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Why can't we exchange gifts?

Paper_television I used to buy CDs for people at Christmas. Now I "gift" them downloadable tracks from Apple's iTunes Store. It's great in a way because I can make mix CDs of my favorite songs from that year (see below for my 2006 list), but I'm bothered by two shortcomings that are endemic to the online music business. First, the songs are wrapped in Apple's flavor of DRM, which isn't compatible with any portable player save the iPod. That's a surmountable problem; people can burn their tracks to a CD and re-rip as MP3s, although they may have to fill in the artist and track info for each song. More significantly, someone who receives a downloadable album or tracks from the iTunes Store as a gift has no easy way to return or exchange them. If you're given a downloadable copy of an album you already own, well, too bad!

The latter failing should be simple for Apple to correct. After all, the company knows when a gift has been redeemed; as long as a customer hasn't yet downloaded the tracks, he or she ought to be able to trade 'em in for something else. I know, I know, Apple also sells gift certificates that let the recipients decide for themselves which songs to download. But where's the fun in giving one of those? Besides, making gift downloads fungible will only encourage people to buy more. So come on, Apple -- make it happen.

For what it's worth, here are my favorite tracks from 12 albums that I recommend in their entirety:

+/-, "Thrown Into the Fire," Let's Build a Fire
The Weepies, "Take It From Me," Say I Am You
Ms. John Soda, "Hands," Notes and the Like
Neko Case, "Hold On, Hold On," Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Mogwai, "Auto Rock," Mr. Beast
Herbert, "Something Isn't Right," Scale
The Essex Green, "Don't Know Why (You Stay)," Cannibal Sea
The Pipettes, "Pull Shapes," We Are the Pipettes
TV on the Radio, "Wolf Like Me," Return to Cookie Mountain
The Blow, "Parentheses," Paper Television
Camera Obscura, "If Looks Could Kill," Let's Get Out of This Country
His Name Is Alive, "I Thought I Saw," Detrola

And here are 15 honorable mentions:

Beirut, "Postcards from Italy," Gulag Orkestar
The iOs, "Summer Camp," Resident Alien
Field Music, "Trying to Sit Out," Write Your Own History
The Twilight Singers, "I'm Ready," Powder Burns
Asobi Seksu,"Strings," Citrus
Tapes 'n Tapes, "Insistor," The Loon
Psapp, "Hi," The Only Thing I Ever Wanted
Hot Chip, "And I Was a Boy From School," The Warning
Beach House, "Tokyo Witch," Beach House
Maritime, "Tearing Up The Oxygen," We, the Vehicles
The French Kicks, "English Just Will Not Let You Recover," Two Thousand
The Ettes, "All Right," Shake The Dust
Voxtrot, "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives," Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives
Yo La Tengo, "Mr. Tough," I Am Not Afraid of You ....
My Robot Friend, "Dial 0," Dial 0

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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