From Audience Focused to Awful Experience – The Rise and Fall of Stitcher Radio

As I have been podcasting since 2005, I remember Stitcher when it came on the scene in 2007. I remember talking to Noah Shanok. In the early days, they focused on the listener experience. A lot of people would use Stitcher in their cars.

I loved that I could listen in the car, go to my computer and pick up right where I left off (today Pocket casts, Overcast and Podverse have this feature). They continued to add podcasts, and they had streaming radio. My streaming station was on Stitcher at the time.

Thanks to James Cridlan for his article on Stitcher. If you want to see some old videos, James went even deeper on Stitcher.

Something You Couldn't Get Anywhere Else

It was also unique in those days. A unique app focused on a listener experience was successful. Shocking.

Seven years later, in 2014, with 35,000 shows in the app, it was bought by Deezer.

What Stitcher Did Wrong

They re-encoded your podcast at a rate that didn't make them sound good. They also started running ads without giving any of the proceeds to podcasters. I remember Greg Fitzsimmons was one of the first to pull his show. Then Podcast One network pulled their shows. So the ability to listen to all of your favorite shows in one place was damaged.

In 2016 Stitcher was sold to EW Scripps. I can't quite remember if it was during this period, but at one time, Stitcher went from playing an ad in between episodes to, if you pushed pause, you would hear an ad when you pushed play. That's when I quit using it. 

The listener experience was awful.

I started using Overcast. (and now use Castamatic as it is Podcasting 2.0 enabled)

Nobody Pays For Things They Don't Like

In 2017 they took on the “I'll show you!” mentality and created some exclusive shows.

This is the “If you won't use my app, I'll MAKE YOU use my app” model. They even had a Marvel show. There is only one problem with this idea.

Podcasting is based on an open system where the listener is in control. Spotify, Luminary, and others have tried this, and none of them have had success. Spotify just changed its model when it signed Trevor Noah. His show will not be exclusive.

From my travels, you can expect about 3% of your audience to join a membership. I remember Radio lab (a very popular science podcast at the time) doing a fundraiser to try to get UP TO 1%.

So when Stitcher asked me to pay $5/month to listen to shows I didn't care about, I said, “No, thank you.”

The Fall Continues

At one point, Stitcher was rumored to be one of the top 2 podcasts. By 2018 they had fallen to number six.

What do you do when your brand has taken a beating?

You rebrand.

In 2020 they continued to lose market share as, over the years, their uniqueness now had competition.

Forget Functionality. Just Make it Pretty.

So the app had some facelifts in 2020 and 2021, and when things got really bad, they pulled out all the stops.

In 2022 they introduced a DARK MODE. Because that made me want to listen…


So a unique app focused on delivering a great user experience got popular.

While they were new to podcasting, they apparently didn't completely understand podcasting (cause I don't know a single podcaster would've said, “Please make my show sound horrible and keep all the money from any advertising).

They went (as almost every company/podcast does that goes down this path) from running ads to running TOO MANY ADS. I'm going to repeat that. The ONE thing, more than anything else that ruined Stitcher for me was not ads.

It was TOO MANY ads.

Podcasting is NOT radio. Please quit pumping 30% of ads into my content.

Each time it got sold, the owners didn't know exactly what to do with Stitcher (and in the case of Deezer, getting support was quite the pain if your podcast had an issue).

My biggest fear is that podcasting will follow the road of radio. When I grew up, it was personality-based content with new and exciting music.

Now we have robot DJs who play the same 19 songs with 30% of commercials from gambling companies and car dealers. I need or use neither.

In the memo announcing the app would close in August, it states that the app was a “crucial accelerant for our advertising sales business.” They plan to incorporate podcasts into the Sirius XM service.

When a company based on content focuses too much on advertising, I tend to see them fail. (just a thought).

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About the Author
Owner of the School of Podcasting. Also produces the "Ask the Podcast Coach." He is also the author of the book "More Podcast Money" and is a regular speaker at podcasting and media conventions.

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