Why Is It So Difficult to Listen to Audiobooks on the Apple Watch?

I listen to audiobooks often, and sometimes I would like to be able to listen to them on my Apple Watch, via AirPods, rather than have to have my iPhone with me when I go walking. Audible’s app for the Apple Watch is pathetically bad; not only is it nearly impossible to sync audiobooks to the device (I discuss that in this article), but if do you manage to do so, it doesn’t correctly sync its position, so if you go back to another device to listen, you lose your place. (See this Reddit thread.)

In watchOS 6, which will be released on September 19, and for which the golden master (the final version released to developers) is now available, there is a new Audiobooks app. But this app can only play audiobooks you’ve purchased from Apple. Even if you sync audiobooks from Audible or audiobooks you may have ripped from CDs, you cannot sync them to the Apple Watch.

I would think that most regular audiobook listeners are Audible subscribers, since their subscription model makes books much cheaper than what Apple charges. Since you can sync them to the Books app on the iPhone, it’s odd that you cannot put them on the Apple Watch. This might have something to do with the different DRM that is used for Audible content, but if Apple can play these books in their app on iOS, it shouldn’t be any different on watchOS. It’s worth noting that the Audible app on iOS can see and play books in the Books app, if they are from Audible.

The new Audiobooks app says it syncs up to five hours of a book to the Apple Watch, which is problematic. I understand that most people won’t be listening to, say, an eight-hour audiobook on their watch, but some might want to, such as if they’re on a long flight. Since the new Apple Watch contains 32 GB storage, it should be able to hold more than this. (The Series 4 which I have currently has 16 GB.)

Audiobooks are just audio content, and should be easy enough to sync to the Apple Watch. Apple has had a long relationship with Audible; not only is the company the only one – other than Apple – whose DRM-protected content is playable in iTunes, but Audible also provides Apple with the audiobooks that the latter company sells. Granted, Apple wants people to buy audiobooks from them rather than Audible, if possible, but preventing people from listening to audiobooks they haven’t purchased from Apple seems unfair.

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.

CD Review: The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Read by Jeremy Irons

Eliot ironsT. S. Eliot’s poetry is some of the finest of the 20th century. I’ve long been a fan of The Four Quartets, four long poems that Eliot wrote between 1935 and 1942, which were has last major works in verse. There are a number of recordings of these poems, by Eliot himself, by Alec Guinness, and by Ralph Fiennes, but this recording of the Quartets, along with much of Eliot’s other poetry, sets a new standard. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

From early poems like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Hollow Men to The Waste Land, which cemented Eliot’s position as one of the leading modernist poets in the English language, to the Four Quartets, Irons gives riveting performances of these works. They are slow, measured, with a low, sometimes almost lugubrious voice, that suits the poetry very well. For The Waste Land, he is joined by Eileen Atkins, with whom he alternates parts of the poem.

These works were originally recorded a few years ago for BBC Radio 4, and it’s very important that they are now published on CD. It’s the most complete set of Eliot’s poetry, and the set is about 3:40 long.

I strongly recommend not buying the digital version of this on Audible. I did, and requested a refund, because each poem is listed as a chapter, with no name, just numbering; Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. This isn’t something you will always want to listen to in order, and you may want to pick one or more poems when you listen to it, and it’s a shame that Audible can’t provide chapter names.

There is subtle musicality in Irons’ readings, and he brings out the depth of these poems. If you like Eliot, you must own this set.

Audiobooks on Vinyl?

From Billboard:

The resurgence of vinyl continues, as Hachette Audio, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, and Wax Audio Group has announced a new series of vinyl + digital audiobook titles in 2018. The range will include releases read by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jerry Garcia, Amanda Palmer and Steve Jones, among others. The series launches with David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water, which is available today (Feb. 27).

WTF? Seriously, why would anyone do this? No one is going to listen to an audiobook on vinyl. This is just capitalizing on the lets-buy-vinyl-so-we-can-flog-it-on-eBay-in-a-few-years boom.

Among such creative executions of Hachette and Wax’s audiobook-on-vinyl titles: Wallace’s This Is Water is available in two limited collector’s editions — 1,500 copies will feature a blue-and-white water-inspired design for online orders, while independent bookstores and music stores will get 500 copies on orange colored vinyl.

“Creative executions…” Pfft.

Episode #93 – Simon Vance on Narrating Audiobooks

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIf you’re an audiobook listener, you will probably recognize this voice. We welcome Simon Vance, one of the most widely appreciated narrator of audiobooks. He discusses what it involves to record audiobooks, and how the audiobook industry works.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #93 – Simon Vance on Narrating Audiobooks.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Millions : Running in the Wake – The Millions

When I started running, I was stately, yes, but too plump, and I took to the roads in the morning to take in the crisp air and give myself a bit more margin of error to drink beer.  About half a decade later — a year ago now — I found myself waving goodbye to my wife on a chilly, wet October morning as she drove out of the empty parking lot of Mount Vernon, once George Washington’s estate on the banks of the gray Potomac River, back to our warm home, 19 miles away, and our kitchen, and two cats, myself left with just a bag of water on my back, an MP3 recording of an Irishman reading seeming gibberish for 35 hours — i.e., James Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness dirge Finnegans Wake — and a GPS watch to track it all.  And, of course, space-age sprays and pastes slathered on my peaks and valleys to prevent chafing.

I like the idea of listening to Finnegans Wake when running. It’s the kind of book that you simply can’t follow, so you can just go with the rhythm of the words, and pick up on bits and pieces of it as you go along.

Source: The Millions : Running in the Wake – The Millions

The Next Track, Episode #8 – Listening to Words: Audiobooks and Spoken Word Recordings

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIn the latest episode of The Next Track, Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn discuss spoken word recordings. How to get them, how to manage them, and how to listen to them. And we discuss how the history of recording started with recordings of spoken word content.

“Like a Victorian call center.”

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #8 — Listening to Words: Audiobooks and Spoken Word Recordings.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Listen to Audiobooks with the Overcast Podcast App on iOS

I’m a big fan of Marco Arment’s Overcast, which has become the only podcast app I use on iOS. The most useful feature is the Smart Speed adjustment, which speeds up podcasts by eliminating small bits of silence. I listen to many of my podcast at around 1.5x, and they sound just find, not at all like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

One thing I had long wished Overcast could do was play audiobooks, to take advantage of the Smart Speed feature. Most audiobook players let you speed up playback, but only at set increments, such as 1.25, 1.5, 2, etc. But Overcast’s the Smart Speed feature increases the speed more flexibly, and the different settings, taking advantage of the silences that are eliminated, aren’t fixed intervals, but change depending on the audio file you listen to.

The latest update to Overcast allows paying users to upload up to 2 GB of files to Overcast’s server, then stream or download them to the app. (Overcast is free for its basic features; it offers a voluntary patronage model which unlock this feature, along with a new dark theme.)

So how do you listen to audiobooks with Overcast? You can only use audiobooks that don’t have DRM; books that you’ve ripped from CDs or downloaded without DRM. But it’s a real annoyance to have lots of little files, as is generally the case on CDs.

Doug Adams has long sold an app called Join Together, which can stich up a bunch of small files into larger files to make it easier to store and listen to audiobooks. Doug has written a blog post explaining how to use Join Together and Overcast to listen to audiobooks.

If you are an audiobook listener, I strongly recommend you check out this solution.

Apple Now Allows Re-Downloads of Audiobooks Purchased From the iTunes Store

Since Apple has been selling audiobooks, which are provided by Audible, they have not allowed re-downloads of these books. I have long recommended to users to not purchase audiobooks from the iTunes Store for this reason. One hard disk problem, one iOS device crash, and you lose all your expensive content. Audible, on the other hand, has always allowed you to re-download your books from your library on their website.

Re download audiobooksThis has now changed. As of March 3, according to an Apple support document, you can re-download audiobooks. Unfortunately, the procedure isn’t simple. Instead of audiobooks showing up on your Purchased list, with all the other content you bought from the iTunes Store (with the exception of ringtones and alert tones), you have to manually search for each audiobook to be able to download it. On iOS devices, the procedure is the same. In the iBooks app, search for an audiobook, and you’ll be able to re-download it.

The problem with this is that you’ll need to remember all the audiobooks you’ve purchased. I don’t know why Apple is making this so complicated; perhaps audiobooks will show up in your Purchased list in the near future. But it’s good to know that you’re no longer limited with this type of purchase, and, as such, I strongly recommend that users compare prices between Audible and the iTunes Store in the future (unless you’re an Audible subscriber, in which case books will almost always be cheaper from Audible).

This is going to change in iOS 9.3. The iBooks app in the current iOS 9.3 beta shows, when you tap Purchased, three sections: Updates (for updated books that you can download), Books, and Audiobooks. When you tap Audiobooks, you see a list of your books, with All Books, Recent Purchases, then a list of genres.

Purchased   Audiobook list

I expect that the next version of iTunes will also display audiobooks on your Purchased list, and allow you to view them the same way as on iOS.

If you’re not an Audible subscriber, you can get two free books if you sign up for a 30-day trial.

How to Fix the Crappy Artwork Included in Audiobooks from Audible

I like listening to audiobooks, and I use Audible (both Audible.com in the US and Audible UK. One problem with Audible is that they include really low-resolution artwork with their books, and it looks ugly. Here’s an example.

Audible artwork1

I prefer replacing that artwork so I can read the covers. But it’s not easy; for some reason, in Audible files, you cannot delete the artwork as you can with music files. You can’t drag the new artwork either. What you have to do is select a book, press Command-I, and then click the Artwork tab. Click the Add Artwork button and select a file. (Find a book cover on Google, doing an image search, first.)

When you do this, you can see that the new artwork gets added to the left of the original artwork:

Audible artwork2

Click OK to save the artwork. If you select the file(s) and press Command-I again, when you click the Artwork tab, you’ll only see the new artwork. But the old artwork is still there; if you delete the new one (which you can do easily now), the old one will reappear.

It’s very odd, and must have something to do with Audible’s files. But it’s sad that they can’t provide artwork that is readable. It’s a headache to have to change artwork for all the books I download, but until Audible fixes it, that’s what I’ll keep doing.