Audiobook Builder: Three Quick Tabs to Getting Stories on Your iPod

Photo of an iPhone and headphones on top of a bookLast year my family moved to a new home. Everything about the new home was better except for one thing: my commute grew by about 20 minutes. Given Atlanta’s traffic, this means that I often spend an hour getting from door. Fortunately, ProfHacker is there for me. In the past we’ve covered ways to hack your commute by car, by airplane, and how to prepare for the semester by anticipating the commute. But I’ve found another way to be productive during your commute: listening to an audiobook.

Audiobooks are a great way for me to catch up on reading that I will just never get done otherwise. It helps pass the time as I drive to listen to a narrative or an argument—so much so that I sometimes find myself being a little disappointed to be in my garage. I find that I don’t listen to novels that I’m going to teach or write about, as I really need to have the book in my hands to make annotations and the like. My ideal audiobook is either nonfiction or some good yarn that I’m sure I’ll never write about. The year I commuted 120 miles one way, I made my way through everything Malcolm Gladwell had written, as well as the fabulous (and immense) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Since most audiobooks that I listen to are at least five hours long, it’s most convenient to listen to them as digital files. Perhaps the easiest place to get digital audiobooks is from Audible. Audible is certainly cheaper than buying the CDs outright, but it adds up after a while. Some campus or local libraries might have a subscription with Overdrive, which makes borrowing audiobooks possible. But it turns out that many of these libraries also have extensive audiobook collections on CD. But how can you go about getting those books onto your mp3 player? (In asking this question, I’m going to assume that you want to get the books onto your mp3 player during the time of your library loan for easier listening than carting around the 16-odd CDs that make up Dan Brown’s Inferno. Keeping the files beyond the term of your loan would almost certainly be violating terms of use.)

You could of course put the CDs into whatever software you use for managing audio, such as iTunes. But the defaults for ripping CDs in such software are for music CDs. The files will be bigger than necessary, but much more obnoxiously, each track will be treated like a song—as a separate entity—and the book won’t have audio bookmarking enabled (a feature that lets you pick up where you left off the next time you return to the book). There are ways around these problems in iTunes, but they are time-consuming at best and madness inducing at worst.

If you’re a Mac user, you’ll have a much better experience with Audiobook Builder, a $4.95 tool available in the Mac App Store or from its developer, Splasm Software. When you begin a new project Audiobook Builder, you simply move through three quick tabs on the software, each of which takes less than 3 clicks to get through.

Tab #1

On the “Cover” tab you enter title, author, genre, and add a picture of the cover.Screenshot of the Cover tab

Tab #2

You next click on the “Chapters” tab. Here you have the option to either directly add files (from Finder), add tracks that are already ripped in iTunes, or directly import a CD. You can also drag and drop audio files into the window.

Screenshot of the Chapters tab

I find the easiest option to be importing directly from CDs. Once on the Chapters tab, I insert the first CD, click the CD icon, and approve the title that iTunes pulls up for the CD. Audiobook Builder then rips the audio files. Once the CD is completed, the software ejects it, and once I put the new CD into the computer, it automatically begins ripping the new disc and adding it to what’s come before.

Tab #3

Once I’ve added all of the CDs, I click on the “Finish” tab. Here, I have a big “Build Audiobook” button. That’s all that I really need to click, but I can also choose to adjust the “Build options.”

Screenshot of the Finish tab

Here I can choose the quality that I want for the audio files (64kbps should be perfectly adequate for audiobooks, but is really not enough for music); the format that I want the files saved in (you almost certainly want M4B, the bookmark able audiobook format); and how the file should be divided. The default is for Audiobook Builder to make as few 12-hour parts as possible for a book. This means that a 20-hour book becomes one 12-hour and one 8-hour part. I find that I prefer to have the files divided in the same way as the original CDs, so I change this setting to “Per Chapter.” Build options will stay the same from one project to the next, so once you’ve set them the first time, you don’t need to revisit them. When you finally click the big “Build” button, Audiobook Builder will encode your files and add them automatically to iTunes. Most helpfully, they will appear not as music but as audiobooks.

All in all, Audiobook Builder is a great and effective tool. Every once in a while, I will find that the software can’t read a CD and the process will halt. When that happens, iTunes is inevitably able to rip the CD. I then use the “Add iTunes” button on the “Chapters” tab to get those tracks into the software. It’s also true that ripping the CDs can take a while. But this will be true, whether you use iTunes or another tool, especially if there are 26 CDs as was the case with Jonathan Strange. You can try a demo of Audiobook Builder for free, but when building your book, it will only limit its output to 20 minutes. I found the tool useful enough that I bought my own copy a few years ago. What’s more, I paid $9.95, so if you’re interested you’ll save a lot compared to me.

I don’t have any experience with Windows or Linux tools for doing the same thing, but a quick Google search turns up several options: Chapter and Verse and Audiobook Creator, the first of which is freeware. The latter promises to convert text files to voice, so you can download classics from Project Gutenberg and convert them to audio on you own.

In the end, audiobooks don’t make my commute any shorter, but they do make it feel shorter at times. And the $9.95 I paid for Audiobook Builder has been repaid many times. Do you listen to audiobooks on your commute? Do you convert them to digital files? How do you do it? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: stock image / CC BY 2.0

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