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which format is best for audiobooks?

 
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We're getting ready to ship out our audiobooks in the next month or so. It seems like a big zip file with all of the chapters as individual mp3s is probably the way to go. But I've also heard rumour that m4a might be good. But I can't find that info again... So yeah... What format will work the best?

Some people will say "Audible" or "Apple" or something like that, but all of the major retailers do not permit us to send out 700 copies of our audiobook without giving them enormous piles of money to give away our own product. I talked to one place where they were going to maybe make something work for us, but then it requires everyone to use their app. Not listenable on non-app devices. Which I suspect will be an issue for some people. Which I know would be an issue for me. So that's not an option.

Is a zip file full of mp3s the best or is there something better?
 
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I have an MP3 player.  But it is stupid.  Sometimes the metadata is incorrect, so it plays books in the wrong order..

Track
1
10
101
12...
...19
2
20
201...

So I like books with good metadata for stupid machines, or with less than nine tracks...

... except, if I'm listening on my pc while smart.  I like one track per chapter.

But I'm not a big listener of audio anymore, so I'm not really the target audience.
 
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r ranson wrote:I have an MP3 player.  But it is stupid.  Sometimes the metadata is incorrect, so it plays books in the wrong order..

Track
1
10
101
12...
...19
2
20
201...

So I like books with good metadata for stupid machines, or with less than nine tracks...

... except, if I'm listening on my pc while smart.  I like one track per chapter.

But I'm not a big listener of audio anymore, so I'm not really the target audience.




So the track numbers need to be 01, 02, 03 instead of 1, 2, 3 -- right?


 
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Sending out the audiobooks will be expensive because I will be paying by the megabyte.  So a lot of people will say to provide the audiobook in several formats, but I think it will be wise to provide the audiobook in exactly one format, so people don't just automatically download all the formats and the costs break the bank.

So far, to the best of my knowledge, here are some of the possible formats:


    - about 35 mp3 files in one zip file

    - one big mp3 file

    - one m4a file

Any others?

Shawn has a memory of supporting a past audiobook kickstarter and getting the m4a file - and being told that this is currently the best way to distribute audiobooks.  
 
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paul wheaton wrote:

So the track numbers need to be 01, 02, 03 instead of 1, 2, 3 -- right?




Yes.
I think that would make my excessively stupid gadget happy.

But I think there are two ways to say the track number.  One is in the title of the 'song' and the other is in the meta-data.  My stupid machine likes it if they are the same.
 
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r ranson wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:

So the track numbers need to be 01, 02, 03 instead of 1, 2, 3 -- right?




Yes.
I think that would make my excessively stupid gadget happy.

But I think there are two ways to say the track number.  One is in the title of the 'song' and the other is in the meta-data.  My stupid machine likes it if they are the same.



And, I think you are saying that 35 mp3 files in a zip file works for you?
 
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paul wheaton wrote:

r ranson wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:

So the track numbers need to be 01, 02, 03 instead of 1, 2, 3 -- right?




Yes.
I think that would make my excessively stupid gadget happy.

But I think there are two ways to say the track number.  One is in the title of the 'song' and the other is in the meta-data.  My stupid machine likes it if they are the same.



And, I think you are saying that 35 mp3 files in a zip file works for you?



I don't know really know what that means so I'm going to say 'maybe' and hope someone else can chime in who knows more about this.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:Sending out the audiobooks will be expensive because I will be paying by the megabyte.  So a lot of people will say to provide the audiobook in several formats, but I think it will be wise to provide the audiobook in exactly one format, so people don't just automatically download all the formats and the costs break the bank.



Would it be possible to have separate buttons to download one's preferred format? Avoids breaking the data-bank.
And I'd vote for the m4a and the separate chapters of mp3 (not the big long mp3).
 
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But the m4a if only one option is available.
 
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Katie Lefevre wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:Sending out the audiobooks will be expensive because I will be paying by the megabyte.  So a lot of people will say to provide the audiobook in several formats, but I think it will be wise to provide the audiobook in exactly one format, so people don't just automatically download all the formats and the costs break the bank.



Would it be possible to have separate buttons to download one's preferred format? Avoids breaking the data-bank.



My primary concern is that people will download ALL the formats, just to be sure.   So if we offered three formats, that could triple the bandwidth costs to go beyond the budget for audiobook stuff.  

I prefer to offer just one format.  

Although I did have an idea of giving everybody one format and offering the other formats for something like $3 each.    Then only those that need the other format would part with the $3.   And that $3 would probably be enough to cover the extra bit of the server bill.  

It would still be easier if it turns out that one format is the simple "one, true format" and we just go with that.
 
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Katie Lefevre wrote:But the m4a if only one option is available.



So you are familiar with this format?
 
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I think mp3 separated by chapter would be ideal for most! .m4b is the traditional β€œaudiobook” format.

If you guys ever desired to put it on audible.com here is a link talk about how they break down there proprietary files/formats. https://audible.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5128/~/what-is-an-audible-format%2C-and-how-do-i-choose-the-one-that-best-suits-me%3F

Also an interesting YT vid on making audiobook files:  
 
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I'd prefer multiple mp3 files with chapter number in file name.

Failing that, one mp3 file

Failing that m4a or, egad, wav file (wasn't an option as file would be ginormous).

I'd also be happy if you gave everyone m4a file with option to send few bucks to get multiple mp3 files.

EDIT: that is my preference, in order above.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:

Katie Lefevre wrote:But the m4a if only one option is available.



So you are familiar with this format?



Yes, but now that I'm looking closely, it seems like there really aren't as many options as I thought for playing them, and a pretty commonly googled question is how to convert them to mp3. So I think I take back my vote.
 
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I personally do not like audiobooks divided and combine any audiobook CDs into one file when I download onto my iPod.
 
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Bryan Leach wrote:I personally do not like audiobooks divided and combine any audiobook CDs into one file when I download onto my iPod.



I do the same thing.   My first choice would be M4A file. Last choice would be multiple files.   Please, if this is the final option, name them so they sort in ASCII order!  

As far as playing them, here is an excerpt on playing them - seems pretty universal:


How to Open an M4A File


Lots of programs support the playback of M4A files, including VLC, iTunes, QuickTime, Windows Media Player (v11 requires the K-Lite Codec Pack), Media Player Classic, Winamp, and very likely some other popular media player applications as well.

Android tablets and phones, plus Apple's iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, function as M4A players, too, and can open the audio file directly from an email or website without needing a special app, regardless of whether or not the file uses AAC or ALAC. Other mobile devices may have native support for M4A playback as well.

Rhythmbox is another M4A player for Linux, while Mac users can open M4A files with Elmedia Player.



Link to the original article: https://www.lifewire.com/m4a-file-2621957

Sandy
 
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I would prefer to have mp3 files, with the chapters numbered 01, 02, 03 etc to avoid having chapter 11 play immediately after chapter 1 etc. Simple is best. I don't use fancy apple or other audio players, but am happy pushing my mp3 files from my phone to my vehicle stereo via an aux cable, or burning them onto a single cd rom and putting that into the cd player.
I am very familiar with using mp3 files, but if it came as some fancy audio book file (is that what the "m something 4" file is?) then I'd have to learn something new, and I'd prefer to not have to do that. Okay, I'm a bit older, and admit I can get bit grumpy about complex technology stuff. That's my opinion.
 
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I prefer m4a. I can handle mp3. And I can convert one to the other. Am sure most people listening to audiobooks have use both or would easily learn how to use them. (even though old mp3 players don't reproduce m4a, so that's a thing)

So I vote for whatever is technologically easier and cheaper for Paul and team. Cause it's better to delegate little efforts than to centralize a big investment. :)
 
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It is beginning to sound like m4b is "the standard" for an audiobook.   And some people have older stuff and would prefer a zip file with about 35 mp3 files.  

So maybe the default we offer is the single m4b file with a $3 upgrade to a zip file with about 35 mp3 files.

??
 
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paul wheaton wrote:It would still be easier if it turns out that one format is the simple "one, true format" and we just go with that.



My vote would be 35 .mp3's
Then .OGG (Dont do this. Its a FOSS format but not everything can play it).

And last .m4b.

The main reason to go with the MP3s everything can play it I could copy it to a cd as a data disk and play it on my 15yr old car radio. Using a format that anyone can play without issue will reduce the complaints and tech issues that could cause people to redownload it or try to get a different format.
 
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Both mp3 and m4a/b would work for me, i use an audiobook app that handles most things.

I'll probably convert to mp3 for backup regardless.

It is rediculously easy to convert 35 separate mp3 files into one big one (if the names are ascii sortable) the reverse  is not so simple, so no need to have the big mp3 option...
 
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mp3's zipped up, one file per chapter, leading zero chapter number and title: "01 Title of the Chapter."

Don't choke down on the bitrate or sampling rate any more than the Permies podcast. I wrote a script to speed up podcasts to 1.75 X, and I play them on an old, small mp3 player without any extra features or bulk. I get some robotic warbling on the audio with the 16 kHz sampling rate @ 32 kb/s of the Permies podcast, but it's acceptable for trade off of smaller file size. m4a/ACC has a better compression resulting in a smaller file size, but it excludes lots of older players, so then you have to mess around with transcoding (format conversion). Good Permies should be holding on to their old tech as long as possible, so there are probably many old players that only play mp3, or maybe WMA, but don't go there! Also, please steer clear of DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection.
 
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I really hope it doesn't turn out this way, but that we end up getting the universally useable multiple mp3 files. Those who want the bigger single file can convert the mp3s, or pay the extra fee, please.

paul wheaton wrote:It is beginning to sound like m4b is "the standard" for an audiobook.   And some people have older stuff and would prefer a zip file with about 35 mp3 files.  

So maybe the default we offer is the single m4b file with a $3 upgrade to a zip file with about 35 mp3 files.

??

 
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I can easily convert mp3 files to m4a and it does sound like it might the better option for compatibility for a larger audience.
 
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My preference is for 35 MP3 files, with zero-padded chapter numbers as the first two characters of the filename.

Whilst there are some people that actually listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, there are far more people that don't.  Those people probably don't have dedicated audiobook software that can handle fancy formats and features.  They use regular audio/music players β€” whose sophistication level is limited to playing a collection of files randomly, or in a serial, ascending/descending, alphanumeric order.

I think it makes sense to cater for the majority, and thus use a format that is widely consumable.

If download bandwidth is an issue, it might make sense to make both formats available, but only allow one of them to be selected β€” with the other option then becoming a paid upgrade option.  e.g. Item number 1234A and 1234B are two formats for item number 1234.  Same core content, only a different format.  If you buy/select 1234B then that's what goes into your account and what you can access.  1234A is then displayed and linked as a purchasable upgrade.  I would envisage that such a mechanism would have widespread application in a digital store.  Generally-speaking, a single product is broken up into a 'set of products', and customers have the ability to buy one or more parts of the set.  The more parts of the set you acquire, the cheaper individual pieces become.  Profit/cost-coverage is front-loaded.
 
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Tim Bermaw wrote:My preference is for 35 MP3 files, with zero-padded chapter numbers as the first two characters of the filename.



.... in a zip file, right?
 
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I think searching online for "which format is best" is like walking down the road past car dealerships asking "which car brand is best", in that many answers will be biased from one site to the next. Properly named mp3 files should be universally accessible and have been in use for 20 years now.  Please name them with leading zeros and then the chapter title, and I'd include ID3 Metadata which would include author names and book title, even permies.com can be included in there. There are lots of free apps that are very simple to use, it's a 5 minute process done once and you're set. Then when a person plays the MP3 if their player includes a display that shows those tags then your name, book title, year published, etc will scroll by. It also helps with sorting in the player.

I don't think zip format of a collection of MP3 files will help bandwidth, but if a recipient has the bandwidth for a single large download that would be simplest. Otherwise a link for each chapter allows a smaller/faster download for those on a slower connection which might drop part way through, so less time/data is lost.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:

Tim Bermaw wrote:My preference is for 35 MP3 files, with zero-padded chapter numbers as the first two characters of the filename.


.... in a zip file, right?


Yes.
 
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click on the thumbs up for this post if you prefer the industry standard m4b file (this is the m4a (which is an mpeg format) that is specifically for audiobooks)
 
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click on the thumbs up for this post if you prefer about 35 mp3 files in a single zip file
 
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I haven't kept up with your process, but would like to opt out of the audio. I find that when I want to remember and reference back to a book, paper works best for me.

Or maybe I made that selection when I donated?
 
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As mentioned before I would prefer mp3, but have a question.

If use the super awesome one time gift codes, would it be possible to have the gifted be able to select the format they want at time of download? AND limit it to only one format?

Not sure if technically feasible or easy to do.

EDIT: spelling
 
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Richard Kutscher wrote:If use the super awesome one time gift codes, would it be possible to have the gifted be able to select the format they want at time of download? AND limit it to only one format?

Not sure if technically feasible or easy to do.



Kickstarter peeps won't be getting a gift code for the audiobook.  It will be a direct thing.  

I think that what we will do is have two offers (one for each format) and each will have the ability to upgrade to the other for $3.  
 
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paul wheaton wrote:I think that what we will do is have two offers (one for each format) and each will have the ability to upgrade to the other for $3.  


Does "upgrade" mean the default is a single m4b file and a zip of 35 mp3s is the upgrade, or do you mean we have our choice and if we want both formats, then that is an "upgrade?"
 
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David Poulson wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:I think that what we will do is have two offers (one for each format) and each will have the ability to upgrade to the other for $3.  


Does "upgrade" mean the default is a single m4b file and a zip of 35 mp3s is the upgrade, or do you mean we have our choice and if we want both formats, then that is an "upgrade?"



We have not yet decided, for sure, on the default.   It will probably be the winner of the above "poor man's poll."

 
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MP3 files will play almost universally.
M4A files are a crapshoot. I remember having to go find a special plugin for WinAmp.

Don't be cheap with bitrate. Disk space is not that precious anymore.
Remember to equalize volume so they all match.

When you number chapters -- I see someone already covered this, but here's a more detailed example:

Do this

01
02
03
.
.
08
09
10
11

(or 001, 002 etc. if you have that many)

etc, NOT

1
2
3

etc.

That way they will sort in order in the user's file manager or player.

If you use single digits, it sorts like

1
11
12
2
21
223

and so on, which is really annoying.

 
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Shawn, you may want to look into this. I found out about it from Smashwords, the ebook competitor to Amazon!

https://www.FindawayVoices.com

Let us know how that works out for you! 😎
 
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Lisa Allen wrote:Shawn, you may want to look into this. I found out about it from Smashwords, the ebook competitor to Amazon!

https://www.FindawayVoices.com

Let us know how that works out for you! 😎




That's what I am using. It promises to save me a lot of work. But it doesn't help distribute to kickstarter backers. I talked to the owner about it and we weren't quite able to come up with a solution that works better for the most people than a zip file of mp3s.
 
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How nice of you to ask this Paul. It can be a considerable part of the experience especially if your device only supports some formats.
I'll vote for the following as well.

"   - about 35 mp3 files in one zip file

   - one big mp3 file

   - one m4a file"


One thing I'm curious about. When I have one big file I tend to forget where I was (especially if it's unintentionally interrupted) and have to manually search for it. To you who prefers one big file, does your device remember, do you write it down? How do you keep track of that?
 
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Pontus Duckert wrote:One thing I'm curious about. When I have one big file I tend to forget where I was (especially if it's unintentionally interrupted) and have to manually search for it. To you who prefers one big file, does your device remember, do you write it down? How do you keep track of that?


Fancy players, and phones, tablets, and the like, have bookmarking where you can mark many places in the audio file. Some players at least remember where your last position when you shut off the power. Others, sadly, require you to hold down on the FastForward button forever and ever, and ever to get through a long file. This is also the case for "unintentional interrupt[ion]," e.g. battery ran down or a button got whacked when a tree branch catches your player.

Paul, yes, thank you for asking. Audible/Amazon would never be so kind as to ask my opinion!

I can see the appeal of a single file if you have a Audible-approved player with bookmarking, but, if you are not playing on your phone or one of the few non-phone players that support the AAC codec and bookmarking, old school mp3 chapters are the way to go. I don't keep my phone on my person, so old school it is.
 
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