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I’ve got a bagful of change on top my dresser, and every so often, when that bag gets a little too full, I head on down the street to my local Safeway grocery store. I dump the bag into one of those change machines that accept coins for a voucher I can exchange for the paper form of currency.

There’s one problem with this arrangement: I get charged a fee for converting my coins—almost nine percent. So when I read that Coinstar machines would now let me exchange my loose change for credit on the iTunes Music Store —all without a service charge—I was pretty excited. (In addition to eCertificates and prepaid Gift Cards for the iTMS, Coinstar machines also offer credit for, Starbucks, Borders, Pier 1 Imports, and other outlets.)

I decided I’d give it a try, but since not all Coinstar machines offer the same options, I typed my address and what I was looking for into Coinstar’s advanced machine locator to find the nearest locale. The closest market was about a mile away, so I took my change and headed out for some iTunes walking-around money.

Coinstar iTunes receipt
I found the Coinstar machine near the entrance to the market and started the button-pushing process. You need to choose which product you want (cash, eCertificate, Gift Card, and so on) and then slowly dump all your change into a very narrow opening. Many coins didn’t get counted the first time, requiring me to feed them in again, with the machine whirling and churning the whole time. When I was done, I had dropped in 190 dimes, 109 nickels, and 433 pennies for a grand total of $28.73. Not a huge sum, to be sure, but better than the $26.17 I would have received in cash after the service charge got deducted. (Apple and the other companies wind up paying Coinstar a fee or small percentage from the gift certificate I receive.)

Once the money was all counted, I pushed the button to retrieve my iTunes eCertificate and… got an error. The machine was unable to process my request. I pressed the button again, and the same thing happened. Then I tried canceling the whole thing and starting over (but with my money still inside)—and it worked. It took a few minutes as the Coinstar machine presumably contacted some Apple server somewhere to issue me a redemption code for the amount I’d plopped in the machine, but when it was done, out come a very long receipt (shown on the right) with the 16-digit code I’d need to redeem my money at the iTMS, as well as instructions on how to use it.

So I now had a piece of paper in my hand that promised me around 28 songs (or half as many TV shows or music videos)—but would it work? After I made the journey home, I fired up iTunes, typed in my code, and then watched a box appear to the right of my account name with my $28.73 worth of credit. It felt a bit like the end of John Huston’s 1981 movie Victory , in which Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pele, and the rest of an allied soccer team (made up of actual European soccer players) play a German team to a draw (also real footballers) in Nazi-occupied Paris to cheers of “victoire!” from the crowd.

Well, perhaps not that dramatic, but it was still pretty cool.

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