The Complete Guide to iPod Audiobooks | iLounge Article


The Complete Guide to iPod Audiobooks

While the iPod is best known as a music player, many people have discovered the pleasures of listening to audiobooks and other spoken-work content while they commute, jog or work out. Audiobooks are simply recordings of books, either complete or abridged, that are read out loud and recorded. Sometimes the author reads the book, as is the case in former President Bill Clinton’s My Life, and the late Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Other books are read by well-known actors, such as John Lithgow’s reading of Michael Crichton’s Disclosure and Joe Mantegna’s readings of mysteries by Robert B. Parker, but in most cases these books are read by professional readers you may or may not know. No matter who reads, the goal is always the same: to make a book sound at least as compelling as it is on paper.

You can buy audiobooks in several ways: in your local bookstore (on cassette or CD), or on-line from either the iTunes Music Store or from Audible is also present in Germany and France, and will be opening Audible UK on June 15, 2005.

If you purchase audiobooks on CD, you can import them into iTunes and listen to them on your iPod like any other type of digital audio - see Ripping Your Own Audiobooks below. But if you buy audiobooks from the iTunes Music Store or, the process is even easier: the audiobooks are generally created as one or two files that last as long as 10 hours each, which makes them easy both to listen to and manage in your iTunes Library.

Buying Audiobooks On-Line

Audiobooks can be expensive - in many cases they cost more than paper books - so it’s a good idea to know what your options are. provides the same quality of audiobook content that the iTunes Music Store sells, so there is little difference besides Audible’s broader selection of non-book audio programs and its monthly subscription plans. While you can only buy individual titles from the iTunes Music Store, Audible offers a monthly subscription that includes either one book a month for $15 or any two audiobooks for $22 a month. Audiobook fans will recognize this as a great deal; you spend more than that for most individual audiobooks on CD or from the iTunes Music Store. However, if you only want a single audiobook without a monthly subscription, check both places: on some titles, the iTunes Music Store is much cheaper than Audible.


Audible presents new books on its main page.

(In addition to audiobooks, you can also subscribe to periodicals and radio programs with Audible: for example, you can regularly receive audio editions of Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Audio Digest and The Wall Street Journal, to save time reading the printed editions. You can also buy subscriptions to recorded radio shows such as All Things Considered, This American Life, and The BBC Newshour. Audible has recently added audio programming for major sports events such as NFL play-by-play - just in case you’ve missed a game and want to hear it all after the fact.)

But if you don’t want to make a commitment, or only listen to audiobooks occasionally, you can buy individual books from either Audible or the iTunes Music Store. To check out the selection available from the iTunes Music Store, go to the store’s main page and click Audiobooks in the column on the left; this takes you to the main audiobook page. It’s as easy to buy an audiobook as it is to buy any song, though the download will take a bit longer: audiobooks from the iTunes Music Store or Audible consume about 14 MB of iPod/iTunes space per hour.



The main audiobook page on the iTunes Music Store.

When you buy audiobooks from the iTunes Music Store, they are automatically added to your library, and you can then organize them as you wish. When you buy from Audible, you can choose from several “formats” that correspond to different bit rates - the higher the number, the better the quality. We’d advise that you choose the best available format for your purchases; the other formats are meant for low-capacity players, and even the longest Audible audiobook will fit on the smallest-capacity iPod. After you download the audiobook from Audible, just double-click it to add it to your iTunes library, or use iTunes’ File > Add to Library option.



Choose a format, then click Download to start downloading your audiobook.

Audible has one big advantage over the iTunes Music Store: you can always download your audiobooks again in case you lose them. With the iTunes Music Store, you must back up your downloads immediately, since you won’t be able to download them again. Audible keeps a Library of your new audiobooks, ones you’ve listened to, and others that you’ve archived. You can also easily access any subscription programs from this Library.

Keeping your Place

Both Audible and the iTunes Music Store provide audiobooks in a special “bookmarkable” format. This is one feature that makes the iPod a superior device for listening to audiobooks. When you listen to an audiobook on your iPod, then stop - to go to work, listen to some music, or do something else - the iPod creates a “bookmark” in the file. When you return to this file, you don’t have to fast-forward to where you think you left off; just press Play, and the audiobook continues from your last location.

When you sync your iPod to your computer, these bookmarks get transferred so you can listen to more of the audiobook with iTunes, through your computer’s speakers. When you stop, iTunes saves a new bookmark. Sync your iPod, and that bookmark gets transferred to the iPod. Assuming you sync, you’ll always be able to pick up where you left off.

Ripping Your Own Audiobooks

If you already have audiobooks on CD, you can rip them to use in iTunes and on your iPod. To get the most out of these audiobooks, you need to choose a format for importing, join any tracks on the CD, and make the files bookmarkable. We look here at all three of these actions.

1. Choosing a format for importing. By default, iTunes uses 128 kbps AAC for importing music. But spoken word recordings don’t need the same high level of quality as music does - people don’t mind a hint of scratchiness in a voice, so when you are going to rip audiobooks, you can change the format to save space. Open the iTunes preferences (iTunes > Preferences on Mac; Edit > Preferences on Windows, and click the Importing tab.



The Importing preferences in iTunes.

If the Import Using menu doesn’t show AAC Encoding, click that menu and select AAC Encoding. (If you want to listen to your audiobooks on other devices that can’t play AAC files, choose MP3, but you won’t be able to create bookmarkable files with this format.) Next, from the Setting menu, select Custom. From the Stereo Bit Rate menu, select 64 kbps. This is the same bit rate that Audible and the iTunes Music Store use. Leave the other settings as they are. (After you finish ripping your audiobooks, reset the format to is original settings; you don’t want to rip music at this bit rate.)

2. Join tracks and import your CD. Insert a CD containing an audiobook in your computer, and iTunes in most cases will find the appropriate information about the disc and its contents. While most audiobooks have many files, it is better to join them into a single track - this allows you to make these tracks bookmarkable and listen to your audiobooks more easily on the iPod. To do this, select all the tracks on the CD (Command-A on Mac; Control-A on Windows), then select Advanced > Join CD Tracks. iTunes displays the tracks with a bracket showing that they are joined.



After you join tracks in iTunes, the CD appears as a single track.

Import the CD by clicking the Import button, and repeat this for all the CDs of your audiobook.

3. Make the Files Bookmarkable. The final thing to do is to make the tracks bookmarkable. If you’re on a Mac, check out this AppleScript which does this conversion in a jiffy. If you use Windows, locate the tracks (right-click on a track and select Show Song File), then change the files’ extensions from .m4a to .m4b. (If you don’t see extensions, select Tools > Folder Options, click the View tab and uncheck Hide Extensions.)

After you’ve done this, your audiobooks are ready to sync to your iPod. You can set up playlists for them, or just leave them in your library as they are. It’s a good idea to check their genre to make sure they say Audiobook or Spoken Word so it’s easy to find them. (You can change the genre by selecting a file or files, then selecting File > Get Info, clicking the Info tab and choosing a genre from the Genre popup menu.)

Listening to Audiobooks on your iPod

When you sync audiobooks to your iPod, they show up in one of two places. If your files are bookmarkable, as discussed above, they appear in the Music > Audiobooks menu automatically, even if their genre is not Audiobooks. They also appear by genre, artist or “song”. If they are not bookmarkable files, you’ll have to search for them from these latter menus.

You play audiobooks on the iPod like any other type of audio file, but audiobooks (again, bookmarkable files), give you an extra option: go to the iPod’s Settings menu and select Audiobooks; this lets you choose a different speed for the playback. You can choose Faster or Slower if you want to change the speed of a droll or hyper reader; this plays the file back at a different speed, without changing the voice. You’ll notice some distortion, but in most cases this is not a problem.

You can also make this change as you’re listening to an audiobook. After it starts playing, press the Select button three times. Run your finger around the scroll wheel clockwise to change the speed to Faster; scroll the other way to return to Normal, or to change to Slower.

Additional Resources on Audiobooks and Audible

Our iLounge Audible Users’ Guide for iPod looks at the earlier incarnation of Audible’s service and discusses technical and other issues relating to Audible formats and features. Some of the information - including the need for special software - is thankfully no longer necessary thanks to the easy downloading improvements made by Audible and the iTunes Music Store noted above.

The iLounge Discussion Forums include over 4,000 messages in our forum devoted to Books and Spoken Word topics. If you need help with your Audible or Audiobook experiences, this is the first place you should visit.

As Jonathan Korzen of Audible says, “audiobooks are a great way to add a whole other world of content to your iPod.” We agree; these easy downloads are a great way to “read” while you’re on the go. The iPod is one of the best devices for listening to audiobooks, and you’ll find them to be a great addition to your audio library.

« First Looks: Graphic Cling, Waterproof 4Gs, iAirPlay, and More

Using an UK iPod in the US »

Related Stories



Has anyone purchased audio books from that are actually acc files compressed using the 64kbps stereo bit rate, like the article suggests they are?  All I get are mp3 files compressed at 32kbps at the mono bit rate.  I keep choosing the highest quality audio format, #4.  Am I doing something wrong?  These files sound terrible.  Like bad AM radio.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 9:44 PM (CDT)


FYI-I wrote the original Audible for ipod User Guide back in 03. Much has changed since then so the one linked in the story is out of date.

A dynamically updated version available in the forums in the “Books & Spoken Word” section

Podunk (fka Parannoya)

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 9:57 PM (CDT)


fstop- I do believe that is a mistatement.

TTBOMK, Audible format 4 is 32kbps, which for now offers a decent compromise of quality, file size and download time.  Over the years, they have upgraded the file quality as people have moved to broadband and portable device capacity has expanded.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 10:00 PM (CDT)


podpunk- Thanks for replying. is a good service and I really would like to stick with them, but I guess I’m just picky about the sound quality.  While calling them “terrible” may be an exageration, they’re not listenable to my ears.  Which is surprising since I can barely tell a 128kbps acc file from a cd original.  I guess I’ll give them another try the next time they upgrade the file quality.

Do the files purchased from iTunes sound any better?

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 10:10 PM (CDT)


I converted some podcasts I have from MP3 to AAC with iTunes on my Mac, then went into my music folder and changed the extensions to .m4b, but iTunes and my iPod are still treating the files as if they aren’t bookmarkable.  Anybody have an idea what’s wrong?

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 11:19 PM (CDT)


fstop-as far as I’ve seen, iTMS uses 32kbps AAC files for audiobooks, which should be about the same.  Generally, I’ve found 32kbps to be fine with most newer recordings, although some of the older recordings use poor masters to start with. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like a 48kbps file quality, but then again, I’ve got a smokin’ fast connection, and more disc space than most folks.

Derek, you should be able to find an answer to your question in the forums.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 16, 2005 at 11:26 PM (CDT)


The reason I suggested using 64 kbps in the article is because this results in the same file quality as Audible files - if the files are mono, they drop to 32 kbps; however, if your audiobooks are recorded in stereo, which may be the case for some plays or multi-performer audiobooks, then you’ll get the stereo seperation.

Audible provides files in 32kbps, because, as far as I know, they only provide mono files.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 17, 2005 at 6:59 AM (CDT)


Kirk, you may have a valid point there. I’ve never looked that closely at the iTunes files.

Also, I meant to commend you earlier on the well written article. But it seems I lost it when I edited the post. Nice Job.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 17, 2005 at 9:47 AM (CDT)


Kirk- Thanks for the follow-up.  Great article, by the way.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 17, 2005 at 7:49 PM (CDT)


When I changed the extension from m4a to m4b, each disc was changed.  For instance I was not longer able to recognize which was disc 3 even tho it was labeled as such.  Sometimes I would get 2 copies of 1 disc, sometimes a fragment of another (5 minutes).  Changing the extension back to m4a made the discs recognizable again.  Is this normal?

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 19, 2005 at 10:38 PM (CDT)


If I may put in a little modest self-promotion here as it seems to be on-topic, my shareware program MarkAble makes it very easy to get audiobooks from a variety of different formats into bookmarkable files on the iPod.

It’s available through the iPodSoft website at

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 20, 2005 at 7:41 AM (CDT)


Q - Is there a way to join CD tracks of audio books already imported?  Can you link more than one cd (most of my books are 9+ cd’s) ?  I tried ‘Join CD tracks’ under advanced options, but it was greyed out.  The main desire is to bookmark a large cd based book.
Thanks!  Great resource.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on May 22, 2005 at 6:10 PM (CDT)


Audiobooks downloaded from iTMS are at 32k and are TERRIBLE QUALITY. I did email itms support, but they didnt seem to understand my point, telling me to download it again. This bitrate is NOT GOOD ENOUGH! I would never d/l an audiobook from itms again. If I were you, i’d go straight to and choose a higher bit rate.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 20, 2005 at 5:33 AM (CDT)


To join multiple mp3 tracks together, find

File Stitcher mp3

it works great.
Then, use Xmp3split to break the long stitched file into shorter segments of your own choosing. I usually break audiobooks into 10-15 minute segments.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 24, 2005 at 4:04 PM (CDT)


I have had many problems buying audiobooks from iTMS. Parts of the story are missing so it simply “jumps” from one spot to another, leaving you to guess at what you’ve missed. In another instance (Metropolis), it actually has two different books mixed together!
As stated by someone else, iTMS Customer Service does not understand and their only solution is download again. I have and it doesn’t correc the problem. They have a serious glitch!

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 24, 2005 at 4:08 PM (CDT)


Article does not mention’s Ultimate Listener Plan which is the most flexible of all.  Pay $120 up front for 12 book credits and two years in which to use the credits.  This plan is not offered on web site, so either call or email to request.  Do search for Ultimate Listener to get to thread in Books and Spoken word.

MarkAble is the easy and simple way to convert mp3, WAV, and audio CD’s to bookmarkable.  See the following guides for detailed help and post questions in the Books and Spoken Word IPL forum:

[SIZE=1] 4G 20gb iPod 2005-06-26 updater & v3.1; Win XP,  iTunes 4.9
To avoid playback probs, convert all homemade files in stereo and limit segments to max 5 hours duration
Guide: MarkAble Shareware. EZ merges/converts CD/MP3/WAV to bookmarking files, adds to iTunes, & deletes temp files < using MarkAble $15 PC Shareware>
Guide 4. Audio CDs to bookmarking iPod files-All iTunes solution (Mac adaptable)
Guide 1. Audio mp3 files to bookmarking iPod files (mac adaptable)
Guide 2. Audio CassetteTapes, any sound file played, vinyl LPs &  CDs to bookmarking iPod files ) <Audacity Mac OS X, PC, Linux Freeware required.>
Guides to Sound Recording ware: Audacity Free, $12 Total Recorder, 30 Euro PolderbitS <supplement to guide 2> 
Guide 3.  Copy Audio CDs into fewer iPod files using freeware & additional steps&time;

Guide 5. Burn audible books to CD iTunes (mac adaptable) or AM (Best!PC only)
Guide 6. Convert mono m4b files to Stereo to avoid 4G & Mini Lockup AND keep iTrip out of 4G+ Shuffle
Link 7.  Roberts Audible Book sorta literary Recommendations [/SIZE]

There is an ongoing discussion in lounge on possible solutions to lockups and lost bookmarks due to homemade mono and/or files over 5 hours here:

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on August 2, 2005 at 5:17 PM (CDT)


I subscribe to Audible’s US, French and German sites as I need all three languages. I have no trouble downloading and transfering audiobook from the Audible websites in US and France (download to iTunes and transfer to my iPod works seamlessly). But, for the German Audiobooks site, everything works fine but I can’t transfer to my iPod?? Would appreciate any help.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on September 25, 2005 at 4:52 PM (CDT)


Ripping Your Own Audiobooks
Item 3 Make the Files Bookmarkable. In the new iTunes when you right click on a track ( Show Song Files ) doesnot come up. Where can I see the file extensions so that I can change them from .m4a to .m4b. Any help would be appreciated. Marty

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on September 21, 2006 at 4:33 PM (CDT)


Control click on the file within iTunes then “Show in Finder.”  You can edit there of even easier… download a script from Doug.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on October 8, 2006 at 5:26 PM (CDT)


I rip a lot of books on to my iPod. For the most part I don’t have a problem, but once in a while the the individual CDs get out of sequence, or disappear altogether. Today I ripped a CD in the usual way (the same as you have described), CD1 was OK. CD2 was CD3, CD4 and the rest were fine. CD2 had dissolved into the either. I went back to iTunes and checked each track and they were OK. I checked the tracks on the iPod (while connected to the PC), and CD 2 was gone. I even copied CD2 into a separated file on the iPod, but it still came up as CD3. I did the whole exercise again using a different iPod but this time CD3 disappeared.This has happened to me a couple of times before and I put it down to problems with the CD identification.It would be nice to know the real reason.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on December 30, 2006 at 11:38 AM (CST)

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2015 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy