How to create a Zune podcast from an audiobook or other files you already have

Here's a trick one of my friends taught me.

The Zune has two styles of audio playback, one for music, and another for podcasts. For music, clicking right and left move you by song, and when you switch to another album, then come back to the first album, it starts you over at the beginning of the album. On the other hand, for podcasts, clicking right and left seeks through the episode, and when you return to a podcast, it resumes from where you left off. This is nice, because podcast episodes tend to be long, and the sequence is usually important.

But what if you want the podcast behavior for songs? For example, you might have a book on tape CD or a lecture series that you downloaded to your Zune. When you stop a chapter in the middle, you want to resume where you left off, not from the start of the chapter—and certainly not from the start of the book!

Here's the secret: Before adding the content to your Zune collection, use Windows Explorer or Windows Media Player or some other metadata-editing tool to do two, possible four, things:

  • Change the Genre to Podcast,
  • Set the album title on all the episodes to the title of the book (or lecture series, or whatever),
  • Confirm that the file creation times are sequential: Episode 1 should have the earliest creation time, and so on.
  • Optionally, set the title of each episode to "Chapter N" or something similarly meaningful.

Once you have the metadata set correctly, you can import the files into your collection. The Zune will see the Podcast genre and create a new podcast named after the album. It will show up in the Podcast section, not in the Music section. The tracks of the album will be treated as podcast episodes, and the file creation time is used to determine the chronology of the episodes. Set the podcast properties to "Oldest episodes first" and you now have your book on Zune ready for listening.

What if you already added the files to your collection? Well, you can move them to a temporary directory outside your collection (thereby removing them from the collection), do your metadata editing, then move them back (re-adding them).

As a shortcut, you can avoid the remove/edit/re-add cycle by editing the metadata while the files are still in your collection, then opening an Explorer window and dragging/dropping the files from Explorer into your Zune music collection (even though they're already there). This sometimes is enough of a nudge to tell the Zune client, "Hey, go look at these files again, I changed something." Remember, even though you dropped the files into your music collection, they will show up in the Podcast section. It will look like they disappeared, but really they just moved.

I've had mixed success with the drag/drop approach, so I've gotten into the habit of playing it safe and doing the remove/edit/re-add thing.

Comments (21)
  1. Moo says:

    Whereas with iTunes you just tick the "Remember playback position" box in the track info window.

    And you wonder why the Zune is a flop?

  2. John says:

    I wouldn’t say the Zune is a flop; next to the iPod ANYTHING will look like a flop.  However, I do question the decision to go with brown, not to mention the "squirt" terminology.  Maybe it’s just me, but if I was marketing a product I don’t think I would want people to associate it with diarrhea (brown squirts).

  3. El Lobo says:

    Unfortunately, I for once, hate iTunes and the iPod with all my heart. I haven’t used a Zune yet, but there are many players out there not so overpriced and much superior to Apples cr*p.

  4. frymaster says:

    I wonder how someone can mention "iTunes" and "some other product being bad" in the same breath.  The iPod is a fantastic bit of hardware, but I will never ever own one and the reason is I just cannot force myself to use iTunes.  My first ever mp3 player had 32 megs (yes megs) of storage and connectied with a parallel-to-proprietary-serial cable, and the bespoke software that came with that is better than iTunes, in my opinion.

    And it is only my opinion, but with any other mp3 player on the market, I have a choice.  I can use windows media player, or I can use winamp, or I can use Amarok, or just about anything at all.  With the Ipod I don’t have this choice

  5. John says:

    iTunes on Windows could really benefit from being written as a Windows applications rather than a port of an Apple application.  Same goes for QuickTime.  I have a fairly decent machine, but those two applications run like dogs.

    [And you wonder why I don’t give as many tips as I used to. “Hey, Raymond posted a Zune tip, let’s talk about iTunes.” -Raymond]
  6. CGomez says:

    Well, the silent majority actually found this very useful.  I listen to a few podcasts and never thought too much about the behavior.

    Why?  It just works.

    It turns out, the podcasts I listen to I subscribed through the "podcasts" interface and they are all set up properly.

    But, say I find a podcast in the future that isn’t set up correctly.  Now I can fix it.

  7. Krenn says:

    On the plus side, it’s actually possible to move items from the Music to Podcast section and back – on the iPod, I found it nearly impossible to change audiobooks that have been misplaced in the Music section back to Audiobook. (disclaimer: not my iPod)

    Just wondering – if you add Podcast as a second genre instead of replacing whatever is there, would that get this effect to work? I don’t actually have a Zune, so I can’t check myself…

  8. J says:

    I didn’t expect to find a tip like this here.  Thanks, Raymond!  I’ve been meaning to figure out how to do this, but I was going to go the route of uploading audio books to my web space and figuring out how to publish them as podcasts.  This is much better.

    I’ve been setting up a playlist for each audiobook and have just lived with it losing my position whenever it (rarely) cold boots or I want to listen to something else.  I’m looking forward to be able to shuffle my music again without getting an audio book track every 2 songs.

  9. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    Again, it’s a matter of flexibility and accomodating different preferences, versus than "we know what’s good for you, resistance is futile" attitude.

  10. Peter says:

    Frymaster: You can use Amarok quite happily with an ipod. Mine would be a fairly expensive paperweight otherwise.

    I presume the same applies to Rhythmbox and probably several other players too.

    Token disclaimer: I don’t know if you can use it with a Zune. This comment hence may or may not be on topic.

  11. Tom Finnigan says:

    So, it used to make me sad that for a long time, you’d include preemptive snarky comments at the bottom of each of your posts.

    Basically it seemed that the negative commenters had gotten inside your head.

    Thanks for continuing to post helpful and interesting information like this, even though your blog is probably a lot more popular than you intended it to be, with all that comes along with that.

    [Oh, I still hedge. I just don’t call it out quite as blatantly. -Raymond]
  12. Leo Davidson says:

    Step 1 would be finding somewhere that sells them in the UK. :( Shame the Zune is still US-only as it seems a decent bit of kit after the recent updates.

  13. JP says:

    Thank you Raymond, you’ve made my day!

  14. Jay says:

    you know that Zune 3.1 supports audiobooks, right? You can use the Overdrive Media Console to add audiobooks to your Zune.

    There are some tools out there that can easily create a ".wax" file from an MP3 in audiobook form.

    I feel that using the "Genre=podcast" method is a little inflexible – you can’t set album art for example – that was what really prevented me from going that route :).

  15. JM says:

    “[And you wonder why I don’t give as many tips as I used to. “Hey, Raymond posted a Zune tip, let’s talk about iTunes.” -Raymond]”

    If you don’t like comments, delete them. People will learn not to post comments displeasurable to you very quickly (though there will always be an influx of new targets, of course).

    On the other hand, maybe the current situation where you simply call people out does make for the most entertaining reading, so I wouldn’t say I’m in favor of such measures.

    [I do delete them on occasion. Maybe I need to delete them more aggressively. -Raymond]
  16. Fred says:

    Raymond, you’re probably not seeing consistent results with Drag/Drop because the groveler is asynchronous. In fact, the groveler should have started up on the change instead of the Drag.  You might just be racing the groveler when you browse the UI.

    Also, any reason why you don’t edit the metadata in Zune? I can see checking the file timestamps first outside the app, but after that, the metadata editing UI should be sufficient – and the collection update should happen instantly upon saving the new Genre/Album/Artist.

    Power Tip: You can even do some of this with drag/drop metadata editing if you change the Genre last…

    [My first attempt was editing the metadata in Zune, but that didn’t move it to the Podcast library; it just sat in the music library with genre Podcast. I just tried it again – no dice. -Raymond]
  17. frymaster says:

    Peter: I think it depends on the iPod; my brother has a new model nano and found Amarok didn’t work; iTunes is pretty much the only reason he maintains a windows PC at all* (or maybe it depends on the brother, he might just fail ;) )

    *personally I’m OS-agnostic – I have both linux and windows because both are useful for different tasks – but some people are a bit more… militant… about these things

  18. manicmarc says:

    I use my N95 for podcasts and it looses it’s place if you turn the phone off. Can be quiet annoying.

    I would love a Zune, but they’re not available in the UK :-(

    I apologise for talking about iTunes – but one of the features I am eagerly awaiting in Windows 7 is popper support for AAC files in Media Player (at the moment I can play them, but can’t seem to burn them). As a former iTunes user, I feel Microsoft could do more to convert customers from a rival product (without the obvious answer of transcoding).

  19. Sean says:

    You can edit the metadata in Zune, but you have to remove the files from Zune and then re-add them to make them move over to the Podcast section.

  20. tsrblke says:

    So I guess my question is, when I rip a CD (let’s say using WMP) how exactly is file creation determined.  Are all the files the same creation time, or do they tick up in the seconds it taks to rip the song (thus ensuring if I rip an entire CD at once, and all the tracks are in order, the timestamps should work.)

  21. J says:

    tsrblke:  Here’s what you do:

    1.  Insert an audio CD to rip.
    2.  Start your CD ripping program (let’s say WMP).

    3.  Rip the CD.

    4.  Look at the creation times.

    Repeat the experiment until you’ve answered all your questions, and report back here with your results.

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