Speeding up and slowing down audiobooks

Once your iPod or iPhone recognizes a track as an audiobook (see FAQ #1 for details), you have the ability to speed up or slow down the playback of the track. Audiobook Speed For people looking to power through a book (say, while driving to your book club), speeding up playback can be useful. For language learning, slowing down the playback can help to hear nuances of pronunciation and emphasis.

But the options provided by the iPod is not that great, just “Slower”, “Normal”, and “Faster”. Not a lot of control, and the speed change isn’t huge, in either direction. (And I find that it adds a nearly imperceptible but irritating clipping to speech). If you want to make an even bigger speed change, you need to turn to third-party tools that can process the tracks, and then sync the processed versions to your iPod or iPhone.

Continue reading “Speeding up and slowing down audiobooks”

Read me a story, Brad Pitt

It’s an older article, but Slate Magazine has a terrific piece about the importance of narration in the quality of audiobooks, from hard boiled fiction to urban sociology. Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt is subtitled “When audiobook casting goes terribly wrong,” and gives examples of the three most common — and easily avoided — mistakes that audiobook publishers make.

I recommend that you always listen to the audio sample provided at Audible.com or the iTunes Store before making a purchase. Audiobooks can be expensive, and mistakes add up to real money fast.

Making Nearly Perfect Audiobooks

This is an overview of my current process for importing audiobooks. It’s a preview of my forthcoming (no, really, I promise) update to my instructions for importing audiobooks from CDs into iTunes. For OCD types, anal-retentives, and Harry Potter fans (hello brothers and sisters!), this preview may be sufficient for you to follow along on your own computers. For normal people, it’s a look at how much effort it still is to create audiobooks that behave as you’d expect and desire in iTunes and on an iPod.

The Motivation

But before seeing the tedious steps, here’s the why of it. Audiobooks processed as I do below are easier to organize and navigate, and they behave the way I want them to, instead of behaving as individual tracks.

Continue reading “Making Nearly Perfect Audiobooks”

Another way to import audiobooks from cassettes

The New York Times has an article about the Alesis TapeLink, which is a tape deck you can attach to your computer via USB, and use to convert analog cassette tapes to a digital format you can use with iTunes, or any other media player.

I haven’t tried it, and at $299 list price, I’m not likely to, but if you have a large investment in audiobooks on cassette tapes, it might be a worthwhile investment for getting those books into a format that will last beyond the lifetime of the cassette medium.

Useful news feeds at Audible.com

If you are looking to stay “on top” of all the latest audiobook releases, there are a variety of sources. Most of the different audiobook publishing houses and audiobook stores have email newsletters, or even paper catalogs they will send you in the mail. I’ve signed up for a lot of these, and find them useful.

But the best source for audiobook releases news I’ve found are the RSS feeds offered by Audible.com. They have feeds for the latest releases, but they also have feeds for best sellers from various lists (NYTimes, etc.), best sellers in various categories, and feeds for specially priced titles, including free content. Audible’s feeds used to be awful, abbreviated entries that were almost useless. But at some point they got a whole lot better, and now tell you the book title, author, and give the full description for the book. They even link to an audio sample of the book, for you to listen to before you buy. Since Audible has the largest catalog of audiobooks, this is about as comprehensive a source as you can find.

Unfortunately, while I would like to link directly to Audible’s feeds page, their horrible web site makes it impossible to directly link to some pages, including that one. So I can only describe how to navigate there yourself.

  1. Start at the Audible.com home page.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.
  3. Click the “RSS” link, which looks like this:

Audible RSS Link

Find a feed that appeals to you, and subscribe to it in your usual newsreader, e.g., Google Reader, NewsGator’s excellent readers, etc. (If you don’t know what a newsreader or RSS feed is, this What is RSS? article is a pretty good introduction.)

iPod-friendly downloads from libraries

A couple of weeks ago, OverDrive, a technology vendor that provides many libraries with the software behind their download-to-loan content, released a new version of the OverDrive Media Console that is now Mac-compatible and iPod-friendly. It accomplishes this by providing loanable downloads in MP3 format, instead of a DRM-wrapped WMA (Windows Media) format.

It’s not clear to me how OverDrive protects the downloaded content, enforces lending period constraints, or otherwise restricts the use of audiobooks downloaded using their system. Some of the instructions and FAQs make it sound a little cumbersome, and generally content producers (the audiobook publishers) require pretty strong restrictions. So I’m a little hesitant to install the new software on my computer (I really need to get a test system…), fearing some hidden DRM kernel extension, or other invasive software.

It’s also not clear to me how much content is available to the new Media Console, at least in the MP3 format supported for Mac users. The older WMA format is much more broadly enabled, as it includes DRM restrictions that publishers are comfortable with. But you can search OverDrive’s national directory of libraries and see if content is available from a library or other source near you.

If you give it a try, let me know how it works for you. Otherwise, I’ll try to give it a whirl in the new year, and post an updated then.

iTunes 8 is great for audiobook lovers

The number one question I receive from visitors to Aldo on Audiobooks is “How do I get my audiobooks to show up in the Audiobooks section of iTunes and my iPod/iPhone?” iTunes 8 makes answering this question almost trivial. Here are the details.

The number one question I receive from visitors to Aldo on Audiobooks is How do I get my audiobooks to show up in the Audiobooks section of iTunes and my iPod/iPhone? With the release of iTunes 8, I can replace hundreds of (a thousand?) words with a single screen shot:

iTunes track info options panel

Well, maybe a few words are still in order. Here’s the new process, which will work every time:

  1. Import your audiobook using your favorite process, in your favorite audio format. (I’ve written detailed instructions for both standard Audio CD audiobooks and for MP3 CD audiobooks.)
  2. Select the imported track(s) in iTunes, and choose %(ui)File > Get Info%, and then click on the %(ui)Options% tab, to get to the Track Info Options panel.
  3. From the %(ui)Media Kind% pop-up menu, choose “Audiobook”.
  4. Check the %(ui)Remember playback position% and %(ui)Skip when shuffling% options.
  5. Click the %(ui)OK% button.

From now on, iTunes, iPods, and iPhones will all treat the track(s) as full audiobooks, including remembering playback position automatically (saving your “bookmark”), skipping the track when you’re playing a random shuffle of music, and allowing you to speed up or slow down playback with the %(ipod)Settings > Audiobooks% speed options on your iPod or iPhone.

Note: When you make the above changes, the audiobook track(s) will be moved from the Music source list to the Audiobooks source list. If you haven’t enabled the Audiobooks list, it will seem as though your tracks have disappeared. See Optimal iTunes Import Settings for Audiobooks for more details of enabling the Audiobooks source list.

If you’re interested in more of the details of what’s new in iTunes 8, I suggest iLounge’s Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 8 as the best and most detailed guide I’ve seen.

Another audiobook importing tool for Windows

In a recent post I recommended a few tools for importing audiobooks, which work around some of the more tedious aspects of importing audiobooks using iTunes. Last week I came across another interesting tool for Windows users, which might also be useful:

Teridon’s Audiobook Helper
Teridon's Audiobook Helper

I have not yet tested it with importing a book, but it looks like it gets a couple of things really right, namely allowing you to set the meta data for the tracks manually, overriding what comes in from the Gracenote CDDB lookup that iTunes does automatically, and which is often inaccurate. Bogus meta data is one of the top causes for problems that people have with sort and playback order of audiobook tracks, and if this tool can reduce or eliminate that, it’s going to be very useful indeed.

iPhone user interface quirk #1 for audiobooks

Dan Sanderson provides a clear explanation, including pretty good photos, of one of the user interface “quirks” that can get you when using the iPhone for audiobooks, namely, the iPhone’s indicator and toggle buttons for Repeat and Shuffle modes are somewhat hidden, not 100% clear, and can be toggled accidentally if you’re not careful.

When listening to audiobooks, you of course want both Repeat and Shuffle turned off. On standard iPods, you do this in the main settings menu, and it’s effective for all tracks. But on the iPhone, as Dan explains and illustrates, the setting is harder to find, until you know where it is, and can be turned on and off while fiddling with your place in a track. See Dan’s full post for the details.

Free audiobooks via podcasts

The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a story about fledgling authors who get their start by publishing their books online, via podcast:

Take my book. It’s free. Giving away books as podcasts is new way to promote sales.

The basic idea is, the author reads their novel a chunk at a time, recording it, and publishing the recordings on a regular, sequential basis. A chapter a week is a common pattern. Interested listeners can download the recordings and listen to them on their computer, iPod, whatever. For free.

The best news is that iTunes can make receiving the periodic recordings totally automatic. Once you subscribe to the author’s podcast, the chapters will be downloaded automatically as published, and can even be automatically transferred to your iPod. Very slick.

The article has more details about the hows and whys, including references to the podcasts for several authors who got started podcasting, but are now professionally published, so it’s not just “hey, look at this cool technology” informative, it’s also got direct links to new authors and books for you to check out.

Managing audiobooks on a small-capacity iPod

Managing audiobooks on a small-capacity iPod or iPhoneManaging audiobooks on a small-capacity iPod is a new article I’ve posted in Aldo on Audiobooks. It describes some of the ways I manage what goes onto my iPod. The article is for anyone whose iTunes Library size exceeds the capacity of their iPod or iPhone, but it’s especially helpful to anyone who has a lot of audiobooks, and who wants to only have books they haven’t listened to yet on their device. Check it out, and let me know if you have questions in the comments below.