How to Import MP3 Audiobooks into iTunes

The standard Audio CD format, which has been around for 30-odd years, is very familiar, and any computer sold with a CD drive can read them. This is the most popular digital format for audiobooks, and I’ve written comprehensive instructions for importing audiobook CDs into iTunes.

A newer audio CD format exists that works better for audiobooks. Called MP3 CDs, virtually all CD players sold today, including all computers with optical drives, can play this format (though players older than 10 years usually don’t). I’ve written more details about the MP3 CD format for audiobooks elsewhere. This document describes how to convert MP3 CD audiobooks into something you can listen to on your iPhone or iPod.

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

These instructions are written for iTunes 10, but should work without significant modification in iTunes 9 and even iTunes 8.

Importing MP3 Audiobooks into iTunes

When you insert the CD, iTunes will not automatically open the disc. iTunes can be configured to automatically open standard audio CDs, but the MP3 CD format is different, and iTunes ignores them. The most serious consequence of this is that there is no way to get iTunes to look up the CD’s “metadata”, that is, book title, author, etc. That’s OK, most audiobook tracks on MP3 CDs include some of this metadata, and you can add most of the additional information later.

  1. Open iTunes, and arrange its window on one side of your monitor.

  2. Insert the MP3 CD, and allow it to mount on your Desktop (or My Computer in Windows). Open the CD, and arrange its window in list view on the other side of your monitor, side-by-side with iTunes.
    iTunes and CD windows

  3. Select all of the tracks on the CD that are MP3 files. (Their file name will end in “.mp3”. Ignore any non-MP3 files.)
    Select MP3 Tracks on CD

    The fastest way to do this is probably to first sort by Kind, then click on the first .mp3 track, scroll, and Shift-click on the last .mp3 track.

  4. Drag the MP3 tracks from the CD into the iTunes Library window.
    Drag MP3 Tracks into iTunes

  5. iTunes will copy the files from the CD. It’ll take a while, depending on the speed of your optical drive. When it finishes importing the tracks, iTunes may then analyze the sound volume on the tracks. Let that finish, too. (It may feel like it takes a long time, but remember: you are not swapping CDs to get all of the audiobook imported.)
    CD Tracks Copying into iTunes

    You will end up with a window something like this:
    CD Tracks Copying into iTunes

    Of note here: the tracks are in two separate groups, but all of the tracks have the book’s title in their name.

  6. If there is more than one MP3 CD for your book, repeat the above process for the remaining CDs to import all of the book’s tracks.

  7. Type the book’s title into the iTunes search field. Your goal is to have a window which shows all of the imported tracks, and nothing else.
    Imported Tracks Found by Searching

  8. Select all of the tracks for the audiobook. From the Advanced menu, choose Create AAC Version:
    Convert Tracks to AAC Format

    This will transcode the book’s tracks from large MP3 files to much smaller AAC files, saving a considerable amount of disk space.
    MP3 to AAC Conversion

    Note: You may have read somewhere that converting from MP3 to AAC (or from any lossy audio format to another lossy format) is a bad idea, because the audio quality will be degraded. Normally that’s good advice. In this case, however, the whole point is to throw away audio information, to make the files smaller. So much (unnecessary) information is being thrown away in the conversion from the CD’s MP3 files to tracks optimized for voice that the conversion from MP3 to AAC is irrelevant.

  9. The conversion will take some time. When it finishes, you will have duplicates of every track from the book.
    ACC and MP3 Tracks

    Without changing your selection, press the Delete key to remove the original CD MP3 files from your iTunes Library. (If you accidentally clicked somewhere and lost your selection, click the Kind column heading to sort the files by type. This will make it easy to select only the MP3 files.)

    Confirm the deletion if asked.
    Delete Duplicate MP3 Tracks

    Click Move to Trash in the dialog which appears, so that you can recover the disk space.
    Move Deleted Tracks to Trash

  10. Again select all of the book tracks (except this time they will be the AAC format tracks). From the File menu, choose Get Info (or press Command-I) to open the Multiple Item Information window:
    Multiple Item Information Panel

    Enter the information which will be the same for all tracks:

    • Artist: the book’s author
    • Album: the book’s title
    • Track Number: the total number of tracks
    • Genre: “Audiobook”
    • Year: the year the book or recording was published, if you care

    You might also add the reader or series information to the Comments, if you want keep track of that.
    Multiple Item Info, Filled Out

    Also, unset the Disc item fields, by making sure they are both empty and checked.

  11. 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.

  12. All of the tracks will 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.
    Audiobook Tracks in Books Source List

  13. Now select just the first track (chapter 1, or whatever the first part of the book is). Again from the File menu choose Get Info. This time you will see the individual track info window:
    Track Information Panel

  14. This is the tedious part. You need to set the track Name and Track Number fields for each track in the book. Depending on the book, the track names will require more or less massaging.

    I recommend using the format {book title}, Part {track #}, e.g., “Angels Flight, Part 01”. Be sure to add a leading zero to the track number if the total number of tracks is more than one digit, e.g., “04” rather than “4”, or they will not sort correctly when sorted by Name. This makes it easy to keep the tracks in the right order on your iPod, and also see the track number for each chapter. Depending on the title of the book, you might want to abbreviate it, especially if you have an iPod with a small screen; long titles will push the track numbers offscreen.

  15. Click the Next button, and repeat the last step on the next track. Work your way through the entire book. (I repeat, this is the tedious part.)
    Track Information Panel

    When you reach the last track, click OK.

  16. 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 track 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!

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

And that’s it. A bit tedious, but it beats swapping 10-15 CDs, and doing the same work over a longer span of time. Also, audiobooks on MP3 CD are cheaper!

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