Prior to Catalina, I found audiobooks hard going on my Mac. I don’t have many, but several of those I wanted to listen to were on CD, so I tried importing them into iTunes, giving up in frustration when I ended up with hundreds of unknown tracks. Since then, I have bought some audiobooks from the iTunes Store, which worked out rather better, and downloaded a few LibriVox titles. But all I ended up with has been a mess.
When Catalina first came out, I heard howls of anguish from some users who had many audiobooks, which didn’t seem to be working at all well, so I kept well clear of the audiobooks feature in the revamped Books app. Until now. Someone asked me how easy it would be to import audiobooks from CD. This article explains my answer of “well…”.
I naively followed the instructions in Books’ Help book. I hooked up my optical drive, inserted an audiobook CD, dismissed Music from any involvement, and opened the Books app instead. Thinking I was onto a winner, I used the Add to Library… command in its File menu, selecting the CD itself rather than the many tracks on it. A litle while later, I was less than impressed when my audiobook library had grown by 37 titles, one for every single track on my audiobook CD.
At that stage, I realised that there must be a command to concatenate all those files, so I selected them all and looked. There is none. I tried putting all the files into a Collection, and still couldn’t join them into one continuous audiobook. Not only that, but unlike Music, Books won’t play these audiobook tracks consecutively: it plays one, then stops. You have to manually move to the next and start that playing. I may as well have imported my audiobook into Music, where it would have worked better than in Books.
I have the same problem with my LibriVox audiobooks, which come as many individual tracks.
As usual where Apple has left a gaping hole in the functionality of its bundled apps, I went to the App Store to find a solution. My choice is Audiobook Builder, modestly priced and well reviewed.
Despite its name, and the fact that Catalina shipped over six months ago, Audiobook Builder doesn’t currently work with audiobook tracks imported to Books. It will import them direct from audio CD, or tracks in iTunes or Music. So I removed my 37 individual audiobook tracks from Books and started again in Music.
You can drag and drop audiobook tracks from Music into Audiobook Builder’s window.
Then, ensuring that they’re in the right order, click on its Join tool to concatenate them.
You end up with a single book, within which are each of the tracks.
In the Finish tab, click on Build Audiobook.
The concatenated audiobook is then generated, saved and added to your audiobooks in the Books app.
When I tested my new audiobook out, I thought I’d take a look at Books’ other features for audiobooks. I’m clearly not looking in the right places, but I can’t find any way to bookmark places in an audiobook, other than the current location, despite its .m4b format specifically supporting bookmarks. Maybe I should have left those 37 tracks in a collection after all? Nor can I find any way to sync my place in the same audiobook across my Mac and iPhone, instead I have to search for it myself.
I looked at alternatives for macOS too. Although there are several audiobook players for iOS, covering Audible’s products, LibriVox and others, none seems to have an equivalent app for macOS.
So, as it stands, Catalina’s Books app doesn’t actually provide much additional functionality for listening to audiobooks than does the Finder. Or am I missing something? Perhaps the engineers who develop the Books app have never used its features for importing other audiobooks?
Finally, a note about Books’ audiobooks. Unlike Music, audiobooks are in .m4b protected MPEG-4 audio format (UTI com.apple.protected-mpeg-4-audio-b), rather than .m4a (com.apple.m4a-audio). The Books app stores these as inaccessibly as possible in a path such as
Given the popularity of audiobooks, I’m thoroughly unimpressed. They’re all but unsupported on macOS unless you buy them through Apple’s Books Store. Even then, they have only primitive features. There was once a time when Macs led the field in supporting rich media such as audiobooks.