Hope everyone out there enjoyed their three-day weekend, with the requisite picnics, beach trips, and other assorted fun in the sun. Me, I spent part of my Memorial Day weekend downloading 500-plus songs from the iTunes Store. Or I should say, 500-plus songs that I already own.
No, I’m not a demented, rich spendthrift. Rather, I was able to re-download my entire iTunes purchase history through the courtesy of a little-publicized program where Apple will let you recover purchases lost to a hard-drive mishap.
That’s what happened to me several months back when my MacBook Pro’s hard drive burped and took all my data with it. Fortunately, I had some semblance of a backup plan in place, so that as I ran down the checklist of important files, almost all were restored to where they should be. Work documents and e-mails? Check. Photos? Check. Music I had ripped from my CD collection? Either backed up or available in CD form if I didn’t mind the tedium or re-ripping. iTunes purchases?
Since iTunes flung open its virtual doors in 2003, I’ve purchased in the neighborhood of 600 songs, give or take a hundred. Of those, maybe a third had been backed up, either to a hard drive or a CD-ROM. Another third, I was indifferent about—I think I’ll be able to lead a rich, full life without that digital version of Maureen McGovern’s “The Morning After” that I bought on an ill-advised dare. But the remaining 200 or so songs, I kind of wanted back.
Yes, I should have backed up those songs if they meant that much to me. I accept your derisive laughter as a fitting punishment for my negligence. But I doubt that I’m the only person in recorded history to click the Buy Song button in iTunes and then, awash with the rush of instant gratification, forget to take the time to make sure those purchases are kept safe for posterity. And so I decided to explore whether I had any options outside of chalking up the loss to an important life lesson about not becoming too attached to physical possessions.
Turns out there
an option, and it’s offered by Apple. Head to the
iTunes Store Support page
and click on the
Find Your Lost Music link. You’ll jump to an FAQ with a series of answers about things like locating lost music on your hard drive (including a
tech support article
). There’s also a field for e-mail support, which I used to write an abjectly humble note explaining my situation and asking if there was anything that could be done about it.
Less than 24 hours later, I got a very welcome reply back:
Apple will let you redownload (at no charge) all the titles you purchased on this account that are still available. Please note that you may download your iTunes Store purchases only once, so this is a one-time courtesy exception.
The next time I launched iTunes, the helpful tech support person told me, I should use the Store -> Check for Purchases command. After being prompted to enter my account name and password, every song I’ve ever bought would begin downloading.
Indeed, that’s exactly what happened—after typing in my password, the software checked for my purchases and returned with a list of 500-plus songs. I started downloaded about 9 a.m. on Monday, and wrapped things up shortly after lunch. (The exception: I used iTunes 7’s download manager to delay the re-download of my movie and TV show purchases until I was on a faster network than my home connection.)
Two things I’d like to highlight about this program, just in case you overlooked them earlier:
This is a one-time offer. In other words, if disaster strikes your hard drive again and you didn’t back anything up, hard cheese. Indeed, after finishing up with the downloads, iTunes prompted me to back up my newly downloaded music. Rest assured that I did this time around.
You can only re-download music that’s still available from the Store. That’s a fairly self-explanatory condition, but it bears mentioning. About 100 of my songs weren’t available from iTunes any more. (More on this below.)
With that in mind, it’s a wonderful move on Apple’s part to extend this courtesy to absent-minded iTunes shoppers like myself. It fosters goodwill, it reinforces the notion that digital media should be backed up, and it gives all customers the reassurance that if disaster strikes, they have some form of recourse.
A few other things I noticed about this service:
• Apple is not kidding when it says you download your entire purchase history, as my 500-plus download list indicates. That includes stuff I managed to back up, songs and TV shows originally offered as free downloads, even stuff that my wife bought using my account that were downloaded on an entirely different Mac. If you bought it at one point, and it’s still on iTunes, you’re going to be downloading it again, whether you want it or not.
• “Everything” also includes music you’ve given as gifts. Back when the gift feature was introduced with iTunes 6, I sent out some gift playlists out to colleagues to test how it worked for
an article on the changes to the music store. This weekend, those songs showed up in my download list, one version for each gift recipient—as far as iTunes is concerned, these are purchases I made, even if the music wasn’t intended for me. So I’m now the proud owner of several versions of the same playlist of monkey-themed rock songs.
• Songs listed as “unavailable” aren’t always as unavailable as iTunes thinks they are. I don’t mean that to sound like a complaint in the face of what I consider to be a very generous service that Apple provides—after all, recovering 75 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. But the fact remains, some songs missing from my re-download list are still available from iTunes.
In some cases, the disparity is understandable. My cut of “Folsom Prison Blues” came off Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” album. That record isn’t available at iTunes anymore, although the exact same track
available from “The Man in Black: His Greatest Hits.” But, as far as iTunes is concerned, I bought the song from the first album, not the second, so there’s no re-download available. Other missing downloads make less sense—I bought Jet’s “Look What You’ve Done” off the “Get Born” album; that album is still on iTunes, but the track was MIA from my 500-plus downloads. Oh well.
This raises another question which I hope doesn’t come across as churlish, especially since I am very happy with my iTunes purchases-salvaging experience. Rather, I throw this question out there for general discussion: Why should songs and albums disappear from iTunes at all? The advantage to a virtual storefront selling digital wares over a brick-and-mortar store selling physical goods is that the former, theoretically, has limitless shelf space. Older, less popular items aren’t taking up space that should go to hot, new releases. So I’m puzzled as to why an album like “Jesus Christ Surferstar”—think the Broadway musical
Jesus Christ Superstar
, only interpreted by surf guitarists—would be available a year ago when I bought some tracks, but not available now.
If anyone can explain why digital inventory would need to disappear from iTunes, I’d be grateful. Not as grateful as I am to Apple for allowing me to rebuild almost all of my music library, but grateful nonetheless.