The Stitcher Situation
by Chris Hardwick on September 13, 2011
What a fun day of drama in the podcast world! (ok, mini-drama, really. there’s actually serious shit going on in the world. #1stWorldProblems.)
As many of you saw on Twitter or noticed when you tried to stream the Nerdist Podcast on Stitcher Radio, we have pulled our show from Stitcher. I wanted to give a little history and breakdown with the information I have and try to present the facts to the best of my knowledge. I am a human being, so if I get something wrong or fuck something up I will absolutely own up to that. Here we go!
In April of 2010 I received a polite email from the partnership manager at Stitcher Radio, a company I had heard about but was not familiar with. I don’t know exactly what a partnership manager does, but it’s a snazzy sounding name and she was exceptionally nice (I don’t want to say her name because I have not asked permission to do so). I want to make it clear that Stitcher has always been incredibly nice and complimentary to us. The email outlined a request to join Stitcher’s network of shows. Their model, I found out, was to stream hundreds and hundreds of podcasts on demand thereby eliminating the need to download anything. Makes good sense! It seems that you can only download the most recent episode or two, but I may be wrong about that.
The following are some of the initial emails exchanged. I edited out the partnership manager’s name and removed unnecessary information about instructions and suggestions for cross-promotion, but if there’s a huge outcry to see that stuff (why would there be) I’ll post it:
Again, I want to check in and see if you have had a chance to consider adding The Nerdist to Stitcher.
The fans are waiting!
Please give me a shout with any questions and I hope we can work this out.
Thank you very much
I’m totally happy to add the podcast to your network as long as it’s the same RSS feed that I’m already using (I just want to be able to track every download). I believe that’s what you were asking for, right?
As far as cross promotional stuff, I can’t put a Stitcher logo on my website. I can mention it once on the show, but it won’t be a recurring thing. I’m happy to throw out a tweet as well.
Let me know if that works for you.
Sensational! That is fine, a link would be finer but we’ll take a mention and a tweet.
Is this the feed you would like to use: http://nerdist.libsyn.com/rss
Once up I will send you an easy share link and a few copy points.
Thanks so much. We are stoked to add The Nerdist.
OK, we took the Libsyn feed (same as what links to iTunes) and added
it to Stitcher. People are going to be thrilled!
Nice, right? I’m not claiming that Stitcher ever stole our show. I gave them permission with the caveat that they use our RSS feed and as you can see, they agreed. Once you allow your feed to get splintered then it gets very hard to track downloads and such. It’s possible, but it’s cleaner to have everything come from the same feed. Also, our show was doing well on the iTunes, and I didn’t want their algorithm to lose downloads. For those of you who are curious, iTunes is responsible for about 80% of our downloads. This is important because as we continue to grow the show, we need sponsorships. As I’ve said before, it is expensive to give out free content, and Matt, Jonah and I have not slacked in putting out shows every week without fail since February of 2010. At a certain point, we need to be able to pay for things like equipment, space, a producer and ourselves.
At some point (I don’t know when) it seems that Stitcher stopped using our feed and pulled our show onto their own. This was the information that came back to me from my business partner who spoke to them yesterday. It even states on their website now that they use their own feed. That’s fine, but I specifically asked them not to do that and they agreed and then did it anyway. This is my first problem with the set up.
Several times I was offered me a revenue share for Nerdist through Stitcher. I always forwarded those emails off to my biz partner or manager to deal with because I hate dealing with that crap. I’m a comedian, not a sales person. I don’t know where the failure happened but nothing ever worked out, and I’m willing to take the blame for that. In April of this year, a fancy and prominent podcast friend of mine sent me an email warning about what he felt was irresponsible handling of podcasters’ content on Stitcher and the sentiment that he felt that we were all being ripped off. (No, it wasn’t Bill Burr, though he apparently has been quite vocal against them as well) I kinda blew it off because I was swamped and just didn’t have time to conduct a thorough investigation. Again, I suck.
Cut to last week…I’m surfing the app store and I see the Stitcher app. Now, I had never used it before so I think, “Hey! Here’s that thing we’re on!” I load up our show so I can see if the logo looks right, how it’s delivered, that kind of thing. Then I see a banner ad at the bottom of the page for some Where’s Waldo thing. (Seriously, how many fucking times do we have to find that dweeb???) And then it kind of sinks in. They’re taking our content, slapping ads on it and then keeping the money. While it’s true that they offered me a partnership deal, I had no idea that meant that if I didn’t do it that they would still sell ads on top of our show and just keep all the money.
I get it! I get it! The Web is a culture of aggregation! We post stuff on this VERY site that we see elsewhere, but a) we link back to the source b) we actually don’t put ads on this site yet and c) we editorialize. In other words, we at least put a spin on stuff, like a biased news organization would (ka-POW). I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about an app that just takes other people’s content and slaps ads on it just felt wrong to me on a very deep level and I didn’t feel comfortable supporting it. I can’t explain exactly why, it just pissed me off.
I had my business guy set up a call with Stitcher (after I sent what would be considered a nasty email to Stitcher. though, from their point of view they had been doing this for a year and a half so why the freak-out now???) and he relayed to me that this “partnership rev share” thing was, in his words, “a negligible amount”, which I later found out hovered around $100 every three months. He’s a business guy. He wants to pull revenue from wherever, but when he also confirmed that we were losing the downloads from our RSS feed it just seemed like a rotten deal for us. Furthermore, they gave us download numbers on Stitcher since March, and we apparently average 913 per day. If you multiply that by 30 days and then by 6 (months), you get roughly 164,000 downloads. Holy cats! So not only did we not track that many downloads, but they’ve been making money off us the whole time.
It’s a tough decision. @redban on Twitter said “…it’s all about ears right?” and I usually agree with that. In this case, though, I just can’t support letting someone else profit from other people’s hard work. The other issue involves conflict of sponsorship. Let’s say, for example, that we get a big sponsorship from Toyota for the podcast, but Stitcher runs a Ford ad over our show on their app. We have no control over who their sponsors are or what ads they stick on our page, so that can actually cost us money if Toyota catches wind of it and pulls our spots.
When I announced on Twitter that we had pulled our show (as a response to some friendly “Where’s your damn show on my Stitcher app” tweets) there was mostly support but a surprising number of complainers. That was kinda weird to me. I thought, “REALLY? We bust our asses to put out 2 FREE shows a week ALWAYS and you’re whining about not being able to get it on ONE app that I feel hurts our show???” I may have tweeted that as well. Mock indignation aside, I’m genuinely sorry if this move screws anyone over. I know how it can be to get comfortable with our routines and delivery systems. And maybe I’m an idiot for letting that many sets of ears go away, but I really feel like if people really enjoy the show and give a crap about what we do, they’ll find alternative methods of getting it into their hear holes. Why, if you have ideas you could add them to this very comment thread! Maintaining the structural integrity of our RSS feed is important in the bigger picture because those numbers and rankings will allow us to pull in better sponsorships so that we can finish making the LONG OVERDUE Nerdist app, por esample. Yeah, I know we should have one. I can only do so many things at once, nerdlings! But you deserve a good one and I promise you will get it in the near future.
So that’s the story. I don’t think the Stitcher folks are malicious or purposely trying to fuck anyone over, I just think they have a product that they want to put into the world that unfortunately relies entirely on the creativity of other people. I also think Carlos Mencia doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong when he re-appropriates jokes (I know they’re not exactly the same thing). I usually have a pretty good gut about things and for these reasons I have laid out in addition to emotional ones I just can’t seem to articulate, it’s telling me to steer clear of this. Your support of our show has been BEYOND what I ever could have imagined and I appreciate it to the point where I almost want to get blubbery, like a drunk sorority girl at a date party at 3am. I thank you for your time and I hope you’ll stick with us.
I less than three you!
PS – ironically, writing this took the time I had allotted to post this weeks first podcast, so that will happen later on. apologies!!!
UPDATE at 11:01p: Wow! What a delicious shit storm! First off, I appreciate the support from those who gave it. I’m surprised by other reactions. So far, I’ve been called whiny, egotistical and Paris Hilton. I’m not sure why. I didn’t whine, nor is my decision ego-based.
Rachel from Stitcher left a nice comment on the thread and I respect her for having the balls to come here and get involved. I dug through old emails and did indeed get the email she spoke of. Here’s the passage:
“Once I add the RSS feed, everything is automatic. The latest show will
always be available within the hour after it is added to the feed.
We download it and add it to our server, compress it, and serve it
over the mobile networks—-no loss in audio quality.
We also deliver quarterly (or on-demand) detailed listening reports.
I hope that sounds good. We would love to make this happen.
We know our Stitcher audience will love having The Nerdist included on Stitcher- we get requests all.the.time.!”
The problem I’m having is that my response to this email was “I’m totally happy to add the podcast to your network as long as it’s the same RSS feed that I’m already using”. In other words, DON’T DOWNLOAD THIS ONTO YOUR SERVER AND USE YOUR OWN FEED. You can see in the post way above that she comes off like, “Hey no problem!” Their tricky trick was that they used my RSS feed to download each episode once, and then stick it on their server. Technically, they used the feed so they could say, “We’re using your feed!” but it was only once per ep. If you don’t think this comes off as a tad shady, then you are weird. I thought I was clear that this was not what I wanted, but I guess I didn’t say it well enough.
The banner ads are a problem for us, I’m sorry. There’s no getting around that. They present a potential conflict for our upcoming advertisers and I can promise you there are some big ones coming up.
I’m not whining. I’m not trying to fuck over listeners. I’m certainly not egotistical. I think I laid everything out in as calm and fair a manner as possible. I doubt Paris Hilton would have written the above post. I’m just doing what I think is best for the show. If Stitcher has a decent proposal in mind that takes my concerns into consideration, I’m willing to talk about it for sure. I am not an unreasonable guy! If you listen to the show with any regularity, you know this to be true!
Still love all you guys! Sorry for the shitty shitness.