How to Import Audiobook CDs into iTunes

August 7th, 2007 | Posted in General

Since I’m on the subject of audiobooks and iPods…

One of my pet peeves with the iPod and iTunes was the way it handled imported audiobook files. I’m talking about the ones you import from your own audiobook CDs, not the downloaded ones. Audiobooks downloaded from iTunes or from Audible are recognized and treated differently than regular music files. The are automatically placed in their own section entitled “Audiobooks” in both iTunes and the iPod, and the files are “bookmarkable”. With regular songs if you pause while listening to one song and go to another, when you go back to that first song you start at the beginning of it again. With audiobooks, if you return to one you had been listening to and then paused to play a few songs, you pick right back up where you left off. Downloaded audiobooks do all this, are split into only a few separate files (part 1, part 2, etc) and you can do other things like play them faster or slower.

The problem with this is that when you use iTunes to import an audiobook from CDs the program thinks it is a music album, not a recorded book. It saves and treats the files as regular song files, so none of the above applies. Each track of an audiobook is like a separate song, so even a small audiobook will have a hundred tracks, making them unwieldy (my Lord of the Rings audiobooks have over 1,000 tracks). When you import each CD in iTunes, the online database provides suggestions on the titles and such, but there are often many choices and most are not compatible with each other. It’s entirely possible to import an audiobook into iTunes (and thereby on your iPod) but it’s a pain and it doesn’t work as well as just downloading it.

I should say “didn’t work as well as downloading it”, because thanks to some research and experimentation, I’ve learned how to import an audiobook into iTunes and make it work like a real audiobook. Everything works except for the chapter stops, which there is a way to do using an apple script designed for podcast formatting but it’s not important to me, so I don’t bother.

Here are the steps to import an audiobook from CDs into iTunes (ver. 7.xx):

1. Set iTunes Preferences: There is no need to transfer these books with the high audio settings of regular music. Almost all audiobooks are recorded in mono and at a smaller bitrate, so there is no loss of quality with lower setting, just a saving of hard drive space.

Go to iTunes > Preferences > Advanced > Importing (Mac) or Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Importing (Windows).

Select “Custom” and set the bitrate for 64kbps and check “Optimize for Voice“.

This will import the mono recording at 32 kbps, which is standard for audiobooks.

I also have the “On CD Insert” set to “Show CD” so it won’t start importing automatically. This is impiortant as you have to be able to complete an extra step prior to importing.

2. Insert Disk: Insert the first disk of your audiobook (say it’s “Run Spot Run”, with a total of 12 disks).

ITunes will show the CD and it’s tracks, and ask to query the database for the titles. Let it, we’ll be changing them anyway.

3. Combine Tracks: Now, some my be super-anal and want to combine each chapter of the book into a single track. That can be done, but it’s hard as some chapters are spread out over more than one disk. You’d need to use a script utility like Jointogether (sorry, that’s Mac only). I prefer to just create a single track for each disk, which is easy.

Highlight all the tracks on the CD, then go to:

Advanced > Join CD Tracks

All the tracks will be connected by a line and just the top title will be editable. Title this track “Book Name Part 1 of X” with “X” being the total number of disks. In out fictional case, it’s “Run Spot Run Disk 1 of 12”.

Click the “Import CD” button.

4. Repeat for each CD, changing the name as required.

Once all the disks are imported, you will find them in your regular music section, not audiobooks. That’s because imported tracks are “ACC audio files” or .m4a files. Audiobooks are named differently: “Protected ACC audio files” or .m4b files. We need to change the file names so iTunes will treat them like audiobooks.

Start by selecting the album (book) in your music folder.

5. Rename files

If you are using Windows, just right click the first track and select “Show in Windows Explorer”. Up will come the folder with all the tracks in it. Each should end in .m4a (if you don’t see that, you have Windows set to hide file extensions. In the explorer window, select Tools > Folder Options. Then the View tab. Under Files and Folders, make sure there is no check next to “Hide extensions for known file types“. Then select OK. You should see the .m4a extension now.)

Right click the first file, select Rename. Then change the last letter in the extension from an “a” to a “b” and hit Enter. Repeat for each file.

If you use Windows, that’s it. If you use a Mac, you have an extra step that unfortunately requires a utility program.

Macs use more than the extension to identify a file. There is a hidden “file type” that also needs to be changed. I downloaded a handy free utility that will do this called Make Bookmarkable. You can get it here. Download and install as instructed. It will appear as an option in Scripts in the iTunes menu.

Simply select all the tracks for your audiobook in iTunes and run the script by selecting it with the tracks selected. All the files will be changed to extension .m4b and the Mac file type changed as well. Done.

If you use Windows, I’ve been told you need to reimport the changed files into iTunes. If you, just click File> Add Folder to Library. Then navigate to the folder containing your changed file names (the new .m4b files) and select OK. You should now see your audiobook under “Audiobooks” in the iTunes menu. You can them delete the original music format files from the “music” category. I don’t use Windows so I am not sure about those steps.

6. Close and then reopen iTunes. Sync up your iPod.

Your audiobook should now appear under Audiobooks in both iTunes and your iPod. It will treat the files just like a downloaded audiobook.

Now, if you want to get fancy, you can scan in the cover of your CD audiobook box, save it as a 600 x 600 pixel RGB jpeg image, and then use it for the album art in iTunes. Just save that formatted jpeg on your desktop. Then highlight all the tracks of the audiobook in iTunes and ctrl-click (right-click in Windows) one of the tracks. Select Get Info and then Artwork. Drag and drop the jpeg file into the window and select OK.

I was impatient for iTunes to add “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” for download, so I bought the CDs (my kids like the CDs) and followed my step above to import them. I already owned a collection from iTunes called “The Complete Harry Potter“, which was the first 6 books unabridged. Rather than wait for the new version, I made my own “The Complete Harry Potter” by combining my imported and formatted CD’s from “The Deathly Hallows“, changing the album names and disk number, and with a little PhotoShop magic on the album artwork…


Just a quick disclaimer note. It is legal for you to make a copy of an audiobook you have purchased and keep it a long as you want. It is also legal to make a copy of one you borrowed or rented to listen on you iPod, as long as you delete it after listening. Making copies of book you borrowed or rented to keep, or sharing or swapping files is illegal. Don’t do that.


  1. Mark Hill says:

    Wow, that reads like a user’s manual on the subject, (only well-written.) Thanks for posting your solution to the problem. I’ll have to give it a try!

  2. kourtneyk68 says:

    OMgosh. Okay this form or w/e helped me out so so so much 😀

    i have been trying all day to figure out and must have visited 34857 sites

    before i got to this one!!!

    i only have 1 Q, and i know who wrote this didnt use windows, but i do and

    im confused about the last part.

    How do you reimport…?

    i made a folder (not a playlist) and i put the tracks there…but the folder is

    still under the music part and when i exited out and went back on

    nothing had changed 🙁 ? ? ?

    Anyone know what to do ? ? ?


  3. Tom says:

    If you already have the folder with your audiobook files in your music folder, you don’t want to copy it there a second time (which this will do if default settings are unchanged). The easiest thing to do is to drag the audiobook folder out of your music folder and drop it on the desktop.

    To import the audiobook folder into iTunes:

    Just drag the folder from the desktop and drop it on the iTunes window (that works for Macs, not sure about Windows).


    Go to File>Add to Library

    Navigate to the desktop and the folder containing your new audiobook files. Select it and click “Choose”.

    The files will be copied into your music folder and should appear under the “audiobook” section of iTunes. Test the files and make sure they are playing okay, and they are all there. Then you can delete the desktop audiobook folder. If you still have the original files before the conversion, they will appear in the “music” section of iTunes. You can delete those and let iTunes delete the files as well when prompted.

  4. Alderete says:

    For Mac users, I would recommend the $10 utility Audiobook Builder, which can automate much of this process for you. If you do more than a couple audiobooks a year, that $10 is well worth your money; it does just about everything for you, except swap the CDs.

    The other thing it will do for you is combine all the CDs into one longer track (or several tracks, if the book is longer than 12 hours), with chapter marks. Tom, you wrote it’s not important to you, but if you get an iPhone, that will change. The new information display on the iPhone makes it really, really nice to have proper chapter boundaries and marks.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: