Q: I have a 120 GB iPod classic that I sync with iTunes. I moved my iTunes library to an external hard drive. I transferred all my purchases back so the iPod and iTunes have the exact same content on them. I will do ANYTHING to get my play count back. The play count is still on my iPod, it just isn’t on iTunes, and iTunes keeps prompting me to erase and sync, which will delete my play count.
A: It sounds like when you moved your iTunes library to an external hard drive you actually started a brand new iTunes library and then reimported all of your tracks to this new library, rather than using the consolidation method outlined in our iPod 201 article on Transferring your iTunes Library. If you still have the iTunes library database on your internal hard drive or backed up somewhere, your best solution would be to switch back over to the original database and then follow the steps in the above article. This would preserve all of your play counts, play lists, and other metadata since you would still be using the exact same library database and simply relocating the files.
If you don’t have a copy of your iTunes library database from your original library, then you’re going to have to go through the steps of recovering this content back from the iPod itself. There are a number of third-party tools that can do this for you, although most of these will want to copy your entire content back from your iPod and rebuild your iTunes library. Some will sync just the play counts, but this may not be completely reliable since it would require matching up tracks between disassociated libraries.
If you’re in a situation where you’re going to be forced to recover your play counts from your iPod, your best bet will be to use a tool that copies your tracks back and rebuilds your iTunes library from scratch. Our tutorial on Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer covers these solutions in much more detail.