How to Import Audio CD Audiobooks into iTunes

You have audiobooks on CDs—you bought them, borrowed from the library, or from one of the Netflix-style services like Booksfree.com and SimplyAudiobooks.com—and now you want to listen to them on your iPhone or iPod. And, probably, you’re frustrated.

iTunes is optimized for music CDs, and it’s hard to figure out how to import quality audiobook files that are as easy to use on an iPhone or iPod as the audiobooks you might get from Audible.com. This article has helped thousands of people import audiobooks more efficiently, and it will help you, too.

First, ensure that your import settings are optimal for audiobook and spoken word. See Optimal iTunes Import Settings for Audiobooks for instructions for how to configure iTunes for importing your audiobooks. Then move on to the next steps, where you actually import the CDs.

These instructions are written for iTunes 10, but should work without significant modification in iTunes 9 and even iTunes 8. If you’re using iTunes 11, see my notes on importing audiobook CDs into iTunes 11.

Importing Audio Book CDs into iTunes

Importing CDs for audio books can be painful, because there are usually a lot of them. And each CD usually has dozens of tracks on it, which makes it a nightmare to manage on an iPhone, to say nothing of the small screen of an older “classic” iPod. Worst of all, the track names are rarely recognized by the automatic Gracenote lookup service, so you need to enter them by hand. This import process attempts to reduce the amount of manual input, while also making sure that the track information is usable even on an iPod with a small screen.

  1. Insert the CD, and wait for the tracks to appear in iTunes. Sometimes you’ll have to dismiss a dialog or two which invites you to do some automatic action. Don’t, just display the tracks. It doesn’t matter if the automatic lookup of track names is successful or not. iTunes Audiobooks Track View

  2. Select all of the CD’s tracks, and choose Join CD Tracks from the Advanced menu. Join CD Tracks

    Note: If Join CD Tracks is dimmed, re-sort the list by the track number; see Apple’s knowledgebase article iTunes: Join CD Tracks Command Is Dimmed for details.

    This will consolidate the many tracks on the CD into one, which will make it much easier to manage when the tracks are copied to your iPhone or iPod. The indication that the tracks are joined is subtle. Audiobook CD Tracks Joined Together

  3. Select Submit CD Track Names from the Advanced menu. Submit CD Track Names

  4. In the CD Info dialog that appears, fill out the information you know about the audio book. CD Info Dialog

    • Artist: the book’s author
    • Album: the book’s title
    • Disc Number: which disc this is out of how many total discs
    • Genre: “Audiobook”
    • Year: the year the book or recording was published, if you care

    This is the simplest way to associate some basic, correct “metadata” with the CD during import. It makes later steps much easier, and ensures you won’t lose your new imports in a large iTunes Library.

  5. Click OK, and the information will be submitted. You will probably be prompted to Select CD Category, since the online database uses a different category for audiobooks. Choose “Spoken & Audio”, and click OK. Select CD Category Dialog

  6. You’ll get a dialog telling you it’s done. Click OK. Submit Tracks Successful

    But, don’t panic if the submission fails, it’s not important. The important part—adding the author, title, and so on to the imported track—succeeded. The point is to attach the metadata to the track, not improve the Gracenote database.

  7. When the submission process is completed, all of the tracks on the CD should have the appropriate information attached to them. This means everything has worked so far. Audiobook CD Tracks Joined Together

  8. Click the Import CD button (bottom right corner) to import this disc, using the import settings you set up initially. iTunes Import CD Button

  9. When the import finishes, eject the CD.

  10. Repeat this process for the each CD in the audio book, until you have imported all of the CDs. Be sure you are setting the disc number correctly for each one!

  11. At this point you’ve imported all of the CDs and attached basic metadata to each imported track. To give the best audiobook experience possible, though, you want to tweak the metadata a little further.

    Switch to your Library, and find the newly imported tracks. Usually a search on the book’s title will find all of the imported tracks, and nothing else. Find Imported Tracks in the iTunes Library

    Verify that the Disc # column shows that the tracks have consistent sequence information. That is, the “xx of yy” information should have sequential numbers for the xx part, and the same number for the yy part. If that’s not the case, you can fix it in a later step.

  12. Select the tracks, and choose File > Get Info (or press press Command-I) to open the Multiple Item Information dialog. Multiple Item Information panel

  13. Verify the information in the panel. The above screenshot shows the ideal situation, where the Artist and Album fields are filled in with the book’s author and title, and the Disc Number fields show empty for the first field, and the correct number of CDs for the second field. If that’s not the case, fill those fields in now; iTunes will automatically enable a field’s checkbox if you modify it.

    You also want to delete any track number information: delete anything in the two Track Number fields and enable the checkboxes.

    Finally, if you have cover artwork you’d like to attach, this is a good time to copy-and-paste it into the Artwork box.

    It should look something like this: Multiple Item Information panel

  14. Switch to the Options panel, and select Audiobook for the Media Kind. Multiple Items Information, Options panel

    Setting the Media Kind to Audiobook tells iTunes to move the tracks to the Books source list, and also to treat the tracks differently. The selected tracks will appear in the Books source list, and be excluded from music-specific behaviors. Audiobook tracks also use separate sync settings for your iPhone or iPod, which you set in the Sync Audiobooks section of the Books tab for your device.

    The other two settings enabled here are automatically set by the change to Media Kind, but it doesn’t hurt to proactively set them. Remember position tells iTunes and the iPod to make the file bookmarkable. Skip when shuffling keeps spoken word tracks out of your music mixes, where it would probably interrupt the mood.

    Click OK.

  15. All of the tracks will probably vanish—don’t panic! Click on the Books source list in the left sidebar of iTunes, and search for your book’s title again. You should once again see a list of the book’s tracks. Audiobooks tracks, first track selected

  16. There is one last and frankly tedious step. For each track you need to update the track Name and the Disc Number fields. This is especially important if your disc sequence information wasn’t quite right in step #11, or if you’ll be listening on an iPod with a smaller screen, such as an iPod Nano or an iPod Classic.

    Select the first item in the listing of the book’s tracks. Audiobooks tracks, first track selected

  17. Choose File > Get Info. iTunes Track Info panel

    In this panel, update the Name field to be the title of the book, plus a sequence number. For example, I updated the name field to “Mildred Pierce, Part 1”. If there are more than 9 tracks in the book, add a leading zero, for example “Part 01”. This way, the tracks will sort correctly when sorted by Name.

    In the Disc Number fields, verify that the right sequence information is set. This is what your device will sort the tracks based on, and thus the order they will be played, so it’s important to get this right. You don’t need leading zeros here.

    Click Next.

  18. Repeat the previous step for each track in the book. On the last track, click OK instead of Next. iTunes Track Info panel

    (Did I mention this is tedious? It’s also important for correct playback.)

  19. The end result will be a collection of tracks that will correctly group together on your iPhone or iPod, even the older “classic” models. iTunes Track Info panel

    Because you took the time to set the correct disc order information and set the track name field, it will be sorted in the correct playback order. You can click on the first track and press play, and you’re good through the end of the book. Yay!

  20. Sync to your iPhone or iPod, and enjoy a great book!

A final note for the benefit of RIAA lawyers, and those looking to avoid same: These instructions will allow you to copy borrowed audio books from CD to your iPhone or iPod, so you can listen to books you’ve checked out from the public library. That’s a fair use of the copying capability that is built into iTunes. When you’ve listened to the book, delete it. Keeping the book, or sharing it with others, would be illegal. Don’t do that.