In February, 2016, Apple launched Podcasts Connect. This new portal gives podcasters the ability to manager their shows in iTunes and Apple's Podcasts apps. Here's what you need to know about these podcasting updates.
Did you receive Apple's emails?
Apple regularly sends important news and updates to podcasters. In February, 2016, Apple sent two emails to announce these new updates.
These emails usually go to the email address in your <itunes:email> RSS tag. If you don't have access to that email account, then change your RSS feed to use an email address you can access. DANGER: some third-party feed-creation tools will default to their own email address, and may not let you use your own.
But you may also receive the email to your Apple ID account.
If you don't receive these important emails from Apple, then make whatever changes are necessary so that you won't miss these announcements!
(Side note: “Podcast Connect” (without the S) is Todd Cochrane's company hosting the Podcast Awards, which are back and need your input!)
The biggest news is Apple's new Podcasts Connect feature, which is the new way for submitting and managing podcasts in iTunes and the Podcasts apps. Logging in requires an Apple ID, which you should have if you ever submitted a podcast through iTunes.
This new control over your podcast listing means you won't need to wait for Apple's support or explanations. It also means you can now submit a podcast without having iTunes—great news for Linux and mobile-device users!
Based on the language in the revised documentation, Podcasts Connect seems to be more than a management tool for podcasters. I think Apple is positioning it as a podcast submission platform. This makes logical sense, as it was often complicated to explain how submitting to iTunes put you in other distribution channels, too. “Podcasts Connect” is generic and descriptive enough to include iTunes, Podcasts for iOS, Podcasts for Apple TV, and other apps connected via the iTunes API. Plus, it is future-proof for new platforms, such as an Apple Podcasts app for Android.
Thus, you'll hear me start saying, “Submit to Podcasts Connect” instead of “Submit to iTunes.”
What can you do with Podcasts Connect?
- Submit new podcasts—now with validation and concise explanations of issues!
- See all podcasts previously submitted with your Apple ID.
- See status and last-update information for previously submitted podcasts.
- Force a feed refresh—only use this if you know your feed is working and subscribers can download new episodes, but the updates haven't shown in iTunes for at least 24 hours. This won't affect your subscribers.
- Temporarily hide a podcast from Podcasts Connect platforms (iTunes, Podcasts apps, iTunes API)—this won't affect your subscribers.
- Permanently delete a podcast from Podcasts Connect platforms—this won't affect your subscribers.
- Get your show's standard iTunes URL.
- Get your show's Mirror URL and update its source RSS feed (more details in a moment).
Please note that these changes affect only your directory listing in the Podcasts Connect platforms. They will not affect your subscribers (with one possible exception in the Mirror URL).
What are “URL” and “Mirror URL”?
The most confusing new features in Podcasts Connect are the Mirror URL and ability to change your RSS feed URL.
The Mirror URL is a little like FeedBurner's pure, uncorrupting, vanilla state with none of its archaic features enabled. This URL, following the pattern of
pcr.apple.com/id[PODCAST-ID-NUMBER], is a simple 302 temporary redirect for your RSS feed. This means if you enter the Mirror URL into a browser, you'll be redirected to your RSS feed, but in a way that doesn't assume you should always land on that destination URL. It's like a temporary forward of mail at the Post Office. You haven't permanently moved, but you want everything going to the old address forwarded to the new address without notifying the sender of a permanent change of address.
Thus, this means that once your podcast is in iTunes, you could potentially submit the Mirror URL feed to other podcast directories, and maintain control of your RSS feed without other third-party tools (such as FeedBurner). But if you have control of your feed URL already (such as using PowerPress, Libsyn's RSS feed, or even FeedBurner already, then you don't need the Mirror URL.)
This brings me to the “URL” field. This is a dangerous field, because it doesn't do what you might think it does.
To be clear, changing your feed address in the “URL” field will not redirect all your existing subscribers. This change will affect only your directory listing in Podcasts Connect platforms.
As of February, 2016, it seems that none of Apple's platforms use the Mirror URL for subscribing to podcasts, but I predict that could change in the future. Why? So that you can more easily change your podcast feed URL and it change for all of your Podcasts Connect platform users. Thus, until Apple changes that with an update, changing the URL field to point to a different feed URL will affect only the directory listing and those few (if any) subscribers who are subscribed to the Mirror URL.
Think of Mirror URL as a magical door in front of your home. If you tell people to walk through that door, they will also arrive at your home, regardless of where that home is. But right now, everyone is already at your home, so they don't need that door. But it is possible that an update from Apple would force everyone to start using that door in such a way that it wouldn't make any difference to them.
So the “URL” field is really only the source for the Mirror URL and your directory listing.
If you want to redirect your subscribers to a new RSS feed, the best way to do that is with a permanent 301 redirect on the old feed URL. The second best way is to use the <itunes:new-feed-url> RSS tag in your old feed, but that will only affect Apple's apps and a few others.
The last resort, if you have no option to place a 301 redirect or that custom RSS tag, is to change the “URL” in Podcasts Connect, then release a last episode in your old RSS feed telling your audience to resubscribe to the podcast. But the massive inconvenience to your audience could mean losing many subscribers.
(The Mirror URL will not work if the podcast is hidden or deleted from iTunes.)
Podcasts Resources and Help
Along with the launch of Podcasts Connect, Apple has completely revamped the podcast resources and help into something much more resourceful and helpful!
- Getting started guides
- Podcasts Connect news
- Frequently asked questions
- Handy resources, like Podcasts Partner Search
- New method for receiving support from Apple (back to email, but now using a helpful message template)
If you have any issue with Podcasts Connect or its platforms, please consult this new resources and help section before contacting Apple.
As part of the update, Apple announced that HTTPS is now fully supported! This includes podcast episodes, cover art files, and your podcast RSS feed.
If you use HTTPS for any of these, remember to keep your certificate renewed!
Podcasting specifications updates
At the same time as these front-facing updates, Apple has also made a very interesting updates to their podcasting specifications, which they now call “RSS tags for Podcasts Connect.”
- Apple now recommends cover art of 3,000 × 3,000, while keeping the minimum at 1,400 × 1,400. But Apple has more strict requirements for being featured (most likely in places other than the mythical magic of “New & Noteworthy”): 3,000 × 3,000 cover art with no Apple-branded content, and more.
- Apple still doesn't say it specifically, but it's best to keep your cover art smaller than 500 KB, which might mean more file compression.
- <itunes:explicit> is now officially “clean” or “explicit.” If your show was previously untagged (or used “no” or “false” values), then it is now marked “clean.” I don't like how black-and-white this now is. It means you have to question whether your content is truly “clean” and kid-friendly. You can, however, still have individual episodes marked differently from the entire show.
From what I can tell, most of the other tags remain the same.
It's important that whatever you use for creating your RSS feed stays updated with these correct values. FeedBurner's SmartCast feature, for example, incorrectly presents you with three options for the Explicit tag and still recommend podcast cover art to be 300 × 300.
For more information
If you're a member of Podcasters' Society, you have access to a new video overview of Podcasts Connect. It shows how to use Podcasts Connect for managing your podcasts.
Also watch or listen to our Podcasters' Roundtable discussion with Ray Ortega, Todd Cochrane, and myself as we talk about these podcasting changes.
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