Configuring Plex for Audiobooks and Improving the iOS Listening experience
Plex is a fantastic product for media storage and playback with its Plex Media Server and supporting player apps. Its ability to catalog one's music and video files while providing a common user experience across dozens of platforms from computers to smartphones to tablets to TV is impressive. But until recently, I've always noticed Plex suffers when it comes to supporting Audiobooks.
Background of Plex and Audiobooks
I have been an avid user of Plex for several years and have rarely found issues with it. It hosts terabytes of movies, music, and tv shows and is accessible on my iOS devices with the same experience as my laptop. That was until I got into Audiobooks, more so during the past two years. I thought Audiobooks were nothing more than audio files, so what is the issue?
The issues are that Audiobooks in Plex Media Server have some gaps such as:
First, the server needs to remember the last listened position. Nothing is worse than playing an audiobook with one large 7-hour mp3 file and not having the last place you stopped saved.
Second is the lack of rich metadata and cover art images since Plex doesn't connect to a third-party source specific to Audiobooks as it does for tv shows, movies, and music.
Finally, the Plex iOS app (and I assume others) treated audiobooks as music and thus didn't offer some features such as speed increase and picking up where audio files last stopped.
Combining a new Plex feature, open-source plug-in, and fantastic mobile app gives Plex and Audiobooks a better experience. I credit an article from 9 to 5 Mac that pointed me to Prologue for iPhone (the mobile app referred to below) that spurred my recent, and this time successful, attempt to try and get a better Plex and Audiobooks experience.
About four years ago, Plex added the ability to save the last played position of an audio file. The audiobook library is a Music library, and the settings are on the server itself and off by default. Enabling this option solves the first challenge of using Plex for Audiobooks.
This Plex setting works only if the Audiobook is one large file.
Now you can use this forum posting from Plex as a baseline for how to configure Audiobooks. Below, I've brought out a few helpful tips, but understanding how the plug-in works should not be too difficult if you are familiar with Plex.
Open Source Plug-in for Metadata and Images
On Github, a developer built a plug-in that connects a library to Audible.com to scrape the metadata and imagery. I have pulled out a snippet of code posted deep within the original post's comments that can help quickly install the plug-in on a Linux server.
cd /var/lib/plexmediaserver/Library/Application\ Support/Plex\ Media\ Server/Plug-ins/
sudo git clone https://github.com/macr0dev/Audiobooks.bundle.git
sudo chown -R plex:plex Audiobooks.bundle/
sudo chmod 755 Audiobooks.bundle/Contents/Code/__init__.py
sudo systemctl restart plexmediaserver.service
The best method to test this works is to ensure that you see the option for Audiobooks when you are in the Plex settings.
Simple Method to test if Audiobooks.bundle installed properly
The best way to name the files is to use data from Audible.com. For each file mp3tag, Artist = Author Name, Album = Book Name, and the file system's folder name should be Book Name. Each file should be a book name with underscores for spaces. Multiple parts should have "_Part#" appended.
A Purpose-built Audiobook iOS app for Plex
Finally, the experience of listening to Audiobooks via a mobile app, even the Plex iOS mobile app, felt more like listening to a music track. It lacked some features typical of Audiobook and Podcast apps. To fill the gap is an app called Prologue.
In addition to visually rounding out the Plex and Audiobook experience, the app provides functionality such as Increased Playback Speed, Sleep Timer, and Voice Boost. And since it connects to your Plex Media Server, the app saves the position on the server each time you stop the audiobook track. Pick up on another device, and start from where you left off.
With the above solution in place, one can say that Audiobooks are on the same level in Plex as music, tv shows, and movies. The user experience is improved as Audiobooks are cataloged nicely in the same way as other libraries, including the use of rich imagery. Most importantly, one can start and stop long-form content now regardless of a single file or multiple files.