How to Manage Audiobooks in a Post-iTunes World

With the split of iTunes into four apps, the way audiobooks are managed is different. If you have audiobooks from Audible or from the iTunes Store – technically the Books Store – you have no choice: they can only be stored in the books app. But if you have a collection of audiobooks that you have ripped, or downloaded without DRM, then you have two options for managing audiobooks in a post-iTunes world.

You can move your audiobooks to the Books app, which offers a number of features for playback that are more appropriate for listening to spoken word. For example, you click buttons to skip ahead or back by 15 seconds, set a sleep timer, and more. However, these files are stored on your startup disk, and you may simply not have enough space on this disk, so if you have a large audiobooks library and want all your audiobooks in the Books app, I recommend only adding those to the app when you want to listen to them. At other times, store them on an external disk. (Audiobooks will be stored in a folder in the Library folder of your home folder: ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService.)

Or you can keep your audiobooks in your Music library. If you rip audiobook CDs, their files can stay in your Music library, and you can listen to them in the Music app, sync them to an iOS device, and even put them in your iCloud Music Library, if the bit rate is 96 kbps or above. This allows you to store the audiobook files on an external drive, if you don’t have enough space on your Mac’s startup drive.

Note that when you now go to rip new audiobooks, you must do this in the Music app; there is no such option in the Books app. But you can move these audiobook files to the Books app, and each file name shows up as an individual chapter, allowing you to navigate in your audiobooks more easily.

If you do want to keep them in the Music app, you no longer have to change the media kind to Audiobook for them to show up in the Audiobooks library, because that will be gone. You just leave them as music files, and they will show up in your Music library. It’s a good idea to set the genre to something like Spoken Word so you can find them easily.

So, if you do have a large audiobook library, make plans before upgrading to macOS Catalina.


Learn more about the new media apps that replace iTunes in macOS Catalina in my new book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps.

42 thoughts on “How to Manage Audiobooks in a Post-iTunes World

  1. Thank you for the advice. It is very helpful. I probably will move my DRM-free audiobook collection (many of which used to be iTunes U courses) to Music. I might also look at 3rd party apps (that run on both Mac and iOS) to house and listen to my audiobooks. Any thoughts on that?

  2. I’ve been thinking about my plans ever since your post about the new apps and file locations in Catalina. The other thing that one should do if leaving audiobooks as music files in iTunes, is to select them all and set “Remember playback position” and “Skip when shuffling” in the ‘Options’ tab of the Get Info window.

    • This is EXACTLY what I had to do. the bad part is I had to make new playlist in the music app for the audio books, when they were already in the old itunes under their own playlist originally.

  3. Playing around with this some more (on Mojave, with iTunes), setting audiobooks as music and syncing them to the iOS Music app has another problem: the Music app has no support for embedded chapters. So if you have an audiobook in a single audio file with embedded chapters (as I do for certain ones I’ve created), there’s no way to navigate it. Having a 7 hour audiobook with no way to move between chapters is pretty unusable. 🙁

      • That’s not always an option. Some audiobooks I have don’t have tracks that split on chapter boundaries, so embedded chapter marks are the only way to navigate them. And in other cases, I extract audio tracks from films I’ve ripped to turn them into ‘audiobooks’. So the audio track is already joined, no easy/quick way to split it. Essentially, I don’t think the iOS Music app is workable for my audiobook use, without a lot of extra effort and time to redo my audiobooks.

        I will probably end up making a symlink from the default audiobook location to an external drive, but this kind of thing is extremely irritating. It’s clear that Apple hasn’t properly considered anything beyond the use case where people buy audiobooks from the Books Store. What’s even more frustrating is that there don’t seem to be any good alternatives to Books for listening to audiobooks on iOS. I tried Bookmobile, but it crashes a lot and didn’t work well on my iPod touch 5th generation. The iOS 6 Music app is actually excellent for audiobooks, but that is now long gone unless you’re using a very old iPod touch.

        • There used to be a few good audiobook apps for iOS, but they’ve all been pretty much abandoned. The Music app will be good going forward, if you rip CDs, but it’s true that for existing books, it’s not useful.

          As for the symlink, the reason I did not recommend it – and don’t in my forthcoming book – is that this sort of thing is fraught with risk. It _might_ work, but I would be wary of it breaking after an OS update.

          • Yes, I understand that, and it’s really a last resort for me. But I’m sufficiently technical that I’m willing to put up with the faff of keeping the symlinks working through updates, etc. This is all hypothetical at the moment, because until I upgrade to Catalina I can’t play about with them. But I want to be as prepared as possible!

  4. Is it possible to store the audiobooks in iCloud? I have more than 2000 self ripped audiobooks in the m4b Format in my current iTunes library…

    • I explain that above. They have to be 96kbps, and not m4b. So if you’ve already ripped them, you’re out of luck.

  5. Thank you. Then I’ll hope Apple will provide a possibility to store the data on an external drive sometime soon.

    • I think the only solution is to store them in the Finder, then add them to the Books app when you want to listen to them. Or use another app to manage them.

  6. If you store them in Books/Catalina, can they still sync to the iPhone? I store all my audiobooks and all my music in iTunes currently (no cloud services, desktop with big harddisk, so no storage issues), and sync a subset of them to my iPhone for listening. What’s the minimum change to make this work with Catalina?

  7. Could you provide any update for the final release of Catalina? Any enhancements for editing metadata in macOS Books app? Thanks

  8. iTunes had a non standard use of symlinks. I found it would work if its entire media folder was an alias, but I seem to recall not with a symlink. If individual media folders were symlinks, it would read the content ok, but would not be able to write anything. I wanted different media stored in different locations and I even tried automounting different shares onto each of its media folders, but again, iTunes did not behave in the correct and standard manner. It always ‘looked behind’ what was being presented by the file system and then refuse to work if that underlying structure was not what it demanded. I gave up and simply keep everything together on an external drive, set iTunes to look there, but also use an alias to that same external media folder in the default location so if anything went wrong and iTunes forgot where it had been pointed, it would default back to that same location.

    This new Audiobooks issue is really shortsighted. Not just because it may not suit some of us, but it is fundamentally unworkable for anyone with a large Audiobook collection and that’s unforgivable. As someone said in response to an earlier article, the devs obviously just sling in a dozen or so items to store and just make it work for that. There’s very little joined up thinking going on at Apple these days.

    We’ll have to see just what can be done with storage for the new apps, but hey, I bet Catalina introduces some great new animojies and we were all desperate for that. 😬

    • Yes, I’m not sure whether symlinks or hard links will work, or how it will react with aliases. But this isn’t iTunes, so things may be different. Regrading audiobooks, as I said, I think the best way is to just move them into and out of the Books app as needed.

      You’re right, though, about how they tested this. While having a big audiobook library is an edge case, it’s an edge case that they should have considered. But I think the fact that the Books and Podcasts apps are Catalyst apps means they don’t have as many options for file location, probably because of some sandboxing rules.

  9. Another curious omission on Apple Books on the Mac in Catalina is no read status or new status. In the iOS version progress in the book (or audiobook) is show as a percentage and you have the ability to mark as read (listened). That doesn’t appear to have made the transition to the Mac version. Somewhat a curious thing.

      • well, at least it’s not just me doing something wrong which is reassuring in some way 🙂 Let’s hope they actually just didn’t have time to add these rather important features rather than just ignoring them

        • I honestly cannot see them adding such a feature. First, they want to sell books from their store. Second, audiobooks can take up a lot of space, and I’m not sure they want people using their iCloud storage and wondering why it’s disappearing. Remember, if you use Cloud Music Library, that doesn’t count against your iCloud storage, and you can upload 100,000 tracks.

  10. On Catalina, all ~3,500 of my audiobooks are in the Books app, but in the Finder view from an iPod Nano, all of the audiobooks are checked and I cannot see how to uncheck any of them; also cannot figure out how to manually move books onto the Nano.

    • Select the iPod, then click the Audiobooks tab in the Finder. There’s an option to sync all books or just selected books.

      • Hi, yes, thanks; but all 3,500 audiobooks are checked and I cannot uncheck any of them (the book lines and check boxes are grayed out). I only want a select few. I would actually rather drag them manually, but I can’t figure out how to do that.

  11. Hi, does anyone know where the Books app stores the audiobook metadata? The equivalent of the iTunes “iTunes Music Library.xml” file?

    • That’s not actually how it worked. iTunes never stored its metadata in any XML file. The metadata has always fundamentally been within each media file, but for speed of operation, iTunes duplicated this (and added some more) in its own separate database that we know of as the iTunes Library file. For the purposes of backup and potentially other processes being able to access the data, iTunes would also export all that data into the XML file. But, unless you wanted to specifically recover the entire library data and recreate a new Library file, iTunes never read that XML file.

      As Kirk has pointed out, the new Music App, probably the TV app (and I guess maybe the others) no longer continuously maintain any XML file backup, but they can export their Library data to their own XML file on demand, so they’re still available for anyone who needs them.

        • Ah OK, you were obviously only referring to the Music app, but in fact, that’s the only one where it’s important so no bad thing.

          This business with AudioBooks and Podcasts though all seems a bit messy. Leave existing content in the original locations, but put new content in the new locations. This to me is an indication that Apple realise the limitations of their new structure and so mitigate this by leaving large existing data libraries where they are, whereas any new structure ought to satisfy ALL requirements and so everything gets put into the new locations when upgrading – because its better. If they don’t do this, they shouldn’t be trying to invent new locations to put stuff in.

          A computer file system is designed for data to be stored and with a name for each file so each can be identified. To then obfuscate this by hiding content/data files in obscure locations with unintelligible filenames so the user can never identify them is an unacceptable practice in my opinion.

  12. Replying to Ken’s comment above; that one hit the limit on comments in a thread.

    There are two things to consider. First, bear in mind that Apple has not moved the folder structure for those upgrading from Mojave or earlier; your music will still be in ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media. Second, you’re not supposed to worry about files. So if you want access to the files, you can just drag them from the apps to the desktop (for podcasts and books/audiobooks). I think this is fine. Where you might want access to music files to use with certain devices, or you may use, say, Sonos, that needs access to your music folder, the same isn’t really the case for the other types of media.

    • Hey Kirk, what we need is an iTunes forum 🙂

      I have to disagree about this obscuring the media files. The same argument could be levelled at Music and Movie (TV) content files. They are all, to all intents and purposes, our data and so should be readily accessible, as files. I realise that those of us who want to know will (eventually) figure it out, but I don’t think that’s the point. This current practice by developers/manufacturers to be so secretive is deplorable and applies in the auto industry as well. There is a general shift towards keeping the user in the dark and hiding/obscuring the technology and reling instead on trumpeting flashy sales/marketing features. It’s just a continuous exertion of ever greater control over the user.

      But I think we’re getting a little off-topic now. Well, I am, so apologies.

  13. I’ve used a Mac for a long time, but for such specific tasks that I don’t know how to do some seemingly common things. If I rip an audiobook CD using the music app, how do I “move” it to to the book app.

  14. I just upgraded to Catalina on the iMac and I’m on the latest iOS 13 on my iPhone 11 Pro and iPad Pro. Prior to the upgrades, I used the Bound iOS app to listen ripped audiobooks. On Mac, I rip with Audiobook Builder by Splasm (super easy, well worth the price.) I would drop those files in Dropbox and download them to the phone with Bound. (Never checked to see if Bound supports iCloud.) However, I like the idea of using Books to manage the audiobooks assuming that syncing is available as it is with ePubs and PDFs. I love dropping an ePub into Books on Mac and having it automatically sync across devices including highlights and current reading position.

    In my test, I moved two dozen ripped audiobooks into Books on the Mac. I can listen on the Mac just fine. On the iPhone, however, I see all of the ePubs but no audiobooks. No list of what I have in my collection. No opportunity to download to the device. Nothing.

    What am I missing?

    • There is no cloud syncing of audiobooks. Only audiobooks you’ve bought from Apple are available from the cloud.

    • Thanks for the information about Audiobook Builder & Bound. Both apps look like they’d be very useful for me (particularly Audiobook Builder, which should take away a lengthy manual process I currently use). Fyi, Bound says that it does support iCloud.

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