Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Convert Text Into Audio for Free (on a Mac)

Today I have to drive about six hours getting one of our kids to a summer event, and I want proofread my new eBook which is almost finished, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing.” These are the steps I followed to convert the text I’ve typed in Pages on my Apple laptop into M4A audio files I can listen to in the car on my iPhone. If you know how to do this for free on a Windows computer, please let me know how. This is the only way (at this point) I know how to do this.

Step 1 is to enable the “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” menu option within TextEdit and other applications. I described this process in detail in my December 2009 post, “Make any text into a computer-generated audio file with Snow Leopard.”

Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track

Step 2 is to copy the text in Pages to your computer’s clipboard. I opted to copy one chapter a time, so each chapter would be created as a separate audio file. (As a result, I repeated steps 2 through the end eight different times, once for each chapter.)

Copy text from Pages

Step 3 is to paste the rich text into TextWranger, a free app which will “strip” out all the images which you don’t want in the TextEdit file. I don’t think TextEdit will convert text into audio if you leave images inline. There may be other ways to do this, but I love using TextWranger for lots of text altering needs like this.

Paste into TextWrangler

Step 4 is to copy that plain text block from TextWrangler and paste it into TextEdit.

Paste into Text Edit

At this point, it would be great if we could immediately convert all the text in the TextEdit file into audio. I found, however, because of some “special characters” in my file that menu option was not yet available when I selected all the text and control-clicked it:

No Convert Option Available

Step 5 is to remove special characters which the “convert to iTunes spoken audio” script doesn’t like. I used the find and replace command in TextEdit to replace all occurrences of the forward slash (“/”) with a hyphen (“-“).

Replace forward slash with dash

Step 6 is to highlight all text in the TextEdit file, control click it, and choose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.” This process took me approximately 30 to 60 seconds, depending on how much text was in each chapter.

Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track

Step 7 is to rename the files in iTunes from “Converted Text” to the file name you want. You can see the lengths of each chapter next to the file names I selected.

Converted Text Files iniTunes

Step 8 is to drag the converted audio files (which are in M4A format) from iTunes into a folder on your computer. Alternatively you could create a playlist and sync your iPhone / other iOS device to iTunes, but I didn’t want to do that so I opted for a file transfer option.

Copy files from iTunes

Step 8 is to use the app AirSharing ($3) to turn on file sharing between your iOS device and your computer. In the Finder on my laptop, I chose GO and CONNECT TO SERVER, then entered the IP address provided by Air Sharing for my iPhone. This is the local address of the device on my home network. Then I was then able to copy the eight M4A files directly from my Mac computer to my iPhone just like I was copying files to a USB drive or connected server / hard drive.

Copy to iPhone with Air Sharing

Step 9 is to listen to the converted files on your iOS device. The process is done!

Audio Files in Air Sharing

I hope this is helpful to you. Your Mac will use the computer voice selected in your system preferences to make this audio file. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly the fastest, free way to make individual chapter audiobook files that I’ve seen! Later this year I plan to record my own versions of my eBook in my own voice, but this is a quick way to create audio versions of the book chapters that I can listen to in the car since I can’t safely read them while driving!

If you try this technique for your own writing or with your students, please let me know!

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4 responses to “Convert Text Into Audio for Free (on a Mac)”

  1. jethrojones Avatar

    This is good, but you gotta check out Ghost reader from Great product. I had to commute 45-60 min each way for my masters, and had to read a lot. This app saved my life. And, I didn’t have to buy it. I think the trial is time limited, but only counts days off on days you use it. So I used it once a week and got 15 weeks or so out of it.

  2. Cyndi Danner-Kuhn Avatar

    Great set of instructions for this!  I do this frequently, and even teach it in my class, but thanks for sharing, you have some great screen captures and details for those that need step-by-step.

  3. Allanah King Avatar

    I didn’t know you could do that. I didn’t even know there was anything there under services.  I like it. I am doing a workshop later this year on creating ePubs. I will have to add this idea to it.


  4. Paul Hamilton Avatar

    Hi Wes.  Sorry to be so late with this response.  Anyone working with a PC that is equipped with MS Word can add a free toolbar called WordTalk.  This will convert any text file  opened in Word to either a WAV or MP3 file.  WordTalk also offers text-to-speech for anyone who needs that, and it even includes a talking spell checker.  This is invaluable for editing or for individuals who struggle with reading or writing text.  Here’s the URL for WordTalk