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/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.

14 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.

  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?

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