Accessible Audiobook Workflow Guide: Producing Born Accessible Audiobooks

This resource reviews key steps to create audiobook that are as accessible as possible, and discuss the key aspects of what makes an audiobook accessible.

  • Subject(s):

    Audiobook Production

  • Resource Type(s):

    Standards and Best Practices

  • Audience:


Suggested Prerequisite

Before reading this, you might want to read:


While it might seem like it would take a lot of extra work to create a fully accessible audiobook, in practice it is much like creating any good quality audiobook. Being mindful of accessibility throughout the entire process, from pre-production to publication, will help ensure you create born accessible content that everyone can enjoy!

A big component of an accessible audiobook is how it interacts with the device used to play it. There are more complex, taggable formats such as DAISY, and they are great for more complicated texts such as academic works with a lot of supplementary materials. While DAISY is great and has some fantastic accessibility features, it also requires a DAISY supported device or application.

That is why this guide will focus primarily on the MP3 format, as it is one of the more common and commercially viable formats which can be played across a variety of reading systems. The goal of this guide is to try to create more born accessible content that can be enjoyed by every type of person and device.

From Runsheet to Studio: A Step by Step Guide to Considering Accessibility at Every Stage of the Production Process

Step One: Assessing the Source Material and Creating a Run Sheet

One of the first things you need to do in any audiobook project is to get a copy of the source material and make yourself familiar with it. If possible, try to use a fully accessible version of the title, such as a properly marked up EPUB. This will ensure that anyone, including a potential narrator, will be able to work on the project if they use screen readers or other assistive technology.

Run Sheets 

The run sheet is a basic document that outlines to the narrator how you would like them to label the recorded files. It can also provide information such as basic scripts for audiobook tracks that are not found in the source material, like opening and ending credits. If a title requires image descriptions, they can also be included in the run sheet, along with instructions for the narrator.

Much like the book you are working with, it is important to ensure the run sheet document is fully accessible. If you are making them in Microsoft Word, use proper styles and heading levels and don’t forget to use Word’s built-in accessibility checker.

At this stage of production you will decide which, if any sections of the book to omit from the audiobook version. Many commercial audiobooks will omit elements such as footnotes, bibliographies, appendixes, etc.

Note: Something to consider here is that the audiobook version may be the only version of a particular title that is accessible for someone. For this reason, try to omit as little as possible. Elements such as footnotes and bibliographies can be included in an audiobook as their own separate tracks, and if they are properly labeled, they can be skipped by readers who are not interested.

Two elements which do not translate well to audiobook format are indexes and tables of contents. Indexes usually reference page numbers which are not present in the audiobook. If it is important to include the index, you might consider including it in a “supplementary document” such as an accessible Word or HTML document, which gives the reader the option to review it in a more navigable format.Tables of Contents also often reference page numbers, and if your audiobook tracks are properly labeled, the tracks themselves will serve the same purpose.

When reviewing the title and putting together your run sheet, this is a perfect time to assess whether the book contains any images that will require a description

Image Descriptions 

One of the most important things that can be done to ensure the accessibility of an audiobook is to include quality image descriptions for any images present in the title. Ideally you will already have a set of well written image descriptions that were created for the EPUB. If that is the case, then you can use those same descriptions for the audiobook version.

When incorporating image descriptions into an audiobook, it is important to signify to the reader that what they are hearing is an image description; a good approach is to have the narrator read “Begin Image Description” and “End Image Description” before and after the description.

Image descriptions should be one of the first things you consider in your audiobook project, as some books can have dozens of images, and each one can take quite a long time to compose. If you need to compose your own image descriptions for a project, consider collaborating with the author if possible, as they will have the best understanding of the intent of the images. If you are working with culturally sensitive images, you should also consider reaching out to someone with expertise in that area.

Images should be placed as closely as possible to where they appear in the print or EPUB version of a book. They can sometimes appear in the middle of a paragraph, so you may want to move them to the end of a paragraph to not break the flow of the narrator.

For more information about how to write image descriptions, who should write them, how to review them, and more, visit the Image Descriptions area of the website.

Step Two: Accessibility in the Studio, Working with Narrators

Now that you are familiar with the book and have created your run sheet, you should have a good sense of the overall tone and an idea of a good fit for a narrator. A talented voice actor can handle several different characters’ roles, but there are a few specific cases where you might want to be more selective.

  • For a title that is culturally sensitive, you might want to find a narrator with ties to said culture to appropriately represent the material.
  • Similarly, for a title with a number of non-English words or names, consider finding a narrator who is familiar with the language to ensure everything is being pronounced correctly

Any good narrator should be able to handle any of the accessibility considerations mentioned in this guide. The most important thing is to provide them with the correct information in the run sheet, so that they know to record it.

Step Three: Postproduction 

At this stage you should have a batch of properly labeled audio files recorded at acceptable audio levels to begin working with. This next step will not go into the editing and mastering side of things as it can be a bit subjective, but rather focus on a few basic steps you can follow to ensure your audiobook is fully accessible.

Some important things to consider during postproduction:

  • Try to work with mono files unless the audiobook contains a lot of music and sound effects. This will help ensure the files can remain as small as possible and fit easily on a wide variety of devices
  • Ensure that the filenames are accurate: every filename should start with the track number in double digits (or triple if the book is large enough), followed by a space, followed by the name of the track. Eg. 01 Title Page, 02 About This Digital Book, 03 Acknowledgments, 04 Dedication, 05 Chapter One.
  • Ensure that the audio is level, compressed and that there isn’t excessive background noise – think about noise-canceling and gating depending on the needs of the files.
  • Work with the parameters of RMS being between -23 and -16db, peak levels no higher than -3db. Note that this may be subjective depending on the producer, but most importantly you want to ensure that the audio is at a consistent level to prevent sudden volume changes between tracks
  • Edit out any unnecessary noises like mouth sounds, mouse clicks, page turns etc. Much like excessive background noise, this can lead to “listener fatigue” and take away from the reading experience
  • Try to get an overall tone that is smooth – ‘warm and crisp’.
  • Make sure the tracks are consistent with each other in level and in tone.
  • Ensure that the metadata is correct and matches each track
  • Export files at 192kpbs for stereo and 96kbps for mono 


Many accessibility factors are determined by the user’s reading system. This is why it is important to ensure things like track names and metadata are properly formatted to ensure a more accessible reading experience regardless of the device.

For MP3 files, the most common type of metadata is ID3 tags. They can usually be edited and customized in most audio editing programs as well as media players such as Apple Music. While they are originally intended for music albums, many of the elements can be adapted to be used in an MP3 audiobook.

Here are a few common ID3 fields which can be adapted for audiobook purposes:

Note: The name of some fields may vary depending on the type of software being used.

  • Artist = Author’s name (First Name Last Name)
  • Track = Name of section, i.e. Dedication
  • Title = Name of section i.e. Dedication
  • Album Title = Title of book
  • Track Number = The track number that matches the filename, for example “06”‘ if the filename is “06 chapter two.mp3”
  • Year = Year of production/audiobook copyright
  • Copyright = year Audiobook published
  • Genre = Audiobook
  • Album Artist = Narrator (first name last name)
  • Producer = production company
  • Composer = Audio technician (especially in the context of a book with soundscapes/effects)
  • Comments = Name of Narrator (First Name Last Name) and Publisher


Another way to ensure your audiobooks are accessible and navigable on a variety of devices is to include a playlist file with your MP3s. M3U playlist files are the most cross-compatible playlist file for different devices and operating systems and can be created using several different programs. The M3U file is a text file of a playlist or library that retains the way you have ordered your files. Common media players like iTunes and Windows Media Player can be used to create these M3U files – you’ll find easy directions on this if you look up “creating M3U file + the name of your media player”. 

Once you have create the M3U playlist file, to double check that the playlist worked properly, open the playlist in a text editor (such as Notepad or TextEdit), and make sure the playlist just has the filenames and is not looking for files in /Users/JohnDoe/Music/iTunes/, or similar. The playlist should only have information for the tracks and not contain directories from your computer. A properly formatted one will look something like the following when viewed in a text editor:

#EXTINF:N/A,01 Opening Credits
01 Opening Credits.mp3
#EXTINF:N/A,02 Print Copyright
02 Print Copyright.mp3
#EXTINF:N/A,03 Title Page
03 Title Page.mp3 

And so on, for every track in the audiobook.

If you follow these steps, you will have a very accessible audiobook on your hands!

Next Steps


Filling Out ID3 Tags for an Audiobook

Introduction to ID3 Tags in Audiobooks

ID3 tags are fields that you can fill out to add metadata to an audiobook. They were designed with music in mind, so some of the field names (Artist, Composer, etc.) don’t always correspond. This…

Subject(s): Audiobook Production, Metadata
Resource Type(s): Checklist

Adding Accessibility Metadata to an Audiobook

Introduction to Audiobook Metadata

This brief introduction discusses the metadata that can be included with audiobooks: a set of ID3 tags for each file, and an ONIX record. There is no specific accessibility metadata for audiobooks, but having robust…

Subject(s): Audiobook Production, Metadata
Resource Type(s): Foundations and Rationale

Understanding the Importance of Image Descriptions

Best Practices for Writing Image Descriptions

This Best Practices document reviews key guidelines to writing image descriptions. Whether you are a publisher, freelancer, author, or anyone else, this document will help you make decisions about how and what to describe.

Subject(s): Image Descriptions
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices

Determining who Can/Should be Tasked with Writing Image Descriptions

Who Should Create Image Descriptions

This resource discusses the options you might have for image description creators/authors. There are many different people that can potentially do this work, and deciding on a person or group is an important step!

Subject(s): Image Descriptions, Strategic Planning
Resource Type(s): Standards and Best Practices

Reviewing Image Descriptions

Guide for Reviewing Image Descriptions

This guide shares a short checklist of items to review when reading or editing image descriptions. Whether you wrote them yourself, or someone else wrote them, this guide will help ensure the quality of descriptions.

Subject(s): Digital Marketing, Ebook Production, Image Descriptions, Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Checklist, Standards and Best Practices

External Links to More Information

How to Create an M3U Playlist Easily? Top 3 Methods

While this site is designed with movies in mind, the same principles for making an M3U playlist will apply for audiobooks. This page discusses how to make playlists using three popular media players: Windows Media Player (PC), iTunes (Mac), and VLC (Mac and PC).

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