The best feature of the iPod’s audiobook format is the ability to resume playback at a particular point even if you play something else or turn the iPod off. There are many online services where you can obtain audiobooks, but most of them are in MP3, which the iPod just treats as regular music. With a few steps, it is easy to convert MP3 files (or any other filetype that iTunes can play) into the native iPod audiobook format. There are a lot of different methods out there, but the following steps work nicely for me.
If you are using iTunes 8.1 or newer, there is now a built-in feature to designate regular mp3 files as audiobooks, so these instructions are not needed.
Before you begin
For best results, you should not upload audiobooks that are larger than 320MB or longer than 5 hours. This can cause playback and stability problems. If you have files larger than this, splitting them up into smaller parts is recommended.
Most audiobooks that you download will be in multiple files. I personally like combining these into a single file so I do not have to remember which file I am listening to. It also keeps the audiobooks menu on my iPod much easier to read. I simply let the iPod remember my position in the audiobook when I come back to it. It is just personal preference.
Most audiobooks will be far less than 320MB and 5 hours long, so if you want, you can combine your MP3s into a single file before you begin. MP3 Merger is a great freeware program.
Before you convert the files, iTunes must be set properly. You should only have to do this once. In the iTunes menu (I am using version 6), select the following:
Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Importing
Make sure “Import Using” is set as “AAC Encoder“.
Change “Setting” to “Custom” and set the following options:
Bit Rate: 64kbs (this is a nice average setting for most audiobooks)
Channels: Stereo (fixes an issue with homemade mono files on some iPods)
Check “Optimize for Voice“
Add the files you want to convert to your library. Once they are there, select the file(s), right-click, and select “Convert Selection to AAC“. This will add the newly converted files to your library.
Once the conversion is complete, remove the original files from your library. They will no longer be needed for this process.
You can also remove the newly created files from your library, but when you are asked, be sure to select “Keep Files“, so they are not deleted off your hard drive.
The files are created under “My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music” (unless you told iTunes otherwise), so open up that folder.
You will notice that the new files have the .m4a extension. They must be renamed to .m4b.
Now that the files are renamed, you can add them to your iTunes library once again.
Right-click on the new file(s) in your library and select “Get Info“.
You can change the name of the file(s) on this screen. If you like, you can clear out the “artist” and “album” fields, so that they do not show up with the rest of your music on the iPod (when you are looking at albums or artists). They will still show up under “audiobooks” of course.
You can also change the genre of the files to “Audiobooks” using the iTunes tag editor, to make the files easier to find when looking through iTunes.
All you have to do now is add the files to your iPod. They should work just like any iTunes audiobook. They will show up under the “Audiobooks” menu on your iPod, your playback position will be remembered, and they will not get played during song shuffles.
I take no responsibility if you mess anything up, but as long as you follow these steps, it should work fine.
I have a fourth generation iPod. While this method works great for me, I cannot promise that it will work for all revisions.