Avoiding Spoilers in Audiobooks with the Mac OS Catalina Books Update

Meet your Audiobook nemesis.

Recently I purchased a Humble Bundle which included digital copies of some audiobooks and audio plays. Once I downloaded them from the point of purchase, I dropped the files onto the external hard drive I keep most of my digital media on. From there, I planned to simply drop the files into my desktop’s audio player app and go about my precious post day job time. 

The Books desktop app, however, had other designs on that time.

However, Apple’s Books app-the default application for eBooks I’ve mostly ignored on MacOS- recently took on Audiobook management duties in a recent update as the platform broke up the desktop iTunes app into separate media apps. This was done to intending take the bloat out of the media management app and to move the user experience a bit closer to what’s found currently on iPhone and iPad. This update came as one of the major elements of MacOS Catalina. 

Migrating downloaded Audiobooks from iTunes to Books, however, creates a few new wrinkles- the biggest being not being able to easily edit metadata or alter / rearrange the playlist inside of the Books app. This isn’t a problem if you stream all your purchased audiobooks from the vendor app you purchased them in, but if you want to purchase outside those ecosystems and are then given the option to download those files-importing the files into Books gets a bit sticky. 

Since it doesn’t recognize the iTunes / Music playlist structure, the Books app doesn’t necessarily recognize audiobooks ripped from multiple CDs. Some vendors (including Big Finish) leave their digital files titled with the same structure as their physical counterparts which may span multiple CDs. The Books app tends to work best with straight sequentially numbered tracks (track 1, track 2, track 3, etc.). Otherwise, Books tries to read each disc’s first track (track 01-01, track 02-01, track 03-01) and so on- with no way to edit that or adjust within Books. You can still drop audiobooks into Music (and if you’re ripping from CD, you will have to use Music by default to do it). But syncing between devices, or being able to pick up the book where you left off requires you to have the Audiobook in Books.

Note that this does not currently apply to Windows users, as iTunes has been granted a stay of sorts on that platform. For now. Of course, Mac users can dodge these changes by not upgrading MacOS to Catalina. Your mileage may vary on that score.

But IF you have upgraded to Catalina-and you are the dinosaur that likes to download digital audiobook files-here’s how to get them into Books and maintain their correct sequence.

As for format- since I’m not really that concerned about my audiobooks having the highest quality fidelity, mp3s work fine for me. It’s a format that’s app / platform agnostic and removes the step of converting to something else.

First, locate the folder you’re currently storing Audiobooks in. Where they are stored depends on which vendor you downloaded them from. Downloading from a desktop browser typically deposits files into your system / browser’s default location (usually your computer’s Downloads folder) or whichever location you’ve indicated. If you’ve previously let iTunes manage all your Media files- you’ll find them in in your Username folder. Same thing applies here if you’ve ripped the files from a CD yourself (which I’ll assume you used the Music app to do).

Next, check the how the files are ordered. If those numbers follow a straight sequence, you should be fine. If there’s a disc number structure, however, you’ll need to either renumber the files as one complete volume or have each disc as a separate folder. If the CDs were ripped using Music, each disc should already be sequenced and numbered this way. Either way, you’ll need to number these in a straight numerical sequence because, again, there are no playlists in Books.

Then, you can drop the folder(s) into Bookswhich should finally play the tracks in correct order.

If you have another solution to make the Books app read audio files in their intended order, please free to leave it in the comments.