• Managing Audio Books in iTunes

    I have been driving back and forth across the country from coast to coast for about five years. On long drives, I like to listen to audio books. When I got an iPod, I specifically wanted to store audio books; that way I could just plug the iPod into my radio and not have to mess with a bunch of CD’s.

    My first attempt at using iTunes to rip and organize audio books seemed like a marathon. It should be really easy and straight forward with an Apple interface but I stumbled through it. I figured that it was a pain but that most people would figure it out with a little effort. So I did not bother writing a blog about it.

    Recently (within the last six months), iTunes has upgraded it’s interface. iTunes use to work well enough but now it is a software feature to display tracks in audio books in the wrong order. Apple does not seem to be in any hurry to remedy their mistake.

    I am going to walk through adding a couple of audio books to iTunes with workarounds for the shortcomings. Our first audio book is Fool by Christopher Moore.

    I put the first disk in the computer’s CD/DVD player. I open iTunes. Here is what it looks like.

    iTunes importing audio book Fool disk 1

    Hit “Ctrl -A” on the keyboard to select all the tracks or select them all with the mouse. Right click on the highlighted block with the mouse and select “Get Info.” You will be asked if you are sure you want to edit multiple items at once. Hit “Yes.”

    The Info window looks like the following.

    Editing audio book information in iTunes

    Everything looks good. I have found that the quality of the disk labeling varies from disk to disk even within the same audio book. You will have to check each disk. Hit “Cancel” to close the window and then hit “Import CD” in the main iTunes window.

    A window will pop up asking about the import settings. Hit “OK.” Nothing to worry about here.

    iTunes audio book import settings

    On to disk 2; it seems the database iTunes uses to look up information about audio books has two versions of this disk. We get the following window.

    iTunes CD database information dialog box

    There is no way to know who specified the two versions or how good the information is. We have to guess. I pick the second option because I want all the disks labeled with the same Album title that way iTunes puts all the disks in one folder.

    iTunes will ask if you want to automatically import the CD. Hit “No.” We need to review the track information first.

    iTunes dialog box confirming CD import automatically

    Hit “Ctrl-A” or select all the tracks with the mouse and right-click the selected block with the mouse to select “Get Info.” Review the information. I chose well on the track information from iTunes database. The Album and Artist fields are the same as the previous disk. The disk number is labeled 2 of 7. Nothing to change; we hit “Cancel.” Then import the CD.

    iTunes window for Get Info on a CD

    On to disk 3; iTunes asks to automatically import again. Hit “No.” This time the Album column is labeled “Fool 03.” If we leave that column the way it is, iTunes with have two entries in our music library for this audio book, one “Fool” and the other “Fool 03.”

    iTunes window showing Fool disk 03 with Album title Fool 03

    Hit “Ctrl-A” and right-click with the mouse on the highlighted block to get the context menu and select ‘Get Info.” Notice the Album field contains Fool 03. Changing it will change the entry for all of the tracks. Change it to “Fool.”

    iTunes window for Get Info on Fool disk 3.

    Now there is a check in the box next to the Album field indicating that this field has been changed.

    iTunes window for Get Info on Fool disk 3 with Album field changed.

    Hit “Ok” to commit the changes and then import the CD.

    On to disk 4. This disk has no information on it except the essentials (track times). This is very typical.

    iTunes showing no information on Fool disk 4

    Hit “Ctrl-A”, right-click on the highlighted block, and select “Get Track Names.” If you are lucky all the information will get filled in correctly. In this case everything is good except the Album field. We know how to fix that from the previous disk.

    iTunes showing information on Fool disk 4 updated from iTunes database

    If iTunes database has no information or you are off-line, we have a blank slate. “Get Info” on all the tracks.

    iTunes Get Info window with no information filled in

    We need to fill in Artist, Album, Disk Number, and Genre at a minimum. I put in all the fields the previous disks had filled out for consistency.

    iTunes Get Info window with Fool disk 4 info filled in

    Hit “Ok” and import the CD. The next three disks imported without any notable hitches.

    If we look at our iTunes Music library, this is what it looks like.

    iTunes Music library showing only audio book Fool

    We want the picture to go with the CD cover. Right click on the audio book picture and select “Get Album Artwork.” For this audio book, iTunes does not find a cover picture. We search google images for Christopher Moore’s Fool.

    google image search for Fool audio book cover image

    Pick one of them, right-click, and “Save image as…” fool.jpg in “My Pictures” folder.

    Windows save as dialog box

    Back in iTunes, right-click on the audio book cover image again and select “Get Info.” Double click on the Artwork box (inside the box). A dialog box will pop up allowing you to navigate to “My Pictures” and select fool.jpg. Hit “Ok.”

    iTunes Get Info window for Fool audio book showing cover artwork

    When I asked iTunes to get Album Artwork, I had to login into the iTunes Store (God knows why?). It updated my music library with purchased music, via iCloud. I now have multiple entries in my music library.

    iTunes Music libary showing Fool audio book with cover artwork

    If you expand the audio book by single clicking on the lower third of the audio book cover image, you will see the following. It looks pretty good. The tracks are in order and all the relevant info is showing up.

    iTunes Music libary showing Fool audio book expanded to show tracks

    If you are like me, you want your audio books in a separate folder from your music. I have a collection of audio books and I do not want them all mixed in with music. Right click on the audio book cover image and select “Get Info.” Click on the Options tab at the top of the window.

    iTunes Get Info window on Options tab showing Media Kind Music

    Click on the drop down box for Media Kind (currently showing Music as the selection). Choose “Audiobook.” Hit “OK.”

    iTunes Get Info window on Options tab showing Media Kind Audiobooks

    It is no longer in the Music folder. Where did it go?

    iTunes Music library no longer showing Fool audio book

    In the upper right corner of iTunes (right under the File menu bar), there is a rectangle labeled Music with a musical note to the left of it. Click on that rectangle and choose “Books.”

    iTunes Book library empty

    Still no Fool. In the center of the same bar we just used, you will notice that “Books” are selected. Choose “Audiobooks.”

    iTunes Book library showing Audiobooks including Fool

    Now it seems like everything is in order. Yeah right! Expand the view by clicking on the lower third of the album cover.

    iTunes Book library showing Fool expanded with tracks in wrong order

    All of the tracks now list in order of track number and then disk number as opposed to the other way around. Try playing this audio book in this view and the book is in scrambled order. Does iTunes give you a way to fix this? NO! Are they planning to fix their mistake? Probably not! Notice that they do not make this mistake with music CD’s; that would be a major flaw. We could put the audio book back in with the music but then when we upload this audio book to our iPod, it will be mixed in with the music there as well.

    We will fix this. iTunes primary problem is that it is using the track numbers as the absolute sorting criteria. We need to renumber the tracks from 1 to the total number of tracks. We want a program to do this. Mp3tag (free software) does just the job and a whole lot more.


    Make sure you click on the red mp3tagv245setup.exe and not the big blue Download button (some junk software you don’t want).

    mp3tag download page

    Here is what the program looks like running.

    mp3tag program window

    We need to know the location of our audio files. Go back to iTunes. Right click on any of the audio tracks in your audio book. Right click and select “Show in Windows Explorer.” Look at the address bar (in this case E:\Documents and Settings\Devon\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Music\Christopher Moore\Fool). Remember it or refer back to it to find the audio files in Mp3tag.

    windows explorer showing My Music Fool audio tracks

    You may need to change the Windows Explorer folder options to see the full path. In Windows Explorer, click on the Tools menu and then “Folder Options.” Click on the View tab at the top of the window. You want to put a check next to “Display the full path in the address bar.” Hit “OK.”

    windows explorer folder options

    In Mp3tag on the File menu, click on File and then “Change Directory” or hit “Ctrl-D.” Navigate to the same location as above.

    mp3tag change directory window

    Now we see our audio files. Hit “Ctrl-A” or highlight all the files with the mouse so that we have all the files selected. Select “Convert” in the menu bar and choose “Tag – Tag” or hit “Alt + 5.”

    mp3tag main window showing Fool audio files

    Select Field “TRACK”. We want to change the track numbers. Type in “%_counter%” into the “Format String” field. If you have done this correctly, there will be a 0 showing below that box, like the picture below.

    mp3tag Tag - Tag window

    Make sure the information above is correct. You can undo this step once you have done it wrong, but it is better to just not go there. There is an undo option under the Edit menu, but it only goes back one change. If you mess up, undo immediately. Don’t try a couple other variations.

    Assuming success, here is where we are at. Notice the tracks list from 1 to 34 (of what we can see. Total number of tracks is 61 for this audio book). You can close the program Mp3tag now.

    mp3tag main window showing Fool audio files updated with track numbers counting up to total number of tracks

    Go back to the Explorer Window with our audio files. We want to go to the parent directory (Christopher Moore) and rename the “Fool” folder to “Fool1”. One way to go the parent directory is to highlight “Fool” in the address bar, hit Backspace, and then hit Enter.

    windows explorer showing contents of Fool folder

    windows explorer showing Fool folder renamed to Fool1

    We need to protect our files from being deleted when we tell iTunes to delete the audio book. You would think iTunes would just update itself based on the new file information but… no.

    We have to go into iTunes and delete the audio book. Then change the folder above back to its correct name “Fool”, and then drag and drop the Fool folder into iTunes.

    iTunes will then put the audio book back in the Music section. You have to right-click on the audio book cover image, select “Get Info”, and switch the media kind again to “Audiobooks.” Then we have the result we want.

    iTunes Books library showing Fool audio book expanded and tracks in order

    From the File menu, select View and Show Side Bar or “Ctrl-S”. From there you can drag and drop the audio book to an iPod or iPhone.

    iTunes Books library showing with side bar and iPod connected

    I also added the audio book “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. In terms of the process above, the only thing that came up was that the Album title changed from disk to disk.

    Surprisingly, I started having problems with the CD/DVD player I was using to rip the CD’s. I had to switch to another computer to rip this audio book. When a disk has one or more scratches, ripping the CD can take longer and the sound quality may be affected. With this CD/DVD player, the ripping process got painfully slow even on perfect disks. Many of the tracks had poor sound quality.

    By the way, both “Fool” and “The Devil in the White City” are very entertaining audio books. “Fool” is a little raunchy. “The Devil in the White City” is a mix between telling the history of some unusual real events and a story format bringing a number of the people to life fictionally.


    When ripping audio books make sure that the Album title and Artist name are consistent. This way all of the audio track go into one folder.

    It is nice to have the cover artwork. You will likely have to get it from the Internet.

    Audio books should be in their own folder, Audiobooks, in iTunes and on iPods and iPhones.

    Since iTunes displays audio book tracks in the wrong order, the tracks have to be renumbered 1 to the total number of tracks, as opposed to 1 to the number of tracks on a disk, per disk.

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