. In the (near) future, that may no longer be the case. But for now, it's how I feel about it.

    And as I mentioned in my blog post, there's also just the principle of allying myself with an organization that digitally copied my content and profited off of it without my knowledge. It's not something I take lightly, despite whatever "benefits" you've listed may have redounded to me as a result.

    -David

  23. Because Android users do not have iTunes on their phones.

  24. I've read all these comments with fascination. I'm someone who used itunes for years and generally did not like its approach, so when I found Stitcher it was like a breath of fresh air. Beyond the streaming, and the easy discovery of new shows, there’s also the simple concept that it plays one episode of a show at a time, so if I have several (especially smaller ones) I listen to, I can then listen to several of the shows' latest episodes in a row, which is just not the way most podcatchers, most notably itunes, work.

    So then when we have shows pull off of Stitcher, it's such a bummer.

    So I’d like to press you on this, David, though I can tell it's a serious hotbutton issue and I'm taking a risk. :-) But since you so publicly represent the perspective of producers who’ve pulled out, I really want to make sure I understand your position, if I may.

    And to that I'd like to ask 2 simple questions about your position that I don't seem to see answered above. (Forgive me if it's my mistake.)

    First, you keep saying that one of the biggest problems is the inability to track downloads. But doesn't Stitcher provide you that info? Their producer FAQ says so as the 3rd question (stitcher.com/contentFAQ.php). Are you perhaps saying something about it is insufficient? That would be different. As it is, you seem to assert you can get no such info.

    Like Paul and Dan, I hope you hear that my questions and concern are sincere. You seem so firm in your convictions, but is there any chance there's some misunderstanding? If it's not yours, then please do help us see more clearly ours.

    Second, you keep asserting that their most egregious offense was they "digitally copied my content and profited off of it without my knowledge". So you’re saying you never asked to be listed in Stitcher, right?

    Some may note that their FAQ indicates that producers do have to request to be added, but they also indicate (in the last question of the FAQ) that they added some shows based either on listener requests or "to build a great platform".

    I'm assuming it's that point that happened and which rankles you. But besides wondering if it may have been because listeners requested you, one might also wonder if you could see it as more an honor if they simply regarded your show as popular or otherwise important enough to list it. But clearly, in the latter case, if you never knew they were doing it, I can see the cause for concern. They don't address that matter in their FAQ.

    Did you by any chance ask the people you spoke with whether they’d considered only adding content if they explained and got permission from producers? Maybe that was more a mistake of judgment from which they've since learned. If so, could you not forgive them that, and call bygones?

    If new people discovered your show via Stitcher, and you DID get the numbers, is it not a win-win?

    Or am I still missing a point? If so, please be gentle in replying. The folks above have not seemed to me to be bashing you, just pleading with you. I'm doing the same. Any of us can have a blind spot. Or if that's not it, we can slip in not offering a point of explanation which then leaves a blind spot that others are confused by.

    I hope you'll help us, either way, to close this one, whosever it is. :-)

    Finally, in case you may wonder or would ask, no, I am not a listener to your show. I'm a stitcher fan who's seen a couple of his favorite shows leave, often with no explanation. I'd found the nerdist discussion first, and then yours, and since you and the folks here were so clear and thoughtful, I felt safer jumping in here, and again to help not just me and my situation, nor just that of your listeners, but hopefully as much for you (and all such producers who feel as you do).

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts above on the matter, and also if you accept and may consider responding to mine.

  25. fwiw, a friend enthusiastically recommended the T. Files, and as a Stitcher addict I was disappointed not to find it there, so I googled & found this interesting discussion.

    I am stretched managing the firehose of fascinating media I want to devour, and I'll just say that trying to manage Downcast/Instacast is a step too far for me in my busy life. Stitcher, with it's queuing & organization makes it easy to check out & get excited about new podcasts, so someone like me is inclined to give up at the first difficulty...sad, perhaps, but life's busy.

    If you can't monetize or aggregate stats through Stitcher, I understand the need to go your own way; just wanted to give you a real-time experience of a user.

    otoh, I will download Downcast and see just how much friction is involved in managing a podcast, your podcast, and perhaps it will work for me...

    Thanks for the enlightening discussion here.

    -Adrian

    btw, a Blogger I.D. for commenting? How 2006 ;) I haven't set eyes on my own abandoned and failed blog experiments in 4 years until just now, thanks to posting here.

  26. David, might you be open to reengaging on some of the above? I'm sure it's a contentious issue for you, but I hope you'd consider mine and Adrian's replies since your last comment here in March. We're really wanting to understand your situation by hoping you better understand ours. Did I say anything in my long comment that gave you any new perspective? Or are you still against Stitcher, completely?

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