You Can’t Buy Audiobooks on the iPhone iTunes Store

22 January 2009
Ricky Gervais Guide to...Natural History

Ricky Gervais Guide to...Natural History

The next installment in The Ricky Gervais Guide to… series from Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington is now available from the iTunes Store, so I thought I’d try to download it while on 3G, as I hadn’t used the store on 3G before. I was surprised to discover that a search for Ricky Gervais yields no matches, yet he’s got quite a bit of content on the store.

That means that the only audio content you can’t get from the iTunes store on the iPhone is audiobooks. Come to think of it, this may not be a crazy idea, as audiobooks tend to be large.


“Double-Tagging” Your CD Audio Files

10 October 2008

iTunes Store audio files contain a number of tags that can’t be done in iTunes, so audio files ripped from CDs will lack these. I tag these myself in a process that I refer to as double-tagging. This is not necessary by any means but I like the sense of completion that I get from doing this. This technique only works on the Mac because of the software I use.

Open the files in the venerable Lostify. If you check the option to add a script to iTunes, then you can select a range of songs in iTunes, then select the Lostify… link in the Script menu.

I have based my selection of additional tags on what I have observed with iTunes Store files. The tags to add are Release Date, Kind, Copyright and Content Rating.

Release Date

The release date is something you will have to research. Luckily, most CDs will be covered on the internet. I use Wikipedia, Rate Your Music, official artist sites, record label sites and the iTunes Store itself. Bizarrely, the most unreliable sources for release dates are often the official artist sites and record labels. If you find more than one date, try to take the most common one.

A note on compilations and rereleases. Consider The Chemical BrothersBrotherhood. It’s a singles compilation, released on 2 September 2008. Instead of tagging individual songs with the year that they were originally released, I tag each with this release date. The thinking is that the title on which the songs appear was released in 2008, as a discrete unit, so that’s the date to go with. It has the added advantage of sorting properly in iTunes if you sort by Album By Year. If you have individual years for the songs, it will force the whole album to the front of the list, as iTunes interprets the earliest date that appears in the album as the album date.

It’s not so clear-cut with rereleases. I’ve got a 25th anniversary edition of Deep Purple‘s Machine Head. It was released in March 1972. My edition is obviously 1997. As the whole album is essentially intact and contains no new material, I have tagged this as 1 March 1972.

That’s another thing: sometimes you will not get a complete date. If you get, for example, March 1972, then make the release date 1 March 1972. If you get 1972 only, then make it 1 July 1972.


This should be set to Normal (Audio), unless you are tagging an audiobook, in which case it will be Audiobook.


Begin this string with the Recording Copyright symbol ℗ (activate the character palette by pressing Command-Option-T, then do a search for it and add it to your favorites for ready access), then the year and the owner of the sound recording (not the artwork; these are sometimes separate), all obtained from the rear of the CD, the disc itself, or at a pinch, the iTunes Store.

That makes a very satisfying completely tagged file. You can admire your handiwork in the General tab of the Get Info dialog (copyright) and the Release Date column, which you can add to any view:

(Click to Enlarge)

Content Rating

There are three options here, Inoffensive, Clean and Explicit. The differences between these are important.

Inoffensive is the default and most iTunes Store songs are tagged as this. It doesn’t appear in iTunes. It is not possible to tag a track as Inoffensive with Lostify due to an unhandled bug, so leave it blank for now.

Explicit is self explanatory. If your CD mentions any kind of warning, then use this. Good for filtering out music that you don’t want kids to hear.

Clean is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean Inoffensive. It is to be specifically used to indicate that it is a version of an explicit song, altered to remove explicit material. Sometimes albums in the iTunes Store are presented as both explicit and clean versions, so you can buy either. This could also apply to audiobooks and podcasts if they are altered, cleaner versions. There is very little call for this option.

I hope there are people out there that are as passionate about double-tagging as I am!

iTunes 8 Subtleties

15 September 2008

As I was skimming through albums in Grid view, by Artist, it struck me that the grid art was always the first title in alphabetical sequence. I wondered if I could change this to another cover as in iPhoto, by pressing the spacebar when hovering over a cover. Being iTunes, this of course started playing the first song from the first album for that artist. However, I found that if you skim to the cover that you want to represent the artist, right-click and select Set Default Grid Artwork, this will have the desired effect:

There’s a new Description tag in the Video tab:

(Click to enlarge)

You can use this to tag either audio or video. Note that while you can enter a huge amount of characters in this field, analysis with Lostify reveals that this is the short description, and anything over 256 characters is truncated when written to the file. If you import the file into another iTunes library, the description will be truncated.

In the Options tab, you can set whether an audio file is Music or an Audiobook:

(Click to enlarge)

or if a video file is a Movie, TV Show or Music Video

(Click to enlarge)

These are contextual based on file type and the tag is written to the file, not just the database, which is what earlier iTunes versions did. This is a good thing when transferring files to other iTunes libraries. Note that all these and more (Ringtone, etc.) are taggable in Lostify.

Nice new tagging options, but I’m going to stick with Lostify, as it still can access more tags than iTunes 8.

More on How to Split Your iTunes Library

10 August 2007

I realised another aspect to this. My last post on the matter primarily related to adding new content. What if you’ve got content that you want to split? Well, iTunes is very clever at tracking changes in file locations, at least Mac OS X is. I’m not sure if this is as good in Windows.

If you’ve got iTunes open and you go into your music folder in the Finder and move physical files to another location, iTunes notes where you put them. For example, you could move the Movies folder to another drive and iTunes would track the change. Use this technique at your own risk, however, because I’ve seen situations where iTunes didn’t track the change. I was in a hurry so I didn’t debug this at the time. I’ve even seen iTunes find a file’s new location even though it was moved when iTunes was closed, although I haven’t really tested this.

Sorry it’s a bit theoretical but I don’t manage my library this way and I’m unwilling to run tests of this nature on it “to make sure”, because I don’t want to mess it up. These observations, however, could be put to use by users with the need to split their library.

In the long run, my advice is to get bigger drives, either internal or external. Hard drives are astonishingly cheap these days.

How to Split Your iTunes Library

10 July 2007

I am aware that I have a configuration optimised for my own particular computer system, which sometimes makes me shortsighted, and that others’ systems vary widely, but sometimes viewing another’s system really brings home the point.

I have a friend who has three 300Gb drives, but they aren’t RAIDed. He has a space problem that prevents him from moving all that data temporarily while he RAIDs the drives, which was the original plan. I gave him some video for iTunes that he couldn’t fit on his current iTunes drive. He has a huge iTunes library but it’s mostly music, with little video in it.

I have to credit him with the idea that enabled him to split his library. Instead of putting all iTunes content on the one drive, he realised that he could turn off iTunes’ “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” option. This means that he can put the videos on a different volume, then add them without copying. iTunes simply writes the path in its database. In summary, here is his set up:

  • iTunes library folder (consists of database, support folders and files): drive 1
  • Music (in iTunes folder): drive 1
  • Video: drive 2

What can be a little confusing is the location of your support files and the media files themselves, as they can be different. A library means a folder containing your database and any support folders/files, such as Artwork, iPod Games, etc. Your media is by default also in this folder but you can scatter any media to your heart’s content, and with the copy option turned off (as covered above), iTunes will track it all. It is advisable to keep everything together, but not essential.

This technique has ramifications for laptop users. Laptops have smaller drives than desktops. With the default preferences, CDs you rip to your library will go into your iTunes Music folder on your laptop. To add video, which makes sense to keep off your laptop due to file sizes, put it somewhere, then add it to the library and iTunes will write pointers to those files. When you want to play them, attach the external drive or mount the network volume and go.

There is a caveat, which is a disadvantage to this system. The volume where the media is has to be mounted to work. It is best to mount it before you launch iTunes, or at least before you interact with any offline files. If you are using network volumes, it is wise to mount them on startup so you don’t have to think about it. On the Mac, you can add any currently mounted volumes to your startup items in System Preferences > Accounts. They will then mount automatically every time you log in.

This is a good solution for those with limited space.

Apple TV 1.1 Now Respects Audio Bookmarks

4 July 2007

I’ve just noticed that the 1.1 update for the Apple TV now respects audio bookmarks. With the previous version, if you played some of a bookmarkable file, like a podcast or audiobook, and you backed up to the main menu, the file would stop playing and if you went back to it, it would start playing from the beginning. Now it behaves properly, picking up where it left off, just like an iPod.

A Note About Bitrates

25 January 2007

Here is my list of bitrates that I commonly use:

Audio Music: 192 kbps AAC. I think it gives a better bass response than the default 128 kbps. I used to use 128 kbps back when I had my first iPod and its “tiny” 30Gb drive would struggle to hold everything. Now with 80Gb at my disposal and a few judicious exclusions, it’s not a problem and sounds better on a stereo.

Audiobooks: If they are in a compressed format (Audible, MP3), I leave them alone. If they come from CD, I rip them using AAC at half the bitrate currently being used for music (currently 96 kbps stereo, or 48 kbps mono), with Optimize for voice turned on. You can get away with a much lower bitrate for spoken-word content because there’s so much dead air, whereas music provides constant sound.

Video: This is a lot more complex. You can grit your teeth and let iTunes convert any video that you can copy into it into iPod format because it’s easy and works every time, but since iTunes 7, for some reason, iPod files seem to be a lot bigger than I remember.

When video launched on the iTunes Store, it was in QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolution, encoded with H.264 (700 kbps) and AAC (128 kbps). Because I was trying to get as much video onto my first 5th-gen iPod as possible, I slaved away at making everything match these specs. When iTunes 7 was released, Apple changed to 640 x 480 (or 640 x approx. 350 if widescreen) and increased the bitrate substantially. AIR’s Alpha Beta Gaga music video, for example, weighs in at 1607 kbps (video and audio added together) and 640 x 346 resolution.

That gives the ballpark. I was stunned to find out that the iPod could play these files. I thought the limitations were much lower. A note on the Apple TV: it’s a 720 HD device, which means it can display content up to 1280 x 720 pixels. It’s specs are much better than an iPod, as you would expect. If you want to play content on both devices, obviously stick to iPod-compatible specs.

I don’t use H.264, even though I adore the format. It’s simply because it’s easier to produce iPod-compatible MPEG4 files, which take less processing power to play back. The files are larger, but I simply don’t leave them on the iPod anymore.

That’s what I thought was going to be a brief summary of the bitrates I’m currently using and why. More on how to create files later.