Organize PDF Files in iTunes (Updated)

One of the “hidden” features in iTunes 4.7 is the ability to manage and organize PDF files. As I mentioned in this article about “digital booklets” available with the new U2 album, Apple is providing liner notes with some albums. In order to do this, iTunes has to be able to manage PDF files; in fact, when you download the latest U2 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb or the Complete U2, you also download a PDF file containing these liner notes.

So it’s no surprise that iTunes can “see” and manage PDF files. If you purchase one of the U2 albums, you’ll find the PDF file of the liner notes in your downloaded music. Just double-click the file name in iTunes to open the PDF file with your default PDF viewer. Neat, huh? But there’s more…Drag any PDF file into your iTunes Library window, or into a playlist; you’ll see that it gets added to the library or playlist. All the fields in iTunes are empty except the song name (that picks up the title without the .pdf extension), but you can enter information in the others. For example, I just added a CD insert for a live concert by moe. to the playlist for the music. I added “moe.” as artist, and added the name of the album so it shows up with the rest of the music. iTunes won’t try to play it, nor will it copy the PDF file to your iPod when you sync. But if you ever want to read those liner notes or view the insert, just double-click the file entry in your iTunes library.

Now, the next question is, why would you want to do this? First, you need to understand that the heart of iTunes is little more than a database; it organizes files in many different ways, sorts them, and allows you to organize them. There’s no difference between a music file and a PDF, at least not to the database part of iTunes. It shouldn’t care what files you add, though the program has to accept specific file types. Naturally, you won’t want to add all your files; but adding PDFs can be useful and practical.

You might want to add the following types of PDF files to iTunes:

  • Album notes
  • CD inserts
  • Lyrics
  • Band information
  • And more…

Since it’s easy to create your own PDFs (at least on Mac OS X; just select Print, then click Save as PDF), you can make your own files to add to your music. If you want to have lyrics accessible, why store them in a music folder on your computer? Why not store them with the album in iTunes? The same for any album notes, music tabs, or even a band’s discography. Or you could use a graphics program to convert band pictures to PDF format so you can save them with your music.

Another way this could be useful is for musicians. If you’re a guitarist, for example, and have lots of tab files, you can store them in iTunes and search for them by artist, song, album, etc. (And, since you can add other things like genre and comments to the file’s records in iTunes, you can search for things by key, instrument and more.)

Interestingly, you can create a smart playlist in iTunes selecting “Kind” as the condition, “contains” or “is” as the match, and entering “PDF” in the field. This will show you all of your PDF files. To take this further, why not create a smart playlist of all your Grateful Dead tabs: Artist is Grateful Dead, Kind is PDF. Bingo!

Of course, this opens other possibilities as well. I recently wrote about how I’d like Apple to make an e-book reader; in that article, I said, “You could download magazines purchased by subscription, or even buy single copies from a source similar to the iTunes Music Store.” It is clear that iTunes can not only download PDFs, but that it can also organize them. So could Apple’s e-book reader, or at least its platform to sell print content be far off? Interesting perspectives…

Update: Doug Adams, who maintains the essential Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes web site, was so excited by this idea that he created a script called PDF Adder. This script allows you to “Add a PDF file to iTunes and tag it with a selected track’s Artist and Album info.” Awesome!

iTunes can also accept .mov (QuickTime movie) files. It won’t play the video, but double-click a .mov file and iTunes will play the audio. And, click the Show Song Artwork button in iTunes with a .mov file selected and this will display the first frame of the movie. (Update to the update: obviously, iTunes can now play videos as well…)

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