Friday, June 27, 2008

Importing Audio Books into Your iPod

Okay, so this isn’t web related, but it’s important enough to put it out there.

Working for a book publisher and owning an iPod and liking audio books means I want audio books on my iPod. Thomas Nelson has many audio book products (fiction, nonfiction, bibles, gift books, Spanish). If I don’t buy audio books off iTunes or Audible, then I have to import them from MP3 CDs or audio CDs. The problem with iTunes is that Apple didn’t really consider the process of importing audio books. Instead, iTunes treats any audio file like a music file unless it has an M4B extension (as of iTunes 7.6 and earlier versions). M4B is Apple’s audio book file format.

What You Really Need to Know: If you change the extension of any AAC file (mp4 or m4a) to M4B and add the files to your iTunes library, it automatically applies its audio book features to the file. There is no special encoding to the file needed.

The rest of these directions offer two different ways to do that, but you may have other options you prefer. One important addition I talk about below is combining CD tracks into one audio book file. It may make some of your audio books easier to use once in iTunes or on an iPod.

For those of you new to this…

Disadvantages to Non-M4B Files:

  1. You can’t put the file into your “Audiobooks” category (keeps it out of your shuffle settings on your computer)
  2. You can’t use the bookmark feature, where the playing picks up from where you last left off when listening to the file.
Solutions to Making Audio Clips M4B Files:

  1. Convert the audio file to a M4B
  2. Change the file extension from AAC to M4B

Convert MP3 to M4B

Step 1: Import Your CDs as MP3 Files. This is my recommended option. In all my web searching thus far, I’ve only found one converter to do this. Unfortunately, to use the software, your files must be in MP3 format and you must be on a PC. So, if you’re on a PC, you’ll first need to use another program to convert your CDs to MP3s.

In the following steps, they list how to use iTunes for converting your CDs—assuming you want your audio books in iTunes. If you already have the CD in the drive and are planning to use iTunes, hopefully it has already identified the CD and is displaying all the titles and info for each track. If not, don’t enter the information until you import the M4B file later in these steps.

Using iTunes to Convert CDs to MP3 Files. The default audio format iTunes converts to is AAC (i.e. M4A). You’ll need to change the settings to MP3.

  1. Under the “Edit” menu, choose “Preferences”.
  2. Go to the “Advanced” tab, then in the next level
  3. Click the “Importing” tab.
  4. From the “Import using” dropdown, choose “MP3”.
  5. Next, change your compression setting by selecting “Custom” from the “Setting” dropdown.
  6. In the next dialog box, select 36kbps.

    1. That’s best for audio books that are comprised mostly of someone simply reading a book.
    2. You can go up to 64kbps if you want, but any more than that and you’ll just be taking up space on your hard drive.
    3. If the book has a lot of music or sound effects, a 96kbps setting would be better. All the rest of the settings don’t make a big enough difference in my opinion.

Step 2: Combine and Convert the MP3 Files to M4B. Use the Audio Book Converter software suggested by a fellow blogger (reference below). Unfortunately, the converter is only PC friendly. It will combine as many of the MP3 files you want into one file while converting the files to M4B formats. Audio bibles, reference books, or possibly even training books won’t benefit from this as much since you may want to listen to a particular book or chapter. If that’s the case for you, then the next main topic below “Changing the File Extension to M4B” may be a better process for you to follow.

Meander through the Audio Book Converter software after you’ve installed it. Hopefully you can figure it out. If not, comment to this post and I’ll answer your question as soon as possible.

Step 3: Import Your M4B Files Into iTunes. Once you’ve combined and converted your audio books, you’re ready to import them into iTunes. Pay attention to where iTunes (or you) put your MP3 files in the folders on your computer. I suggest they be with the rest of your music files.

The “import” option in iTunes is not the appropriate option to use. Importing sometimes also includes converting, but iTunes will only do one file at a time via that route. Instead, choose to “Add File to Library” under the “File” menu. Select all the files you just finished converting and click “Open”. Since they are M4B files, they’ll go directly into your Audiobooks category without needing to be converted. From there, you just drag the files to your iPod.

Refer to the post from Shivaranjan from Mumbai for more tips—especially keeping the audio books out of your shuffles. Cudos to him. He gave me some key points I posted here—the best being the audio converter.

Changing the File Extension to M4B

This option is best used if you don’t want to combine the audio files into one file or download the software above. It’s also great if you have a lot of AAC tracks to change the file name or extension for—or any file for that matter.

Summary: Remember that iTunes needs audio book files to first be M4B before it will put them in the Audiobooks category. Generally, to get a file into a M4B format, you first make it an AAC format (i.e. MP4 or M4A) and then change the extension to M4B. If you used iTunes to convert the files, remove them from your library. Then, re-add them to it (via “Add to Library”). iTunes will automatically place them into the Audiobooks category at that point.

Step 1: Get the Files Into the AAC Format. I suggest iTunes for this. Before inserting the audio CD, check your import settings. The default in iTunes is AAC. Under the “Edit” menu, choose “Preferences”. Go to the “Advanced” tab, then in the next level, click the “Importing” tab. From the “Import using” dropdown, make sure it says “AAC”. Next change your compression setting by selecting “Custom” from the “Setting” dropdown. In the next dialog box, select 36kbps. That’s best for audio books that are comprised mostly of someone simply reading a book. You can go up to 64kbps if you want, but any more than that and you’ll just be taking up space on your hard drive. If the book has a lot of music or sound effects, a 96kbps setting would be better. All the rest of the settings don’t make a big enough difference in my opinion.

Insert the Audio CD. If iTunes asks to import the CD, go ahead and do that. If your audio book came on more than one CD (which is most common), insert the other CDs and import those as well. They will all be imported into the AAC format. Too bad iTunes didn’t simply include their M4B format from the drop down. It would be so easy to import audio books then.

Entering Track Info. If the title and track info was not automatically entered by iTunes, go ahead and do so at this point. I suggest starting the titles with an abbreviation or the title of the book, then either simply calling them Track 1, 2, etc. or if you know how they are separated, enter that. Leave the album and artist info empty. You can enter it if you want, but it’s not necessary. If you want to, enter the track title info first. Then select all the files at once and change the information so that you do them all in one fell swoop.

Step 2: Change the File Extensions. Download and use the 123Renamer software. I in no way can guarantee or promise you won’t have problems with this program. I merely used it for my purposes and it worked great. It’s not freeware, but it has a 20 day trial. So, if you’re only planning to do a couple audio books or file name changes, then it should work fine for you. But if you buy a lot of audio books, then you may consider buying this or start buying them all via iTunes or Audible. There are several bulk renaming software programs out there. Just search for “file renaming bulk software” via Google or and you’ll get a lot.

123Renamer Software Settings. Once the program is installed, it comes up with two panels. In the small panel named “File Renaming Panel”, on the first tab named “Case/Extension”, in the area named “Extension”, click “New Extension:” and in the dropdown, type “M4B”. Now, in the larger window, go to the folder where iTunes saves the music files. Most likely that’s in you’re “My Music” folder. It probably saved your audio book under “Various Artists” if it didn’t have info entered for it yet. Otherwise, look for the name in the artist field for the tracks, then look for album. You may have changed the way iTunes saved your files, so however you set that, you’ll know what to do. Click on that folder and you’ll see all the M4A files listed on the right. Select them all.

Running 123Renamer. Then, in the small dialog box named “File Renaming Panel”, click either “Apply” or “Preview”. If preview, a new column will display next to the file names in the main window showing what they’ll look like. You’ll have to widen that column out at the top, but if they look right, click “Apply”. And all the file names will be changed.

Step 3: Deleting Old AAC Audio Book Files. Now, go back to iTunes. And, you’re going to hate me with this next part. Delete all the audio book files you just imported. That’s right. Delete them all. But in the box that pops up “Keep Files”. DON’T move them to the Recycle Bin. The files no longer exist since you changed the extensions, but iTunes won’t know that.

Step 4: Importing New M4B Files. Now, add the M4B files to iTunes by going to your “File” menu, choosing “Add File to Library” and going back to the folder where your audio book files are. Select them all and click “Open”. They should all be added to your Audiobook category with the title and track info already present. From there you can just drag them to your iPod folder.

For more tips, refer to the post from Shivaranjan from Mumbai—especially keeping the audio books out of your shuffles.

I hope this helps those of you who may have had challenges like most of us here. If you have any advice to offer, please offer it here. There are many people with these same concerns. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

We Are Media

I cannot authoritatively speak for all of us, but from what I have seen, we in the print publication industries find it hard to include digital products in our business. But I think it’d be no surprise to all of us that if we don’t consider publishing more digital products in the near future, our business will be on track for exinction.

But I want to take the concept farther. If we don’t intricately integrate digital publishing into our publishing process and product concepts, we will eventually fail in the dust of other publishers who do. And I’m not looking 10 years down the line as we may naturally feel it is. It’s much, much closer.

I’d like to give some basics to be sure we are on the same page. When I speak about digital publishing, I’m not talking about creating a book or magazine in Adobe InDesign or Quark and then having it printed out. I’m talking about two general concepts.

The first is creating a print product and making it available in a digital form. Magazines have been doing a much better job of this in the last couple of years. You can get many of them in both an online form and print form. Books on the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader fit into this as well. Google’s Books Library Project relates as well. And practically all educational text books are available in a digital form now.

The other concept, and what I really want to encourage all of us to adopt, is not just thinking about taking a physical product and finding a way to use it online. Instead, I want us typical print-version creators to become digital creators.

What Does This Mean?

Consider creating an article with a video component. Integrate the two where each cannot stand alone. Use the video to convey concepts that can only be communicated visually. Use the videos to expound on the text. As they read the article or book, provide a video that dives deeper into the background of a story or concept.

Consider the ipod. Create audio versions of your physical products instead of just text versions. Podcasts pretty much do this. Here’s an article talking about this concept (Podiobooks)

What about a handheld unit that reads books to us almost as clearly as if we were listening to an audio book? It’d be a massive undertaking to have someone read and store every word in the English language, but they could start with words of a popular classic and slowly expand the database with each new title. Each additional book would require fewer unique word recordings. Each book would be a software update until most of the words are recorded, then a simple PDF would work. People could choose to either read or listen as they want. Publishers wouldn’t need to create an audio book version anymore. Taking it further, what if we included dialects for customers? TomTom and some other navigation units provide language and dialect options for many of their units’ spoken directions. What if a person wanted to hear a book read in a female British accent? It would considerably change and customize a book’s experience for her.

What about when selling a digital version of a book or article, it included a video of an author Q&A or a personal message from the author? Or what about the author expounding on the world behind their novel—almost making up another 5 to 30 minute piece. Make it sharable and it becomes a marketing piece for the novel.

What about alternative endings? Remember the movie Sliding Doors? What if I could start reading one book and then choose to split it off and read two simultaneous theoretical experiences? Or what if the digital version gives me enough options to where I almost choose my path for the characters in the book. The story then soon becomes my story and the character becomes my character and takes me along the adventure I create. Maybe the next time I read it, I choose another direction. I think this is a novel idea (no pun intended).

What about marketing promotions? When someone enters a contest to get a book, they’ll also get a personal video from the author to that person along with the book. Think about the ‘cool factor’ they would have when sharing that video or audio with all their friends. “An author actually recorded a video for me. Check it out!”

Here is an article that I think helps traditional media companies think outside the box: The Future for Publishers

Who We Are

To close my thoughts on this subject, I was recently passed a blog post that points out a concept I’ve realized for a few years now. We are no longer a book publisher. We are a MEDIA company. And we will not grow unless we see ourselves like that. No longer can we think in words on a page or pretty designs constrained by 6x8 pages. The day is near if not already when we have our authors’ conceptual messages before us, one of the first questions we consider will be what media we we’re going to launch them in.

In this day and time, we publishers shouldn’t be experimenting with integrating digital publishing into our general book publishing process. It should already be a staple part of our publishing process. Our time and effort wouldn't then be taken up by worrying about how and who's going to create it. Instead, our efforts would be on thinking about how to produce better digital products--like we do today for print products.

But thinking digitally is hard for so many of us editors and publishers. We are so ingrained in printing and editing text concepts, integrating digital for us feels like trying to turn a 1954 Cadillac into a 2008 hybrid. But I encourage all of us to steadily grow and expand our knowledge of digital options and make it a priority to integrate this thinking at the initial book concept. We must start exercising our minds and explore more ways to become digital, not simply adapt to it.

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