Convert audiobooks to Audiobooks

Given some recent-ish posts in Playlist’s forums, it seems there’s some confusion about putting audiobooks on an iPod that weren’t purchased from Audible.com or the iTunes Store. Let me see what I can do to clear up that confusion.

Audiobooks purchased from Audible.com and the iTunes Store are marked in such a way that when you move them to your iPod they appear under the Audiobooks heading, thus allowing you to use the speed settings (Slower, Normal, and Faster) found in the Audiobooks command within the Settings screen. But if you plunk an audiobook you’re ripped from a CD set or downloaded elsewhere into iTunes, the program has no way of knowing that these are audiobooks and therefore treats them like regular old audio tracks.

You can alter these tracks, however, so that they appear as genuine audiobooks to iTunes and your iPod. It’s like this:

If you have the audiobook CD, insert it into your computer, select all the tracks on it, and choose Advanced -> Join CD Tracks. This ensures that all the content on the CD is treated as a single, long track rather than lots of short tracks, which you’ll find harder to manage.

If you’ve downloaded a series of audio files, it would serve you well to join them. If you have a Mac you can do this with 3AM Coffee Software’s $10 iTunesJoin. As its name hints, this application and set of AppleScripts lets you join multiple tracks within iTunes.

If you’re using a Windows PC, give Aleksandr Gekht’s free Merge MP3 a try.

Okay, now you have a really long audio file. The next step is to convert it into the kind of file that iTunes will recognize as an audiobook. To do so, go here: iTunes Preferences -> Advanced -> Importing and, from the Import Using pop-up menu, choose AAC Encoder. From the Setting menu choose Custom. In the resulting AAC Encoder window choose 64 kbps from the Stereo Bit Rate pop-up menu. Leave the Sample Rate and Channels settings at 44.100kHz and Stereo respectively and click OK in both the AAC Encoder and Advanced windows to close iTunes’ preferences.

Now select the file you wish to become an audiobook and choose Advanced -> Convert Selection to AAC. iTunes will convert the track using the settings you just entered.

When the conversion is finished, select the converted file and choose File -> Show in Finder (Mac) or File -> Show in Windows Explorer on Windows. Select the file and change its extension from .m4a to .m4b. Return to iTunes and delete the track from your iTunes library (but don’t move it to the trash when iTunes makes the offer). Now drag the .m4b file into iTunes to reimport it. iTunes should recognize it as an audiobook file. When you sync it with your iPod, the iPod should also classify it as an audiobook, thus letting you adjust its playback speed.

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