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Episode numbers in episode titles: all you need to know

March 1, 2019 · By James Cridland · 3.2 minutes to read

People are worried about episode numbers, following an email from Apple this week. Don’t panic: read on, and discover what you need (or don’t need) to do.

What you need to know

Tell me more

I’ve just heard that Apple don’t want episode numbers in podcast episode titles!

Yes, though this advice is actually from mid 2017. Apple said that it wanted Apple Podcasts to be a good-looking, consistent experience; and it really doesn’t want episode numbers cluttering up a podcast episode title.

So, for Serial, for example:
Good: Some Time When Everything Has Changed
Bad: S03 Episode 09: Some Time When Everything Has Changed

So what happens to the episode numbers?

Apple Podcasts has a special place you can put them: a “season” and “episode” tag. So your listeners will still see the episode numbers; just not within the title.

What’s the point of that?

Episode numbers in titles are ugly, but they’re also impossible for computers to accurately read since few people do it the same way.

Using a proper episode tag means that a computer can understand what the episode number is, and that’s good news for accessibility, voice-control, and all kinds of other things.

But I’ve just looked. Serial has got it wrong! They ARE titling their podcasts with episode numbers! Look!

That’s right, on other platforms. Here’s what’s going on in Serial’s RSS feed.

<title>S03 Episode 09: Some Time When Everything Has Changed</title>
<itunes:title>Some Time When Everything Has Changed</itunes:title> <itunes:season>3</itunes:season>

See the tags that say “iTunes” at the start? Those are specifically used by iTunes, if they exist. So, iTunes will use the title without an episode number. And other apps might use the title with an episode number.

Say that again?

As long as the <itunes:title> does not have the episode number in it, then Apple is good with that: no matter what is in the <title>.

So I can have more than one title for each episode - one for Apple, and one not?

You bet. Your host can help here. Libsyn, for example, lets you enter these titles separately when you upload an episode. Your own podcast host might also be able to do the same.

So I have to go back and remove my episode numbers?

Ideally, Apple would like you to put episode numbers in the proper place, which is the episode tag, and use the 'title’ field for its proper use, which is just to put the title in, yes.

But I have hundreds of podcasts!

Your host might help here. Libsyn has a bulk title editor, as one example.

Will Apple remove me from Apple Podcasts? I don’t want to be removed from Apple Podcasts.

Apple says that your show won’t be removed for having episode numbers in episode titles.

But if the data for your podcast is correctly formatted, and Apple’s systems can get the episode number from the episode tag, that’s good for your podcast because it’ll help more people find it and play it.

But my host doesn’t support the iTunes Title, or episode numbers!

These tags have been around since June 2017. If your podcast host hasn’t updated their platform since then, our best advice to you would be to leave them, and find one that does.

Bloody Apple! How dare they?

Apple’s still responsible for about 50% of all podcast plays: and Apple’s podcast directory is used by most other apps. Almost 90% of the industry uses Apple’s data. And were it not for Apple, podcasting wouldn’t be anywhere as large as it is today.

And this is the right thing to do, in our opinion: good for accessibility and for organising podcasts.

How many apps support episode numbers anyway?

Doesn’t really matter: if episode numbers are important to you, you can still use them for other apps.

But to directly answer your question: not very many. We did an audit. And there are two. And one of them does a really ham-fisted job of supporting them.

But I’ve got more questions?

Then we’d like to help. There’s a comments box just below.

—James is the Editor of Podnews, and was first involved in podcasting in January 2005.


<< Apple threat: no episode numbers in your podcast titles, or else

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