Tip: Organize PDFs with iTunes

PDF documents are exceptionally popular, and having an option for organizing them is a necessity for some people. One option you can try is to use iTunes as a PDF organizer.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
4 min read

Recently we published an article discussing options on how to convert Web articles into nicely formatted PDF documents. While having PDFs is a convenient way to maintain well-formatted and clean articles on various subjects, after a while you may end up with a number of them, that can lead to a cluttered mess of PDFs.

There are options in OS X for managing PDFs and other documents, including smart folders and other ways of searching for them to consolidate into one location, or you can use spotlight's indexing to locate them by contents. In addition, as suggested by MacFixIt reader "Doug," one option people may not have thought of is to use iTunes to manage a library of PDF documents.

PDFs in iTunes
PDFs will be listed in the "Books" section of iTunes, though you can organize them using various playlist options as well.

iTunes has always been a great tool for organizing and managing music, and as Apple has incorporated support for other media such as movies, podcasts, and eBooks, iTunes has expanded to also help manage those as well. If you import a PDF into iTunes it will be recognized as a book, and will be available in the same "Books" section as eBooks and other book formats.

I hadn't thought to use iTunes in this manner before, but had a few PDFs handy, so I decided to try it out.

Importing the PDFs is similar to managing any other media. You can import them in a variety of ways, with the easiest being to just drag them--or a folder of them--to the iTunes window. If you do not have a "Books" section, iTunes will create it and then copy the PDFs to your iTunes library.

In addition to importing PDFs manually, there are some scripts available that can help in this process. One of these is from "Doug's AppleScripts," which is a collection of useful AppleScripts that can be used with iTunes. The "PDF Adder" script is a set of three scripts that will assist in importing PDF files to iTunes, and will add options to print a PDF directly to iTunes, and add an existing file to iTunes either by selection or by drag-and-drop.

Once imported, the PDFs will then appear as any album would in iTunes, and can be viewed with various iTunes view options including list, album, and cover-flow. From the various list views, the books can be sorted by various meta-data attributes, including Name, Author (artist), and Category (genre), but also by numerous others including year, rating, size, and other attributes that are available in the book's Info window.

iTunes metadata
After importing, get information about your PDFs and be sure to at least enter a Title (1), an Author (2), and a Category (3) so they can be properly sorted.

When you view the books in album view, they can be sorted by Author or Category, or have no sorting at all. Therefore, I recommend when you import your PDFs that you first ensure they all at least have something written in place for their name, their artist, and genre so you can use these sorting options.

Reading your imported PDFs can be done directly from within iTunes by double-clicking, or you can still use Spotlight and the Finder to open the books. Either way, they will open with the default PDF-viewing application, which for most users will be Preview. An additional perk to using iTunes is that if you enable the iTunes Home Sharing feature, you can then view the PDFs on up to five systems on the local network (standard playlist sharing will not work).


While iTunes is a good way to organize a PDF library, the program does have a few limitations. The first is that the iTunes search is only for a file's metadata information, so it cannot search PDF contents and sort results by relevance. However, you can still use Spotlight for this. The second is that iTunes is very music-centric and video-centric, so a number of features such as the play/pause buttons, volume controls, and equalizer either do not apply or do not function. (It would be nice to have the play button open the PDF in Preview.) Lastly, there is no way to preview the PDF's contents. In the Finder you can use QuickLook to scan through a PDF's contents, but in iTunes only the cover is shown.

Other options

iTunes is not the only option available for organizing PDFs, and there are other methods that will also work well, if not better. The first is to use the Finder to organize PDFs manually in the filesystem. While this may seem like a crude option for some people, there are some search and organization tools in the Finder that can make this relatively easy and quick once you get the hang of it.

Besides options that are built into OS X, there are a few programs out there that can help not only organize PDFs, but also other documents and information on your system. One of these is the tool iDocument, which is very similar to iTunes, but is tailored for documents instead of media. Other options include Yojimbo, which is a long-standing information organizer for OS X, and Yep, which was created by the developers of the popular maintenance program MacKeeper.

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