Convert Journal Articles to Audio Files on the Mac

A while ago, I wrote a post describing how to listen to PDF journal articles by converting them to Kindle format and using Kindle’s text-to-speech capability. This system helped me be productive on my long commute, but I recently discovered an even better solution. As it turns out, the Mac’s OS X comes with a pretty robust text-to-speech feature, and it’s remarkably easy to create audio files for playback on your computer or mobile devices.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First, download (or scan) a PDF of a journal article. Make sure that the text is selectable. If it’s not, you may need to run optical character recognition (OCR) on it. I use Adobe Acrobat, which I find pretty reliable. 
  • Open the PDF in Preview, and select all the text (Command-A).
  • Once the text is all selected, right-click (or Control-Click) on the text, find “Services,” and look for the item “Add to iTunes as Spoken Track.”

Ching 2011

  • When you click on that, you’ll see the following dialogue that allows you to choose one of the built-in voices and to name the file. I suggest sticking with the “Alex” voice.

TTS

  • Click “Continue,” and your Mac will begin converting the text to a spoken audio file. When it’s done, open iTunes and find the track. You can listen to it as is, but I recommend changing its designation from “music” to “audiobook.” To do that, right-click (Control-Click) on the file and choose “Get Info.” Under “Options,” find where it says “Media Kind,” and select “Audiobook.”

Options

Now you can add the file to playlists and sync it to your favorite media device. I put files on my iPhone, and then play them over the bluetooth connection in my car. Also keep in mind that you can adjust the speed of the text-to-speech voice in System Preferences, under “Dictation & Speech.” I found that just a little faster than “normal” works well, but your mileage may vary.

Enjoy!

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6 thoughts on “Convert Journal Articles to Audio Files on the Mac

  1. Is this relegated to a specific OS (or a specific version of Acrobat)? I’ve set the “Add to iTunes as Spoken Track” in my preferences, but whenever I copy text in PDF (yes, I can select the text) and right-click, I don’t get the “Services” option. Thanks for this — it would be great if I could get it to work.

    Reply
    • I’m pretty sure it’s been available since as far back as OS 10.6. You might need to go into System Preferences –> Keyboard –> Keyboard Shortcuts and click on “Services.” If you’ve got 10.6 or up, you should see “Add to iTunes as Spoken Track” as an option, but you may need to activate it by checking the box.

      Also, I’ve found that this service is not available in Acrobat. Try opening the PDF in Preview instead.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Kory! I had done all the Preferences’ set-up. My issue was with Adobe Acrobat (as you note). Once I opened the PDF with Preview instead of Acrobat, the conversion of my selection to audio worked. I don’t get the nice options for voices (e.g., Alex), but at least, I get the text converted to speech.

  2. Is there a way to do this on macOS Sierra? I have been using this technique but just updated to Sierra and can no longer do it!!! 😦

    Reply
    • I haven’t upgraded to Sierra yet, so I’m not sure. Is the “add to iTunes as a spoken track” option no longer available?

      Reply
      • When I go into preferences, the box is checked next to that option, but when I am in preview, the control-click option no longer gives me a menu with “services” on it. Services exists as a drop down menu under “preview,” but it doesn’t list any services there, just links me back to the preferences menu. There must be a way to activate it that I haven’t figured out. I’m guessing i’m missing something very obvious….

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