The Complete Guide to Using the iTunes Store

Although you can fill your iTunes library and your Apple media devices with content from a wide variety of sources, the iTunes Store provides an excellent one-stop shop for a huge array of content with millions of songs and podcasts and thousands of movies, TV shows and audiobooks available for purchase, depending upon your country of residence. Even for users with large media collections from other sources, the iTunes Store can provide a useful source of information on new content and previews of songs, movies and TV shows. Further, for iOS devices the iTunes Store includes the App Store, making it the source for new applications.

In this guide, we take an in-depth look at the features available in the iTunes Store, going beyond the relatively intuitive browsing and purchasing of content to look at some of the more advanced options for iTunes Store users.

iTunes Stores by Country

The first thing to keep in mind is that the iTunes Store is not an open international marketplace. Each country effectively has its own iTunes Store, and not all content is available in all countries. In fact, even the iTunes Store itself is not available in every country. You can choose which country’s store you want to view by scrolling down to the bottom of the iTunes Store window and clicking the small round flag icon which appears in the bottom-right corner. This will bring you to a list of countries in which the iTunes Store is available, and you can change which country is displayed simply by clicking on the appropriate icon.


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Although you can browse the iTunes Store in any country without being signed in, you can only purchase content from the iTunes Store for your own country. This is enforced via the billing address associated with your credit card or other payment method that you use with the iTunes Store, rather than your actual geographic location. You can use the iTunes Store in all countries of which you’re a resident, but you’ll either need a separate iTunes Store account for each one, or you’ll need to continually be switching the billing information on your single account. Generally, it’s simpler just to set up an alternative account for these situations, although it’s worth noting that features like iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match are designed to work best when using a single iTunes Store account, as you can only switch accounts with these services every 90 days.

Setting up an iTunes Store Account

To begin using the iTunes Store, the first thing you’ll need to do is to actually set up an iTunes Store account. This can either be done by specifically choosing Create Account from the Store menu in iTunes, or simply by attempting to purchase an item from the iTunes Store and using the “Create New Account” button which appears in the sign-in dialog box.


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If you already have an Apple ID, perhaps from setting up iCloud, registering your iPhone or Mac with Apple, purchasing items online from the Apple Store, or as part of another Apple program or service, you can use this as your iTunes Store account. Further, MobileMe accounts are already pre-configured as iTunes Store accounts as well, and your MobileMe user ID and password will work here without needing to sign up for a new account. If you already have an Apple ID, you simply need to log in with that account and iTunes will prompt you to review your account information and add a payment method if necessary; if you already have a credit card on file with your Apple ID from prior Apple Store purchases this is simply used by default. Note that your credit card is associated with your Apple ID rather than your iTunes Store account—change the credit card information in one place (such as on the Apple Store) and your iTunes Store account will be updated to use the new credit card information as well. Further, if you shop at an Apple Retail Store using the same credit card, you’ll find that Apple already has your e-mail address on file for sending you a receipt via e-mail.


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With the exception of Podcasts and iTunes U content, even free items on the iTunes Store require that you have a valid iTunes Store account to download them.

Regardless of which method you choose, the actual sign-up process is basically the same. You will be taken through a series of screen in iTunes itself which will take you through the process of showing you the terms and conditions and collecting the necessary information to create your account.


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On the Terms and Conditions screen, you must check the box indicating that you have read and agree to the iTunes Terms and Conditions in order to continue. Note that the terms and conditions shown are specific to the iTunes Store for your selected country. If you are not a resident of the indicated country, you can choose a different country by clicking on the link as indicated.


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You will next be prompted to enter an e-mail address, which effectively becomes your Apple ID. You will also need to enter a password, and a question, answer and date of birth to be used for password recovery. You can optionally choose to opt-out of receiving promotional e-mails from Apple. All of these settings can be changed later, including your actual Apple ID.


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Once you’ve chosen your Apple ID and password, you are then prompted to enter your payment information. If you had logged in with an existing Apple ID instead of creating a new one you will be taken directly to this screen to enter your payment information. The available payment methods will vary between different countries.


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Setting up an iTunes Store account in this manner normally requires a valid credit card with a billing address in the country that you are setting an iTunes Store account for. For U.S. users, a PayPal account may also be used, however a valid U.S. billing address is still required for a PayPal account, and is checked via the bank account or credit card that is associated with your PayPal account. As with the Terms and Conditions screen, a link is provided to allow you to switch countries if your billing address is not in the chosen country. iTunes does not bill your credit card until you make an actual purchase, although if your credit card statement shows pre-authorizations, you may notice a $1 authorization made by iTunes against your card. This is not an actual charge, but merely an authorization request of a token amount to confirm that you’re using a valid credit card. The $1 is never actually paid, and the pre-authorization will clear itself off automatically within a few days, subject to your card provider’s normal terms for unbilled pre-authorizations.

If you are coming to the iTunes Store to redeem a gift card or gift certificate, you can enter the code in the designated field instead of entering credit card information. A billing address is still necessary even in this case, although the iTunes Store will not have any means of validating the address, since gift cards and gift certificates do not have an address associated with them. You can also set up an iTunes Store account from a gift card simply by using the “Redeem” link found near the top-left corner of the main iTunes Store screen. This will prompt you to enter your gift card or gift certificate information, and once validated will take you through the process of setting up an iTunes Store account with that card.


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Redeeming gift codes is one method of setting up an iTunes Store account without providing credit card information, however the advent of the App Store provides another method: If you attempt to “purchase” a free item from the App Store, iTunes will prompt you to log in or create a new account in the same manner as for any other purchase attempt, but when you arrive at the screen to enter your payment information, an additional option of “None” becomes available.


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Choosing “None” as a payment method will set up an iTunes Store account for you and allow you to download free apps from the App Store. As the note on the payment method page indicates, you will be asked to provide a payment method when you make an actual purchase. Note that you must be purchasing a free app from the App Store for this option to become available. Free downloads from other areas of iTunes still require you to set up an iTunes Store account using either a credit card or gift code.

Note that an iTunes Store account is also required to register an iOS device or to download artwork from the iTunes Store. These services are free, and if you’re concerned about giving your credit card information to Apple, you can set up a free iTunes Store account using one of the above methods instead, as there is no requirement for Apple to have a valid credit card in order to provide you with free services.

Managing your Existing iTunes Store Account

Once you’ve set up an iTunes Store account, you can manage your existing account by clicking on the small drop-down triangle that appears to the right of your account name and choosing the Account option from the pull-down menu.


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You’ll be prompted to sign-in for confirmation and then be taken to a summary screen of your account. From here you can edit your account info, including changing your password, updating your payment information and billing address, switching to a different country, viewing your purchase history and managing a number of other aspects of your iTunes Store account.


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Using Gift Cards and Gift Certificates

The iTunes Store also provides the ability for users to use Gift Cards and Gift Certificates to make purchases. A Gift Card is a physical card, normally purchased in a retail store, while a Gift Certificate is purchased from the iTunes Store by another iTunes Store user and printed out or e-mailed to the recipient.


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Both types of gift items work on the basis of providing a code which the recipient enters into a screen in iTunes to redeem. The value of the gift card is then credited to their iTunes Store account, and any purchases they make are deducted from this account balance first. These balances can be used to partially fund purchases as well, provided another payment method such as a credit card is available to make up the difference. For the most part, gift cards and certificate balances can be used to purchase any item on the iTunes Store, although some restrictions do exist in various countries. For example, for a few years gift cards/certificates could not be used to purchase iOS applications in Canada allegedly due to Canadian Commerce laws. This restriction was quietly removed by Apple in 2010 without any specific explanation.

Gift card balances also cannot be used to purchase other gift cards or gift certificates, and although they can be used to pay for a subscription to iTunes Match, Apple requires a valid credit card on file for this as well.


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If you have a balance on your account it is shown in the top-right corner of the iTunes Store, immediately to the left of your iTunes Store account name. The main iTunes Store home screen also shows your account balance under the welcome note, immediately above the Quick Links section.


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Gift Cards and Gift Certificates may only be redeemed in the country in which they were purchased. For Gift Certificates, this means that they must be purchased with an iTunes Store account in the same country as the recipient. For Gift Cards, this means that they must be purchased as a retail store in the recipient’s country. For example, you cannot purchase a Gift Card or Gift Certificate in Canada and send it to a user in the U.S. as that gift card or certificate can only be redeemed in the Canadian iTunes Store.

Making Allowances

If you’re a parent who may not be particularly enthused about the idea of giving your son or daughter unlimited access to the iTunes Store, you’ll be happy to hear that Apple provides an allowance feature. Instead of setting up an account for your child with your actual credit card, you would set up your own iTunes Store account that only you access, and then set up an automatic monthly credit to your offspring’s iTunes Store account, ranging from $10 to $50 per month, in $10 increments. You can initiate this process from the Buy iTunes Gifts section by scrolling down to the “Allowances” heading and clicking Set up an allowance now.


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You are prompted to enter your own name and the recipients name, choose an amount to send out on the first of each month, and whether to send the first installment now or wait until the beginning of the next month. You can also choose to either create a new Apple ID for the recipient, or use their existing Apple account if they have already set one up. You can also enter a personal message to go with the allowance.


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If you opt to create a new Apple Account for the recipient, you’re taken briefly through the process of setting up the Apple ID and password for the recipient. The date of birth is used for password recovery, and the default question is set to “Who gave you your allowance?” with the allowance provider’s name as the answer.


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After you’ve filled in the necessary information, you’re shown a purchase confirmation screen to confirm that everything is correct before hitting the “Buy” button.


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The recipient will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to access their iTunes Store account and information on the allowance itself. They will also receive a notification each month on the first of the month when their allowance installment is deposited to their account.


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You can manage allowances that you have given out from your normal iTunes Store account management screen. Clicking on the “Manage Allowances” button will take you to a screen where you can view the allowances that you have set up, and choose to either modify the amounts, suspend the allowance until you re-enable it, or remove it entirely. You can also create additional new allowances from here.


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Allowance funds will appear as a credit balance in the recipient’s iTunes Store account in the same way as a gift card or gift certificate, and work in the same manner—purchases come from the gift balance first, and any purchases which exceed the remaining balance must be funded with a separate payment method. Basically, an allowance is just the automated equivalent of buying a gift certificate at the beginning of each month. Keep in mind also that accounts receiving an allowance still function as normal independent iTunes Store accounts, and these users are not prevented from buying additional content using their own payment method. In fact, parents can supplement the allowance on special occasions by purchasing gift certificates or gift cards.

Content Restrictions

For a number of years all content sold on the iTunes Store was protected by Apple’s FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM). In 2007, Apple announced a new format for iTunes Store music purchases known as iTunes Plus. Music sold in the iTunes Plus format was higher quality and did not include any DRM restrictions. Initially, only a limited selection of iTunes Plus tracks were available, customers paid a premium price for these tracks, and they had to pay an upgrade price to upgrade their existing DRM-laden iTunes Store tracks to this new format.

In early 2009 Apple announced that the entire iTunes Store music library was being transitioned to the iTunes Plus format. In this process, the premium price for iTunes Plus content was dropped, and all iTunes Store music became available in the higher quality DRM-free format. At this point, any new music that you purchase from the iTunes Store, including music videos, will be using this new format and therefore has no content restrictions applied to it.

Unfortunately, this only applies to music content (including music videos). Other types of content such as books, movies and TV Shows remain DRM-protected, and it doesn’t look like this is going to be changing any time soon. For purchased content that is protected by iTunes FairPlay DRM, you’re limited to using that content in iTunes on up to five computers, each of which must be authorized with your iTunes Store account. You can also transfer and play your content on an unlimited number of iPod or iOS devices, provided the content is transferred from one of your five authorized computers. Further, a given iPod or iOS device can only contain content from up to five different iTunes Store accounts.

With the exception of iOS applications, content purchased from the iTunes Store could traditionally only be downloaded once. With the debut of iTunes in the Cloud in June 2011, users in certain countries can now also re-download previously purchased music, iBooks and TV shows, although the latter is currently only available for U.S. iTunes Store customers. Other types of content such as movies and audiobooks can still only be downloaded once; if you attempt to purchase one of these items again, iTunes will warn you that you have already purchased the item and if you proceed with the purchase you will be billed again. Even with iTunes in the Cloud, Apple recommends backing up your purchases yourself. There are cases where the iTunes Store Customer Service department has permitted users to re-download lost content, but this is the exception rather than the rule and you should not rely on it. Further, even with iTunes in the Cloud, purchases can only be re-downloaded if they are still available on the iTunes Store. We discuss iTunes in the Cloud later in this article.