I’ve been spending a fair amount of time—a little bit more money than I care to admit—in the iTunes Music Store as of late, thanks to Apple’s 500-million song promotion. The company was giving away prize packages if you were lucky enough to buy a song at any one of the 100,000-song intervals leading up to the 500 millionth download from the store. ( Daddy needs a new iPod mini! ) Besides, Steve Jobs personally called up the guy who bought the 100 millionth song from the iTunes Music Store, and I figure that’s the only way I’m ever going to get my calls returned.
Turns out I didn’t win —not unless my name is Amy Greer, and someone forgot to tell me. And while I may not have a sack full of ill-gotten Apple loot, I at least came away with a tip that will help me shop for music more efficiently.
My interactions with the iTunes Music Store typically go like this: I’ll hear a snippet of a song on the TV or during a social gathering or from one of the voices in my head, and I’ll think, “Hey, I wonder if that song can be downloaded from the iTunes Music Store.” Once a quick check of the Store’s inventory reveals that, yes, indeed, I can purchase said song for 99 cents, I’ll jot the name of the song in a notebook for future reference. By doing this, I figure that I’ll amass a stockpile of 20 or so songs to snap up in one fell swoop, instead of littering my credit card with a bunch of 99-cent purchases. Also, this provides a valuable cooling-off period since spending good money on “Ballad of the Green Berets” may seem like a good idea at the time, but not such a wise investment after a good night’s sleep.
The only problem with this otherwise sensible approach to music purchasing is the final step of most of my iTunes Music Store encounters: I invariably wind up misplacing or losing the notebook with all my painstaking research, and my brain is too addled to remember which version of which 1960s sitcom I was thinking of adding to my collection of ill-advised TV theme cover songs. And so, finding myself back at square one, I end buying nothing—or, at least, not as much as I planning to. And while that may be unfortunate for me, it’s doubly so for Apple.
Which is why I spent most of the week telling anyone who would listen—and, indeed, several people who wouldn’t—that what the iTunes Music Store really needed was some sort of bookmarking feature. “That way you could keep a running list of the songs you want to purchase instead of having to rely on pen and paper or your faltering memory,” I’d say excitedly while people nodded sympathetically while nervously eyeing the nearest exit.
“Why don’t you just create a playlist in iTunes that logs the songs you’re thinking about buying?” one of my especially patient co-workers finally asked. “You do know that you can do that, right?”
I paused mid-rant. “Well, of course I do,” I said. “But why don’t you tell me how, just in case I don’t?”
So here’s the deal: create a new playlist in iTunes. (I labeled mine “Stuff I May Buy.”) Then, when you come across a song you like in the iTunes Music Store, drag it on top of your playlist's icon. When you view your playlist, you'll see that it displays your songs’ names, times, artists, albums, genres…and a series of handy buttons for purchasing them once repeated playings of the 30-second song snippet have sufficiently whetted your appetite.
And iTunes actually does have a bookmark-like feature, though you can be forgiven if, like me, you didn’t know it actually existed. Go to Preferences and click on the Store icon. The Preferences pane lets you choose between buying and downloading using 1-Click (the default setting) or using a “shopping cart.” With that option, you add songs to the cart and click “Buy Now” when you’re ready to check out.
It’s not exactly what I had in mind with my proposed bookmark feature—depositing songs in a shopping cart runs the risk that you might inadvertently download a song that you decided not to buy. For this reason, I prefer the playlist option over the shopping cart preference. But whichever method you like, the point is that iTunes does give you a couple of ways to window-shop for songs that won’t leave you with a house full of scattered notebooks listing the names of songs you’ll never add to your collection. And that should come in mighty handy when Apple’s handing out prizes for the 1 billionth iTunes Music Store download.