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.

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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.

iPhone 2.0 and iPhone 3G

I upgraded my original iPhone to the 2.0 firmware release on Thursday night (before all the activation problems started), and have been using it for a couple days now. As others have written at length elsewhere, the 2.0 software release has a ton of improvements. While those are nice, I barely notice them. The real breakthrough (for me) is in the App Store, and having third-party applications on my phone.

Although individual applications are mostly $10 or less, buying a bunch of them adds up. Since everything is so new, there’s not a lot of reviews, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on some of the applications I like.

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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.

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.

Holy afterburners, Batman!

Today Apple announced a whole series of changes to its lineup of iPods, including improvements and a price reduction for the iPod I recommend for audiobooks, the 4 GB iPod nano.

But the most interesting news, to me, was about the iPhone, at the end of the event. From Steve’s lips to our ears (via Macworld):

“We’re on track to ship our millionth iPhone by the end of this month, and so to get ready for the holiday season, here’s what we’re going to do: The vast majority of customers want the 8GB iPhone. So today, we’re going to focus on just the 8GB model. [And] the 8GB isn’t going to sell for $599, it’s going to sell starting today for $399. We want to put iPhones in a lot of stockings this holiday season.”

So (a) the iPhone is selling incredibly well, getting to a million units in under three months. And (b) if they were selling well before, how well are they going to sell at $200 less? I predict 4-5 million iPhones sold by the end of the holiday season.

One week with an iPhone

Last Friday I bought an 8 gigabyte iPhone at an Apple store. I’ve been using the phone for a week now, and overall, while there are certainly flaws and omissions, it is a spectacular synthesis of hardware and software excellence. No other handheld device I’ve used even comes close, including the seven previous iPods I’ve owned. It’s a major advance in mobile phones, and in computing generally, and while I certainly look forward to getting the 2nd generation product, I’m going to love this 1st generation device all on its own.

Beyond that general impression, I have a few specific things I thought would be worth writing about.

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“You had me at scrolling”

Two thoughts about today’s Apple keynote given by Steve Jobs, and the introduction of the Apple iPhone.

The Apple iPhone The first is that it’s an absolute grand slam home run. Think about it this way: take away the phone and the Internet connectivity, and it would still be a breakthrough product, a truly amazing next generation for the iPod. It blows even the current iPods away, to say nothing of Zune and other competitors. People would easily pay $499 for it. (The original Newton MessagePad cost more at introduction, IIRC, $799.)

Similarly, take away the iPod and the Internet connectivity, and the phone is amazing. And then look at just the Internet connectivity — the email, web browsing, Google Maps, the connected widgets like weather and stocks — and in a handheld form factor, it’s revolutionary too. Any of these alone, it’s worth $499. Put them all together…

Second thought, can you guess at what time Steve announced the iPhone?

Apple stock price 2006-01-09

Backtracking using the CNET play-by-play of the keynote, it looks like the initial (and foolish) sell off came when Steve said he wasn’t going to talk about new Mac products. I can’t figure that out at all. When Steve said he wasn’t going to talk about the Mac for the rest of the keynote, I got chills down my spine. Something big is coming. What in god’s name inspired people to sell at that point?

OK, while we’re doing stock graphs, one last thought, courtesy of John Gruber:

Apple stock price vs. PALM and RIMM

And it will be interesting to compare Cingular vs. Verizon over the rest of this year…