Issue 220,  published August 1, 2019

Apple Podcast Categories, Temporarily Relieved

I was fairly delirious this weekend — between the relentless summer heat and all the heavy lifting involved in packing up an apartment — when I pulled up the Apple Podcast app only to find that, bizarrely, the entire podcast categories menu had vanished. For a moment, I briefly contemplated that it was time to get a new phone, or that my brain was finally giving out. And then I, after prodding Twitter to figure out if I was really losing it, realized instead that I was just being a complete dolt.

As it turned out, I had forgotten about an email that Apple had sent out the week before, which informed podcasters that they can start updating their shows using the new categories and subcategories the company announced early last month. So begins a momentary, if slightly awkward, period of transition: “Changes to the enhanced Apple Podcasts categories are scheduled to go live later this summer,” the email wrote. “In preparation for that, the category menu may be temporarily removed.”

The decision makes sense, even if it does seem rather severe. It provides Apple Podcasts some visual cover as the podcast universe reconstitutes itself on top of the platform according to its new organizational language. I imagine it would strange for new Apple Podcast users (and everybody else) to dip into a new subcategory — say, “Wrestling” or “Daily News” — only to see those genres populate in real time, complete with the category-specific charts reshuffling itself every few minutes in a manner that gives various publishers the opportunity to declare “We’re on the top of the Wrestling charts!” for a glorious, fleeting moment. A grace period like this, then, is arguably necessary for the Apple Podcast universe to properly reset.

Nonetheless, there are material impacts to consider. I heard from a podcaster who observed that the temporary absence may cause complications for shows in the midst of signing on an advertiser, particularly if those negotiations require an education process that involves showing how rising download numbers corresponds, broadly, with chart placement. Temporary is temporary, though, and depending on how long this absence goes, the lack of that educational reference point might not be that much of an issue in the larger scale of things.

Still, it’s pretty darn strange to pull up the Apple Podcasts app, an unquestionably fundamental pillar of the podcast ecosystem, and find the categories menu, by all accounts an important discovery and consumption management tool, completely gone like that. I suppose it’s hypothetically akin to what it might feel like if those massive electronic billboards in Times Square temporarily displayed an OS update progress bar. To see something that big and seemingly important behave so…. mortally is not only strange: it’s uncanny.

By virtue of working on this newsletter most days of the week, I’m firmly situated within a feedback loop that constantly sends me signals emphasizing the idea that this podcast stuff is increasingly powerful, quite valuable, rather important. Yet there remain instances like this that continues to remind me: this whole thing is still so weirdly fragile and cobbled together. And I find that reality, for as long as it remains true, oddly endearing.