[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.