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Old 09-18-2019, 08:14 PM   #1
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Series management for Audiobooks

For background, I'm using a Mac, and I listen to my books on my iPhone.

I'm currently working on curating my audiobook collection, tidying up the metadata and getting everything so that they SHOULD be cleanly catalogued.

But what I've noticed there's a rather severe dearth of options for managing series of books. Now, this might not matter so much for a trilogy or even a straightforward where everything is in order. Changing the metadata for the album name in iTunes results in things falling in order, if you name it like this:

Confederation #1: Valor's Choice
Confederation #2: The Better Part of Valor
Confederation #3: The Heart of Valor

and so forth.

But if you have a series with a lot of shorts (frex, The Dresden Files) and/or offshoot series that tie back into the plot of the main series (frex, David Webers Honor Harrington series and its offshoots) things get really problematic.

The "series name/index in the title" thing works okay for shorts interspersed with the regular novels, as long as you're really precise with how you number. Book #5 in a series has to be titled with a series index of #5.0 if you want it listed before a short story with a series index of #5.5, at least in some apps.

But in the case of the Honor Harrington novels, you have a situation where optimally, you would read the books as follows:
  • Honor Harrington #6: Honor Among Enemies
  • "A Whiff of Grapeshot" (short story in More than Honor, Worlds of Honor Anthology #1)
  • "Changer of Worlds" (short story in Changer of Worlds, Worlds of Honor Anthology #3)
  • Honor Harrington #7: In Enemy Hands
  • Honor Harrington #8: Echoes of Honor
  • Honor Harrington #9: Ashes of Victory
  • "From the Highlands" (Short story in Changer of Worlds)
  • "Nightfall" (Short story in Changer of Worlds)
  • "Fanatic" (Short story in The Service of the Sword, Worlds of Honor Anthology #4)
  • Honor Harrington #10: War of Honor
  • Wages of Sin #1: Crown of Slaves (for which "From the Highlands" and "Fanatic" provide necessary background)
  • Saganami Island #1: The Shadow of Saganami
  • Honor Harrington #11: At All Costs
  • Saganami Island #2: Storm from the Shadows
  • Wages of Sin #2: Torch of Freedom
  • Honor Harrington #12: Mission of Honor
  • Honor Harrington #13: A Rising Thunder
  • Saganami Island #3: Shadow of Freedom
  • Wages of Sin #3: Cauldron of Ghosts
  • Saganami Island #4: Shadow of Victory
  • Honor Harrington #14: Uncompromising Honor

Obviously you can't sort these by title. Unless you want to change the series names all to something like "Honorverse" and the series indices to be sequential, but the stickler for accuracy in my balks at doing it that way. I want them to have the proper series names and indices but still fall in order, darn it!

To be fair, this isn't just a problem with audiobooks; For my ebooks of this series, I actually created a metadata field in Calibre called "Universe" separate from the series field and gave the stories their own indices there so that they would sort properly.

I COULD catalogue these in Calibre that way, since I listen to .m4b files it's "one file/one book" and would work out okay. How to catalogue them on the Mac isn't a huge problem.

The problem is how to export them to my iThing with series organization metadata. I spend a lot of time in the car and listen to audiobooks probably 20-30 hours a week and I don't want to be scrolling through the file list on my phone trying to find the next book while I'm driving.

The problem seems to be that most software to handle audiobooks is built around the framework for handling audio files, rather than BOOKs. the metadata options you have for tagging your audiobooks is music metadata. You have to create your own genre tags usually; they don't exist otherwise. Itunes will recognize certain tags if you add them using an external metadata editor, but won't give you the option to add it yourself.

I've tried to create playlists with everything in the proper order. But iTunes syncs your audiobooks with the Books app on the iThing, and the Books app doesn't import those playlists. (Maybe they go into the music app on the phone? I didn't check.) The Books app has "collections" but while you can organize your audiobooks on the phone in series order there, there's no way to simply sync a series between phone and device.

I've tried Bound, which I loved for the option of streaming from the cloud, but it doesn't support playlists, and for some reason kicked back an error on a lot of my audiobooks when I tried to transfer them to the iThing.

I've tried CloudBeats, but it doesn't recognize chapter metadata, and often wouldn't recognize the covers for my books, whether embedded or from a folder.jpg.

Using external metadata editors, I can fill in the "grouping" field, which iTunes will recognize, but there's no index associated with it. I can also fill in the "TV Show/Episode #" fields, which is about as close to series metadata as you can get, and iTunes will let you add those columns and sort by them, but you can't edit them in iTunes, and I don't know if they transfer when you sync with your iThing. (haven't tried yet.)

I've considered trying to handle the audiobooks as podcasts. Podcast management in iTunes allows you to insert a "Movement" name plus index, which could be a form of series management, but I don't know it would work when synced with the iThing. Would I lose my chapter breaks? I assume they'd sync with the podcasts app...I'll have to experiment more.

So...long story short...has anyone found a satisfactory solution for series management on iOS devices? Particularly from MacOS?
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Old 09-19-2019, 12:54 AM   #2
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I wrote a rather lengthy reply but the log-in monster ate it.....

So, short reply....if you want an app that will play a playlist of non DRMed audiobooks in order, moves to the next book automatically, will fast forward and rewind in 30 second incriments, "usually" remembers where you stopped listening, plays up to 3 X normal speed, supports carplay and has an in app tag editor - the only app I've found is evermusic pro. I've tried lots of apps trying to get back to the wonderful playlist features of the music app from ios 7.1 and with a lot of trial and error this app has come the closest. If you decide to try it, my best suggestion is to not use itunes to transfer your files. I copied my books to my personal cloud and downlowed them in the app from there then created the playlist in the app on the phone. YouTube may have other/better suggestions but that worked for me. I finally have my 60+ audiobood series playlist running on an ios 11 device with the features I loved in ios 7.1.

Happy listening.
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Old 09-19-2019, 03:47 AM   #3
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Ugh, sorry you took the time to write a long reply only for it to get eaten! But thank you, I am going to look for that app now!
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Old 09-19-2019, 07:04 AM   #4
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I've actually been struggling with the same issue that you are talking about. Good new and bad new.

The good news is that with the new operating system releases on the Mac and iPhone, audiobooks are moved into the books app on both the Mac and iPhone. You can create a collection on your Mac in books, and have that collection show up on your iDevice. If you export those audiobooks to your iDevice, they show up in the correct collection. You can manually sort audiobooks in a collection. For example, I have a collection for both the Dresden files and Tanya Huff's Blood series with the books manually ordered in the correct order. I've played with it in the Beta with a limited number of audiobooks on my laptop and iPad mini and it appears to work. I'm looking forward to the actual release of iOS 13 (today) and Catalina (early Oct) to test it out with my main desktop that has all my audiobooks and my iPhone, which I use to listen to audiobooks in the car.

Bad news. Book collections aren't a playlist, so it doesn't automatically go from one book to the next. I have CarPlay in my car, so I use that and select the next book when a book finishes. You will have to manually select the next book on your phone if you don't have CarPlay, something you normally don't want to do while driving.

One of the other threads gives my various posts on my struggles with listening to audiobooks in my car.
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Old 09-19-2019, 08:15 PM   #5
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One of the other threads gives my various posts on my struggles with listening to audiobooks in my car.
Hmm interesting. I didn't know that about Books. Since Books didn't currently handle audiobooks, I had assumed the new Music app would still be handling them. Good to know.

And dude, if your struggles with CarPlay have anything to do with "half the time when I try to access Books on the car display, I'm looking at a blank screen and I have to use my phone instead" I am so there with you!
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Old 09-19-2019, 09:42 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by ACGAuthor View Post
Hmm interesting. I didn't know that about Books. Since Books didn't currently handle audiobooks, I had assumed the new Music app would still be handling them. Good to know.

And dude, if your struggles with CarPlay have anything to do with "half the time when I try to access Books on the car display, I'm looking at a blank screen and I have to use my phone instead" I am so there with you!
Audiobooks have been part of iBooks, then books on the iPhone for several years now.

I've actually been using the Audible app via CarPlay. Yes, I do find that I have to pause and start the book via the phone from time to time. I only tried Books via CarPlay briefly, just to see what it was like and to make sure it worked. I'm hoping that ios 13 fixes those issues.
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Old 09-20-2019, 12:27 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by pwalker8 View Post
Audiobooks have been part of iBooks, then books on the iPhone for several years now.

I've actually been using the Audible app via CarPlay. Yes, I do find that I have to pause and start the book via the phone from time to time. I only tried Books via CarPlay briefly, just to see what it was like and to make sure it worked. I'm hoping that ios 13 fixes those issues.
Sorry I misspoke. I meant Books on the Mac, not the iThing app, when iTunes proper goes away. I knew it handled audiobooks on the device, but I hadn't realized they'd be moving from iTunes to Books with Catalina, instead of to the new Music app.

I tend to liberate my audiobooks because I'm really picky about accurate chapters and metadata, so I haven't used the Audible app yet. But Books on Carplay is messy. Actually, I've noticed the problem with a blank display happening with a lot of media programs, including Podcasts and other Audiobooks app. I just haven't had any success in isolating what causes it to start behaving that way.
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Old 09-20-2019, 06:59 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by ACGAuthor View Post
Sorry I misspoke. I meant Books on the Mac, not the iThing app, when iTunes proper goes away. I knew it handled audiobooks on the device, but I hadn't realized they'd be moving from iTunes to Books with Catalina, instead of to the new Music app.

I tend to liberate my audiobooks because I'm really picky about accurate chapters and metadata, so I haven't used the Audible app yet. But Books on Carplay is messy. Actually, I've noticed the problem with a blank display happening with a lot of media programs, including Podcasts and other Audiobooks app. I just haven't had any success in isolating what causes it to start behaving that way.
Ah, ok.

One of the issues with CarPlay is that there are two components, the iPhone side and the car side. It's not always easy to know which one is the problem child.

From when they dropped moved audiobooks to iBooks until earlier this year, when I put in a 3rd party head unit with CarPlay, I got around the playlist issue by converting the audiobooks to mp3, then putting those in playlists. I had problems with the book getting reset and starting over. Eventually, I had a routine which minimized that issue. I always paused the book before turning the car off. I never switched between the book and music. It was rather limiting. Once I got CarPlay, things worked a whole lot smoother. Not perfect, but much, much better.
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Old 09-20-2019, 05:28 PM   #9
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Yikes. That makes my issue with the disappearing display in the car seem pretty easy to navigate in comparison.

The deeper I get into it, the more it looks like the way to accurate series management may be to handle them as podcasts instead of audiobooks.

When I made the audiobooks Podcasts in the options tab of iTunes instead of Audiobooks, all the metadata I needed to make them fall in proper order and play the way they should was right there, assuming I set the release date metadata so that they were released in chronological order. There were a couple issues that I was able to navigate around, however.

Issue 1 - editing the release date isn't possible in iTunes. Okay. I opened the file in Subler and edited it there. Once I reloaded it into iTunes, it was perfect.
CLARIFICATION: Upon further exploration, I realized, while editing the release date doesn't seem to be possible once you're in the podcasts tab of iTunes, you can edit the release it while it's still an audiobook and then change it to a podcast in the options tab.

Issue 2 - Podcast app on the phone doesn't seem to recognize chapters when the "podcast" files are .m4b. Once I changed the extension to .m4a, it recognized the chapters just fine.
CLARIFICATION: This appears to be a Apple Podcasts-only issue. Downcast has no problem with the files being .m4b and handles the chapters just fine.

The remaining issues are nitpicky stuff that can't be fixed without finding a new podcast app for the device. The Podcasts app on the device will only display the cover art for the first "episode," and it doesn't have buttons to navigate forward and backward between chapters.

So I need to find a podcast app that allows sideloading, displays episode-specific artwork, and has buttons not just to skip forward/backward a certain amount of time but between chapter markers. It looks like Overcast may be what I need, but only if I'm willing to pay the $10 a year. Downcast, at $3 one-time, may also work, but I can't figure out if it actually allows sideloading or not.

This could fall apart when dealing with series where the audiobooks were not released in chronological order, requiring one to falsify the release-date metadata, but I think my OCD tendencies will allow me to get away with that if necessary.

ETA: Based on preliminary testing with the Beta version through Testflight, Downcast is the bomb and will handle series exactly the way I'd prefer it be handled. Sideloading options are a little limited and may require some workaround creativity, but it works. I was able to Airdrop files from my MacBook to my device. They went directly to Evermusic's directory structure, however. But I was able to browse to Evermusic's media in Downcast and import it into Downcast. Chapters were marked in the timeline of the file, Prev/Next buttons moved between them cleanly, "episode"-specific cover art was displayed perfectly.

I think I may have cracked this thing.

Downcast works really great with Apple CarPlay. Unfortunately, the ability to navigate between chapters goes away there, however. The prev/next buttons on the dash do nothing, and all that's displayed on the display are the time-skip forward/back buttons. You could still use the phone to skip between chapters if necessary, however.

Downcast is definitely not hugely intuitive as far as how to sideload, it's really quite clunky, but if you upload your files to iCloud you can do it, or if you transfer them via AirPlay to another app that allows it, you can probably find them and load them into Downcast.

For the $10 a year pricetag, Overcast might be a better option, except I'm concerned because (unless disabled) it looks like the prev/next buttons on the steering wheel will take me to the last/next file, rather than through chapters, and that's exactly what I DON'T want. The reason I'm so determined that I need CHAPTERED audiobooks is because I keep hitting those darn things by accident and losing my place in unchaptered audiobooks. I may email Overcast support and ask if they can be set to navigate between chapters, and if so, I may drop the $10 and see if it works better than Downcast.

But yeah. Apparently the key to effective series management is to make them podcasts. I'm gonna continue to play around and see if Downcast will play nice with Audiobooks that aren't "podcasts". Once I've got it all worked out, I may do little guide.

Last edited by ACGAuthor; 09-21-2019 at 01:30 AM.
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Old 09-21-2019, 05:47 PM   #10
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Interesting solution. Let us know how well it works for you.

I tried the new iOS 13 with CarPlay this morning. A different look and feel on my car stereo. I wasn't expecting that for some reason. It seems to work ok though.
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Old 09-21-2019, 05:59 PM   #11
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I quite like the CarPlay changes on iOS13. At the very least, so far I'm not coming up against a blank display when using media apps.

Changing apps on the car display doesn't change apps on my phone, which is a HUGE bonus because the app I need for navigating for work isn't CarPlay compatible, so I need my phone displaying that while I use the car display to navigate other apps (like media, phone calls, etc.)
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Old 09-23-2019, 06:45 PM   #12
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Managing series in iTunes

(NOTE: This applies to audiobook series comprised of a single file per book. It may not work for multi-file audiobooks.)

Okay, so, my explorations with how to manage series on an iDevice sort of took me into the realm of other things, which will be its own separate post, but if you want to see how to manage a series so that it at least displays properly in iTunes, here's a quick example of what I did to turn this:



into this:



Short version? Make it a podcast.



Of course, it's a little more complex than that.

NOTE: Some of this metadata cannot be edited once your books are in the podcast tab, so while the books are still tagged as Audiobooks, make the following changes:

First of all, you need the "Album" metadata field to be the same for every book. In this example, which is the mainline series, shorts, and offshoot series from David Weber's Honor Harrington universe, I made the album "Honorverse."

This may cause issues with audiobooks comprised of multiple files. I use chaptered m4b files so I don't encounter those obstacles, but in the Audibooks tab of iTunes, "Album" is used to denote the actual book when you have separate mp3/m4a/m4b files for each chapter or part.

To be honest, I haven't worked with any multi-part audiobooks using this method, so I don't know how it would be best to manage that. I may experiment later. Off the top of my head, it seems the best way to work that is to make the title field of each separate file "Book Title - Chapter ##" and the Album field the series name.

The second thing you need to do is make sure the "release date" field of the audiobook metadata is edited so that the books are dated in the order you would like them sorted. This may not be accurate if the books in your series were not released sequentially, and may require some falsifying of the release data metadata. As you can see in my screenshots above, I have made my release dates a month apart in ascending order.

(Anecdote: At first, I thought I would be clever and date the books according to the in-universe chronology, but since that chronology spans multiple centuries, and iTunes and some podcast apps on the phone abbreviate the year to two digits, it ended up being a big mess. Don't be me.)

Once you have them all in one "album" with sequential release dates, you go into the options tab and change "audiobook" to "podcast." They will move to the podcast tab of iTunes, and should be listed in order, with the Series name as the Podcast title, and each individual book as episodes within that podcast.

The nice thing about making them podcasts is that you have the lyrics tab where you can create custom lyrics and have your book's full description, with a short description in the comments section. This is particularly nice in certain (non-Apple) podcast apps, where you can see the book's description in detail.

More to come later.
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Old 09-23-2019, 07:13 PM   #13
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Hum, I suspect you are either using a Windows version, or an older version of iTunes.

On the mac, in Catalina, podcast are in the podcast app and audiobooks are in the books app. You can set the books in series order simply by manually ordering them.

I did just start playing with the books app in CarPlay. So far so good. I do find it a lot easier to manage which audiobooks are in which collection on my mac rather than on my iPhone or iPad, so we will see how well everything works together once I upgrade my main iMac to Catalina.
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Old 09-23-2019, 07:28 PM   #14
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Hum, I suspect you are either using a Windows version, or an older version of iTunes.

On the mac, in Catalina, podcast are in the podcast app and audiobooks are in the books app. You can set the books in series order simply by manually ordering them.

I did just start playing with the books app in CarPlay. So far so good. I do find it a lot easier to manage which audiobooks are in which collection on my mac rather than on my iPhone or iPad, so we will see how well everything works together once I upgrade my main iMac to Catalina.
Since Catalina isn't available yet, yeah, I'm still using iTunes 12.9.5.5. Obviously this is all gonna go downhill with Catalina, but it's good to know the new Books app will have series management.

Edit: Okay, so, since this is going to be a thing with Catalina, I went ahead and signed up for the beta to see what the new Books app was about on Mac OS.

The good news: It apparently has a series column. That, combined with "Issue Number" may be our solution to series management.

The bad news: I can't figure out which field of metadata populates it. "Grouping" doesn't. "Work Name" doesn't. "Movement Name" doesn't. "Show Name" doesn't. The "Album" name definitely doesn't. "Album" is going to be the field for your book title.

Any suggestions for other fields to try?

I thought perhaps Books added some metadata fields that aren't recognized by tag editor apps like Yate and Subler, so I looked at the copy of the audiobook it made, and that doesn't seem to be the case. All the metadata I had before is still there, nothing has been changed. It just copied the book over to its own directory.(/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService/Data/Documents/iBooks/Books/Audiobooks/sha1-791dc68f5b4f98658e6ffd25129ea224b142dea4/Pern #01 - Dragonsdawn.m4b)

More bad news: Apparently Books now automatically makes a copy of your book in its own directory. No option for turning that off or changing the destination directory like there was in iTunes (which means I won't be able to use it to manage my audiobooks, as there really isn't enough room on my MacBook's primary drive/volume for my audiobook collection.)

Also apparently at this time you can't view your info/metadata, nor can you manually edit it. Which is why I was trying to find which metadata field populates "series" by trial and error using Yate. No joy.

Last edited by ACGAuthor; 09-23-2019 at 10:58 PM.
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Old 09-24-2019, 04:44 AM   #15
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Apple puts out a publisher's guide, you might look in there for a clue.
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