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Issue #825: May 14-20, 2023

Q: I’m at my wits’ end! No search strategy has yielded success. I have 20 files that comprise an audiobook.  In Windows File Explorer, I wish to change ONE attribute for all 20 to the same value, say TITLE OF BOOK. All I’m able to do now is right-click on each file, click PROPERTIES, then the details tab, and then insert the TITLE OF BOOK in the Album field. As you can imagine, this is a giant time suck. Is there a program or method (at the command prompt), that will enable me to make these global changes for a given set of files?

 – William R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: Let’s pull you back from the end of your wits, William.  Fear not!  I have information to impart to you that will not only solve your problem, but will increase your knowledge and vocabulary.

First off, your searching has been fruitless so far because you are searching for the wrong thing.  That is to say, your terminology is slightly off.  When we talk about the “attributes” of a file, we’re talking about things like whether it is a hidden or system file, whether the file is read-only, or has been archived, etc.  These attributes are stored by Windows along with the file.  There are two ways to see these attributes.  Some of them can be seen and changed via the same Properties dialog that you mentioned in your question, except they are at the bottom of the “General” tab.  You’ll even see the word “Attributes” there, along with the attributes themselves.

You can obtain a more comprehensive view of a file’s attributes by using the “attrib” command in a Cmd window.  Hit [WinKey+R] to open the Run… box, and enter “Cmd”.  When the window opens, enter “attrib /?” to see the command syntax, and all of the available attributes.  I hope by now that I’ve convinced you that “attributes” are not what you want.

The correct word for what you’re looking for is metadata.  That term literally means data that provides information about other data.  Unlike attributes, which are stored external to the file, metadata are stored within the file itself.  That way, if the file is moved or copied, the metadata travel with it.  In the context of files on a PC, there are multiple types of metadata.  For example, digital pictures contain a type of metadata called Exchangeable Image File Format, or EXIF, which has been discussed in this column before.  EXIF data is embedded in pictures by the camera as the pictures are taken, and contains stuff you’re probably not interested in unless you’re at least an advanced amateur.  We’re talking camera and lens model, shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and so forth.  For the rest of us, there is geotagging information, so one can tell exactly where the picture was taken.  Of course, you won’t see the data unless you go looking for it.

More along the line of what you’re asking about, William, audio files, such as MP3s and audio books contain metadata called an ID3 tag.  As the metadata in EXIF are relevant to pictures, the metadata in ID3 pertain to audio.  They include fields such as the title and artist, the original album and the track number, the year released, and even the genre.  Although not all of these fields apply to audio books, many of them do, and they can be used as you see fit regardless of what they are called.

So, head on back to your favorite search engine, and do some searching using your newfound knowledge.  If I might suggest a couple terms to get you started, I’d recommend “ID3 editor” and “bulk metadata editor”.  Enjoy, and stay away from the end of those wits!

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