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How to convert audiobooks for use in iTunes

Many times people will have audiobooks in iTunes that are lumped with the rest of their music. Here is how to convert and import them so iTunes recognizes them as audiobooks.

When you purchase audiobooks from the iTunes Store, the program will conveniently organize them in the "Books" section of the iTunes sidebar. However, if you have audiobooks from other sources they may be in different formats, including standard MP3 or AAC formats, and iTunes may handle them differently when imported. Instead of keeping them with the rest of your books, iTunes may put them in the music section, along with all your other music.

While you can create playlists and use naming schemes to organize your audiobooks, this can be inconvenient, especially if you have ones purchased from the iTunes Store that are being kept separately in the Books section. Recently MacFixIt reader Robin wrote in asking how to manage this problem:

In iTunes I have a lot of of audiobook recordings that are stored by default in the music section and not in the audiobook section. Is there some way to get the books off of the music list and to the audiobook file?

Luckily, there are some ways around this.

iTunes identifies audiobook files versus music files by the name suffix ".m4b," but other than that the files are very similar to the .m4a format for standard audio. The main difference between the two is that .m4b files can support bookmarking by various players, but the audio encoding for both of them uses the same AAC algorithm.

Because of their format similarities, you can get your audiobooks to be recognized as such in iTunes by first converting them to AAC format, and then renaming the files and re-importing them to iTunes.

iTunes import settings
Be sure to check the iTunes import settings before converting the file.
  1. Go to the iTunes' General preferences and click the "Import Settings..." button.
  2. Ensure "AAC Encoder" is selected, and then optionally set the encoding quality. The "Spoken Podcast" option should be enough for most audiobooks; however, you can use another preset or customize the settings manually if you wish.
  3. Close the preferences and select your audiobook in the iTunes window.
  4. Choose "Create AAC Version" from either the Advanced menu, or from the contextual menu by right-clicking the file.
  5. Now delete both the new and old files from the iTunes library, and when prompted be sure to move them to the Trash (do not click "Keep Files").
  6. With the files gone, go to the Trash and move the one that ends with ".m4a" to your desktop.
  7. Rename the file so it ends with ".m4b" instead of ".m4a," and then drag it to the iTunes window to re-import it.
iTunes info window
The info window in iTunes is another way to change the media type for the file.

Another way to get iTunes to recognize song files as audiobooks is to use the "Options" section of the file's information window (Thanks to MacFixIt reader "Olivier" for this contribution). Select the file in iTunes and press Command-I (you can also do this with multiple songs selected), and then click the "Options" tab in the resulting information window. In this section there is a drop-down menu for "Media Kind" which you can use to select between Music, Video, Podcast, Audiobook, TV Show, iTunes U, and other options for the file. For the audiobooks, select the "Audiobook" option and the files should now show up in the Books section of iTunes as audiobooks.

At this point the files should be placed in the audiobooks section in iTunes along with the rest of your audiobooks. If you use the manual conversion method and have more than one audiobook you would like to convert, first convert them all to AAC format (you can queue them up) and then delete them all at the same time so you can manage them all in the Finder in one step, instead of having to do all the steps each time for every file you want to convert.

This is likely the best approach for managing audiobooks that have already been imported into your iTunes library; however, if you have books that are not already in your library then you might consider using a third-party tool for converting them before importing them into the program. Some popular options include ChapterMark ($14.95), Audiobook Builder ($9.95), and Audiobook Binder (free).

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