Audible.com, which you can shop right from within the iTunes Music Store, is a virtual store filled with digital "books on tape”—not just books, but also everything from vocalized versions of the New York Times to programs like National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. You can hear free samples of most files on the site before you buy.
If you choose to subscribe, $15 a month gets you one recorded book a month, plus a daily, weekly, or monthly magazine or radio show. You can also skip the subscription business and just buy the books you want for a flat fee. Prices vary, but the audio file usually costs less than the hard copy and fits in your pocket better. “The Da Vinci Code,” a popular mystery novel selling for $25 in book stores, was $20 on Audible.com.
Audible.com files that come from its Web site (and not from the iTunes Music Store) use the .aa file name extension. You can’t convert .aa files to MP3, but you can burn them to an audio CD to play on the stereo, and you can copy them to your iPod.
Most recordings from Audible.com come in a variety of sound resolutions, from low-fi, AM radio–like sound to a really good MP3 quality. The Audible resolutions that work on the iPod are called Formats 2, 3, and 4 (from worst to best quality). Better audio quality, of course, means a bigger file to download.
For example, the 18-hour audio book for Snow Crash is split into two files. The first half is a 34 MB download in Format 2, a 63 MB download in Format 3, or a 127 MB download in Format 4. The various formats cost the same, but unless you have a broadband connection, you’ll probably want to stick with the smaller file size.
If you decide you don’t like the way a format sounds, you can download your selection again in a different format by logging back into your account on the Audible.com page—a benefit you don’t get at the iTunes Music Store.
To make sure that iTunes is set to handle Audible files, choose iTunes → Preferences, click the General icon, and next to “Use iTunes for Internet Music Playback,” click the Set button. When you download a book file from Audible.com, it shows up right in iTunes.
Before you listen to it, iTunes asks you to type in the name and password you set up with Audible.com, as shown in Figure 4-11 at top. Thereafter, you can listen to it at your desk (Figure 4-11, bottom) or transfer it to your iPod like any other track.
Figure 4-11. Top: You can play your purchased Audible file on up to three computers, burn it to a CD, or transfer it to an iPod. (Sound like a familiar set of rules, iTunes shoppers?)Bottom: iTunes plays your audio book just like any other track in your library. Longer books are split into multiple parts for easier downloading from the Audible.com site.
You play them just like regular audio files; the iPod even remembers where in the audio book you stopped listening, so you can pick up where you left off the next time. Better yet, these little electronic bookmarks are synchronized between iTunes and the iPod; if you’re listening to a chapter of a book on your iPod while walking home from work, you can connect the iPod to your Mac to transfer the bookmark. Then you can continue listening at your desk, in iTunes, without missing a sentence.
It’s fun to wander around in the iTunes Music Store as your own music plays, but it’s extremely easy to drift away from your playlist-in-progress. If you want to go directly back to the song that’s currently playing, just click the curled arrow on the right side of the oval iTunes display window.
This handy icon is called the Snapback arrow, and it serves as a one-click shortcut to the File → Show Current Song menu dance (or the keyboard shortcut
-L). It only works when there’s a song actually playing, but you can use it in your own collection or when while traipsing around song previews in the Music Store.