Although iTunes began with a focus primarily on music, it wasn’t long before it expanded its capabilities to include support for other types of audio content, including audiobooks and community-authored episodic audio content known as podcasts. As iTunes continued to expand its support into other media types and the iTunes Store grew in popularity, video podcasts were introduced as well, and the availability of a wide variety of podcasts on different subjects expanded dramatically.
Today, the iTunes Store provides a catalog of thousands of audiobooks and podcasts covering just about every possible subject you can imagine. In 2008 Apple further expanded the iTunes Store catalog of podcast-type materials by adding iTunes U, a massive collection of free educational material from various academic institutions for students, teachers and the general public.
With the release of the iPad in early 2010, Apple moved beyond audiobooks to expand into the e-book business, adding text-based books which it dubbed “iBooks” alongside a companion iBooks app for the iPad and later iPhone and iPod touch.
For the most part, iTunes handles podcasts, audiobooks and iTunes U content separately from your primary music and video library, placing them in their own sections in iTunes and providing distinct options to manage these files within iTunes and sync them to your Apple media devices. This article provides information for both the beginner and experienced iTunes user alike for getting the most out of your audiobooks, iBooks, podcasts and iTunes U content.
Audiobooks and iBooks
iTunes supports commercial audiobooks both in the Audible.com or in iTunes’ own protected AAC format. Note that unlike music content on the iTunes Store, most audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store and all audiobooks from Audible.com are DRM-protected. As with music, you can import your own audio files as audiobooks, a process that has become much more streamlined with recent versions of iTunes.
For iBooks, iTunes supports titles in either the ePUB or PDF formats. Titles purchased from the iBookstore are in a DRM-protected version of the ePUB standard, although you can also import your own unprotected ePUB titles from other sources such as Project Gutenberg or import PDF files from any source, including those created on your Mac or Windows PC.
Note that although Apple uses the term “Books” throughout iTunes to refer to electronic text-based books that can be read with the iBooks app, for the sake of clarity we will refer to these as “iBooks” in this article.
iTunes and iPod compatible audiobooks may be purchased online from either the iTunes Store itself or from Audible.com. As mentioned earlier, all audiobooks from Audible.com and most audiobooks on the iTunes Store are protected by iTunes’ Digital Rights Management (DRM), unlike iTunes Store music purchases which are now all DRM-free. Audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store come in the protected AAC format and have the same DRM restrictions as other types of iTunes content, basically meaning that they may be played on up to five authorized iTunes computers and an unlimited number of iPod or iOS devices that are synced with one of those five computers. Audible content, on the other hand, carries a tighter set of restrictions: only three computers may be authorized to play back Audible content, and you authorize and deauthorize your Audible.com account separately from your iTunes Store account. It’s also worth noting that due to licensing restrictions, Audible.com content cannot be played on the Apple TV.
Audiobooks purchased from Audible.com are not downloaded directly into iTunes. Instead, you must either use Audible’s own download manager to automatically import these tracks into iTunes, or download them manually and import them into iTunes yourself as you would for any other audio file. Further, unlike your iTunes Store account, there is no “Authorize Computer” menu option for Audible; you are simply prompted to enter your Audible.com username and password the first time you attempt to import or play an Audible audiobook. Keep in mind also that since Audible authorization is separate from iTunes Store authorization, if you’re planning to reinstall your operating system or upgrade or sell your computer, you will need to de-authorize both you iTunes Store and your Audible.com accounts separately. The option to de-authorize your iTunes Store account is found under the Store menu in iTunes, while the option to de-authorize your Audible account can be found at the bottom of the Advanced menu in iTunes.
Most of the audiobooks available on Audible.com are also available on the iTunes Store, and the main advantage of using Audible will be for those users who listen to a lot of audiobooks, as Audible offers subscription packages that work out more economically for avid audiobook listeners. On the other hand you can purchase audiobooks on the go from the iTunes Store on your iOS device whereas Audible.com content needs to be purchased on your computer and synced from your iTunes library. Audible.com does offer its own standalone iOS app for listening to your purchased Audible.com content, however this app does not integrate with your iTunes library—books are accessible only from within the native Audible.com application unless you download them separately on your computer and import them into your iTunes library manually.
iTunes also allows you to import your own audiobooks into your iTunes library in much the same way as your own music tracks. Older versions of iTunes made importing these audiobooks into the proper section in iTunes a relatively cumbersome process involving external conversion tools, but the good news is that as of iTunes 8 it has become considerably simpler to do.
With iTunes 8 and later, audiobooks can be imported into iTunes in any supported audio format. These files will end up in your “Music” section by default, but you can easily categorize them as Audiobooks simply by selecting the newly-imported tracks and choosing File, Get Info from the iTunes menu. This brings up the track information dialog box. From the Options tab, you merely need to change the “Media Kind” field to “Audiobook.”
Note that you may also want to enable the options for Remember playback position and Skip when shuffling as shown above. These settings are enabled by default for audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store and allow you to resume listening to your audiobooks where you left off either in iTunes or on your iPod, iOS device or Apple TV. The playback position is also synced between all devices that are automatically syncing with your iTunes library, allowing you to begin listening to your audiobook on your iPod, for example, then sync your iPod and pick up where you left off on your computer or Apple TV.
The Skip when Shuffling option is similarly desirable to prevent audiobooks from coming up when shuffling large music playlists or the entire content of your iPod.
Both of these options are actually forced on for content purchased from the iTunes Store or Audible.com and you actually won’t be able to turn them off. Further, audiobooks that were manually converted to the M4B format to be imported into older versions of iTunes will also inherit these settings.
Another advantage of having your own audiobooks listed in the proper “Audiobooks” section is that you will be able to vary the playback speed for your audiobooks on your iPod or iOS device.
Note that some audiobooks that you obtain from other sources may consist of multiple files for each chapter of the audiobook. If you are importing an audiobook from CD, you can easily join the tracks together into a single audio file when importing the CD into iTunes by using the Join CD Tracks option; to do this, simply select all of the tracks on the CD within iTunes and then choose Advanced, Join CD Tracks from the iTunes menu.
When importing the CD, the selected tracks will be joined together and imported as a single audio file in your default import format. Note that this will not add any chapter markers to your imported audiobook however, so you may want to look at a third-party utility for this purpose. There are a couple of good software utilities that can merge multiple-file audiobooks into a single file for you and convert them into a proper audiobook with chapter markers: Audiobook Builder by Splasm Software (http://www.splasm.com) for Mac users, or MarkAble from iPodSoft (http://www.ipodsoft.com) and its companion Chapter Master product for Windows users. Both of these tools can handle the entire process of joining separate audiobook files together, converting them into an iTunes-ready audiobook file and importing them right into your iTunes library.
When Apple first debuted the iBookstore in April 2010, access to it was only available from within the iBooks app running on an iOS device. Books purchased in iBooks could be synced back to and managed within iTunes, but they had to be purchased directly from the iBooks app.
It wasn’t until over a year later, with the release of iTunes 10.3 that Apple finally allows users to purchase iBooks from their Mac or Windows PC. The Audiobooks section of the iTunes Store was renamed to “Books” grouping audiobooks and iBooks together into this single new section.
Purchasing an iBook works in much the same way as purchasing anything else on the iTunes Store, with the usual purchasing and gifting options available.
Most titles also provide the ability to download a sample version of the book before purchasing. The sample can be synced to an iOS device in the same manner as a purchased book, and will include a link within iBooks to purchase the full edition. If the user chooses to buy the actual book, the sample is automatically removed in favour of the full title.
As with audiobooks, iBooks purchased on the iTunes Store are protected by digital rights management and tied to the iTunes Store account used to purchase them. Similar rules apply to iBooks as other iTunes media content: you can sync your iBooks to up to five iTunes-authorized devices and can only store content from up to five different iTunes Store accounts on a single iOS device.
You can also download previously purchased iBooks from the “Purchased” section in iTunes or within the iBooks app on your iOS device via iTunes in the Cloud and configure iTunes or any of your iOS devices to automatically download all new iBookstore purchases. However, as with music content once you download prior iBookstore purchases with a given iTunes Store account, you will not be able to download content with a different account on that device for 90 days.
Importing your own ePUB or PDF files into iTunes is as simple as dragging and dropping them in or using the File, Add to Library menu option. iTunes will automatically place these items in the Books category. For ePUB titles, iTunes will use the metadata embedded in the ePUB header, if any, to fill in fields such as the cover art, title and author; for PDF files, the file name becomes the title, and the first page of the PDF file becomes the cover art. You can further customize the tags for a book in much the same way as any other item in iTunes: Simply select the item and choose File, Get Info to open the file information dialog box and then edit the track information as you normally would.
For PDF files, you can also visit the “Options” tab and change the Media Kind to Music, Podcast or iTunes U to list the item in a different category. This is particularly relevant for items such as digital booklet inserts for music albums or supplemental documents that come from podcast or iTunes U subscriptions. However, this option can also be used in reverse if you want to move one of these PDF files into the Books section for syncing to the iBooks app on your iOS device.
Note that if you have electronic books that are another unprotected format, you can also convert these to ePUB for use in iBooks on your iOS device. Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com) offers a free, open-source tool that can convert electronic books from a wide variety of formats. It is also possible to find tools that can remove the DRM from some types of older audiobook formats such as eReader, although discussion of such tools is beyond the scope of this article.
Managing Your Books
Once in your iTunes library, management of your books is relatively straightforward. The Books category in the iTunes source list will display a view of all of the iBooks (“Books”) and audiobooks in your library which you can see in standard list view, Grid view or Cover Flow view. Grid View has the advantage of automatically grouping multi-file audiobooks into a single entry, based upon the Album tag. By default Books and Audiobooks
Other than their placement in a separate category, audiobooks are managed in much the same way as music tracks, and can be sorted, re-tagged and organized in the same manner.
Note that although you can listen to your audiobooks in iTunes, the corresponding feature is not available for iBooks; as has always been the case, PDF files in your library can be opened in your default PDF reader, but ePUB titles can only be read on an iOS device using the iBooks app.
Synchronization of books to your iPod or iOS device is handled from a separate “Books” screen. For traditional Click Wheel iPod models, this will include your audiobooks; for iOS devices syncing of both iBooks and Audiobooks is managed from here.
From this screen, you can choose to sync all iBooks and/or audiobooks or choose specific titles for synchronization. Multi-part audiobooks also allow you to sync only specific sections of the audiobook. Alternatively, you can also build your own playlists of audiobook content and select them for synchronization if you prefer. Note that the Include Audiobooks from Playlists option only appears if you actually have playlists containing the appropriate type of content, and only those playlists which include that content are shown.
If you’re managing the content on your iPod or iOS device manually, the same rules as for management of music tracks apply—simply drag-and-drop your audiobooks from your iTunes library onto your device in this case.
Protected audiobooks and iBooks purchased from the iTunes Store have the same limitations as other iTunes DRM-protected files: They may be synced to up to five iTunes-authorized devices and you can only store content from up to five iTunes Store accounts on any single device. Audiobooks purchased from Audible.com work in a similar manner, although the limits in this case are a maximum of three devices and a maximum of two different Audible.com accounts per device.
Audiobooks with Remember Playback Position enabled will also sync their current playback position between iTunes and any other devices using automatic synchronization. Note that purchased audiobooks and audiobooks converted to the M4B format via third-party tools will have this option permanently enabled. With iBooks, the current reading position along with any notes and highlights are synchronized over-the-air via iCloud—iTunes has not part in this process.
Varying Playback Speed
On the iPod and iOS devices you can adjust the playback speed for your audiobooks. This option is found under Settings, Audiobooks on the iPod classic and Settings, Playback, Audiobooks on the pre-sixth-generation iPod nano models. On the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, you can adjust the speed of audiobooks during playback by tapping the screen to bring up the extra controls and tapping the “1X” button in the top-right corner to toggle between double-speed playback, half-speed playback, or normal speed playback. The sixth-generation iPod nano provides a similar control that can be found by tapping on the Now Playing screen to display the playback controls and then swiping to the left to bring up the additional repeat, skip-back and playback speed controls.
Podcasts and iTunes U
The most common source of Podcasts is the iTunes Store itself, which provides a catalog of thousands of audio and video podcasts. Unlike most iTunes Store content, podcasts are completely free. In fact the iTunes Store really only provides the directory of podcasts; the actual podcast episodes themselves are not stored or provided by the iTunes Store, but are rather downloaded directly from each podcast provider’s own servers.
For the most part, Podcasts and iTunes U Collections are handled in a similar manner. However, unlike podcasts, iTunes U content is provided only through the iTunes Store itself. Note also that while most iTunes U content is freely available, there may be items that are restricted only to students and faculty of particular educational institutions; the iTunes U service allows campuses to host their own internal iTunes U sites exclusively for their own students. This content will generally not be visible at all to iTunes users that are not part of those particular campuses.
Although iTunes U was actually first introduced to the iTunes Store in late 2006, these materials were originally treated by the iTunes application simply as podcasts. It was not until the release of iTunes 9 that iTunes U Collections received their own distinct category in iTunes.
Downloading Podcasts and iTunes U Collections
In spite of Podcasts and iTunes U content having their own separate categories in iTunes, they are managed in mostly the same way. You can browse for content of both types within the iTunes Store, and choose to either subscribe to an entire podcast or iTunes U collection, or simply download individual episodes that may interest you.
If you choose to subscribe to an entire podcast or iTunes U collection, the most recent episode is downloaded immediately and iTunes checks daily for any new episodes and downloads them automatically. Any older episodes that are available in the series will appear below the most recent one but by default are not downloaded automatically. You can download additional episodes by clicking on the Get button beside each individual episode, or simply click Get All in the heading to download all available episodes.
If you choose to download individual episodes instead of subscribing to the entire podcast, these episodes will appear in the appropriate section in iTunes, with a “Subscribe” button in the heading to allow you to easily subscribe to the entire series if you later choose to do so.
With its extremely large catalog of podcasts, the iTunes Store is the most common place to find podcasts, but you can also easily subscribe to any individual podcast directly. Some podcast providers will have links on their own web sites to subscribe in iTunes with one click, or alternatively if you know the direct URL of a podcast you can subscribe manually by selecting Subscribe to Podcast from the iTunes Advanced menu and typing or pasting in the podcast URL.
iTunes U content, on the other hand, can only be obtained directly from the iTunes Store, although it is also free to download. Note that you do not require an iTunes Store account to download either podcasts or iTunes U content, except for any iTunes U content that may be restricted to your own organization.
Managing Podcasts and iTunes U Content
Although Podcasts and iTunes U content are organized into their own respective sections in iTunes, each is managed in the same manner. Episodes are organized into their respective podcast or iTunes U collection, and the view can be collapsed or expanded to display the individual episodes below each heading. Audio and video content is organized in the same section, with video content being indicated simply by a video icon beside the episode. Note that some podcasts or iTunes U series’ may include both audio and video episodes or even PDF documents as supplemental material; these will be organized under the same podcast subscription heading with videos and PDF files indicated with a video or book icon, respectively.
iTunes keeps track of which podcast or iTunes U episodes you’ve listened to or watched, indicating unplayed episodes with a solid blue dot and partially-played episodes with a half-filled blue dot. The number of unplayed episodes is also displayed beside the “Podcasts” and “iTunes U” entries in the iTunes library source list on the left.
Podcast and iTunes U listings can also be viewed in Grid View and Cover Flow views. In Grid View, the number of new episodes within each subscription is shown as a blue badge count over the artwork. Note that this number represents the number of new episodes and does not include partially-watched episodes.
Buttons at the bottom of the screen allow you to subscribe or unsubscribe from a selected podcast or iTunes U subscription and adjust your settings for how many episodes to download or keep for each subscription. Clicking the Refresh button will check your subscriptions for any new episodes.
The Settings button at the bottom of the screen will open a dialog box where you can adjust your Podcast or iTunes U settings, depending on which section you’re in.
At the top of the settings dialog box you can specify how often iTunes should check for new episodes: hourly, daily, weekly, or manually, with the default being daily. The lower section allows you to specify how many episodes should be downloaded when new episodes are available and how many episodes should be retained. For new episodes, the options are Download all, Download the most recent one or Do nothing and are fairly self-explanatory. The Episodes to keep option allows you to choose to keep either all episodes, all unplayed episodes, or the most recent 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 episodes.
You can also override these settings for individual subscriptions by choosing a specific subscription from the Settings for drop-down menu, deselecting the Use Default Settings option and choosing specific settings for that particular subscription.
The options for iTunes U are identical to those for podcasts, with the exception of the references to “iTunes U” in the dialog boxes.
You can also exempt specific podcast or iTunes U episodes from automatic deletion. This can be particularly useful if you want a podcast or iTunes U subscription to normally only keep the last few episodes, but find one particular episode that you consider worth keeping around longer. To do this, simply select the individual episode that you would like to retain, right-click on it, and choose Do Not Auto Delete from the context menu which appears.
Note that this option will change to Allow Auto Delete when right-clicking on an episode that has already been exempted from automatic deletion.
The auto-delete settings can also be applied to an entire podcast or iTunes U subscription. If both options appear on the context menu, this indicates that some but not all of the episodes in the series have been exempted from automatic deletion. Choosing either option will change the setting for all of the episodes in the current podcast or iTunes U subscription.
Exempting an entire subscription from automatic deletion in this manner is basically the same as adjusting the custom settings for the subscription to keep all episodes, and was the only way to do this prior to the custom podcast settings being introduced in iTunes 8.
Another useful option that can be found on this context menu is Show all available episodes. This option will refresh the podcast to show all episodes that are currently available from the podcast feed. Episodes are not actually downloaded, but are displayed greyed out with a “Get” button beside each allowing you to retrieve any specific episodes from the feed.
Note that iTunes will stop downloading new podcast episodes automatically for any podcasts that you have not listened to in at least five days. This is presumably to prevent your library from getting cluttered with podcast episodes that you don’t regularly listen to, however some users who may want to collect episodes for infrequent listening may find this to be annoying. Simply selecting these stale podcasts and initiating a manual update by right-clicking and choosing Update Podcast from the context menu will resume regular automatic downloads until the next five-day cycle elapses. Mac users who would rather see this automated can check out the Update Expired Podcasts AppleScript at Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes, which will force regular batch-updates of all of your podcasts.
Synchronizing Podcasts and iTunes U Collections
Syncing podcasts and iTunes U collections to your iPod or iOS device is handled through specific screens in your device sync settings in iTunes. As with other Podcast and iTunes U settings, these two sections function in essentially the same manner.
You can choose to automatically sync a specified number of episodes, unplayed episodes or recent episodes of either all of your podcasts or iTunes U collections, or from specifically selected collections. Episodes selected for synchronization automatically will appear pre-checked and greyed out within the selection list, and you can also choose additional specific episodes to sync from each podcast or iTunes U collection.
You can also sync podcast and iTunes U content based on playlists. Note that the Include Items from Playlists option only appears if you actually have playlists containing the appropriate type of content, and only those playlists which include that content are shown.
Podcast and iTunes U sync settings are independent of whether or not you have your iPod or iOS device set to manage content manually. In other words, you can choose to manage your music and video content manually while still synchronizing podcasts and iTunes U collections automatically.