Subvert iTunes: Make Your Own Audiobooks

This article is part of a continuing feature on how to make iTunes work better with free content and your own content, so that you don’t have to be trapped by the many restrictions placed on you when you buy from the iTunes store. Click here to read all the articles in the series.

The iPod is, perhaps, one of the world’s greatest audio book players. It supports Audible’s audio books, and the iTunes store provides plenty of audio books (which are, incidentally, all provided by Audible). Of course, both of these sources are crippled with DRM and full of restrictions, so you may want to make your own audiobooks.

Doing that is pretty easy if you have an audio book on CD. Just encode the CD’s tracks as MP3s and you’re done. Right?

Not if you you want the audio book to show up in the Audiobooks section of iTunes and your iPod.

To make that work, you’ll have to do two things: First, encode your files as AAC files (which will create .m4a documents) of no higher than 64kb bitrate (which is quite acceptable for an audio book). Then you’ll have to rename all the files so that they end with “.m4b” rather than “.m4a”, and they’ll show up in the audiobooks section. If you run into trouble, check out the FAQs on Doug’s Scripts site.

Okay, let’s take this up a notch, shall we? What if you want to make your Audiobook not only show up in the right place, but appear as a single file with chapters and bookmarks and all that good stuff, just as though you’ve bought it from Audible or iTunes?

Once again, we head out to Doug’s Scripts, where we find the wonderful Join Together script and the equally wonderful Audiobooker. These two scripts will let you create a single audiobook from either a collection of sound files or from one or more CDs that you want to rip to your library.

If what you have is a collection of sound files (for example, MP3s you’ve ripped previously or which you downloaded from a legal online source), you can just use Join Together to merge the files together into a single .m4b file with chapters.

If you haven’t ripped your CD yet, that’s where Audiobooker shines. It will let you insert multiple CDs, tag them reasonably (so you don’t have a bunch of tracks named, for example, “Track 1”), and encode all of them into iTunes. Once they’re in iTunes, you’ll want to re-process them using Join Together to create your final audiobook masterpiece.

There’s one catch: The .m4b format will pretty much only play on Apple’s stuff, so you may want to keep a copy of all those separate MP3s around for use on other players. There’s no DRM, but the format just isn’t widely supported.

Give Credit where Credit’s Due This article was produced with copious help from the great information on Doug’s Applescripts for iTunes site. It’s an absolute mother lode of information for anyone who wants to get the most out of iTunes.

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Written on October 5, 2006