iTunes Beatles Folly

By Richard Menta 3/30/08

If you do a Google search for Beatles music what you will find is a massive collection of Beatles MP3s posted on web servers worldwide. It's all there, every track from every album they ever made including the Christmas EPs, alternate takes and any other audio ephemera the global fans of the Fab Four could find and post. You don't need LimeWire. You don't need BitTorrent. And you don't need iTunes.

So I can't help but be amused by the ongoing decision to hold back the Beatles music from the download services. It has only driven fans to go to where the music is in ample supply.

Sure, Apple Records may be very interested in licensing out the catalog, but are just holding back as tough negotiators to garner extremely favorable terms. Afterall, the press attention iTunes is receiving just from the speculation that it will acquire the Beatles catalog is tremendous. Wouldn't closing the deal bring even more fans to iTunes?

Yes it would. An iTunes deal will also generate revenue for the Beatles' estate, which right now earns the surviving Beatles zero as far as digital downloads are concerned. The folly of iTunes and both Apples is that no one is holding back anything. It is all there. Mostly the description is in English, sometimes it is in Cyrillic, but it is all there. In this world - where those tuned in online are rewarded with instant gratification - even if iTunes wins the catalog tomorrow, many potential paying customers are long lost, because they long ago lost patience with an apprehensive record industry.

That's why, outside of showing how continually out of step record execs are with technically empowered consumers, I feel any Beatles deal with iTunes is a non-story. Not everyone feels this way, of course. It seems anything with the word Apple or Beatles combined is newsworthy to most of the traditional and online press. In truth, a Beatles deal with iTunes is much ado about nothing. The real story - and the one I would like to see the likes of the Wall Street Journal or the NY Times actually pick up on - is that of the opportunity lost by holding back this catalog from digital sales for so long.

Natch, this fact will be lost once such a deal finally comes to fruition. That's because the massive press the deal will garner will spark heavy Beatle consumption on iTunes during those opening weeks.

Sales will be relatively big and everyone will crow of success. The truth is somewhat more complicated and, I suspect, no one in the press will ask (and certainly none of the executives interviewed will volunteer) how much more was lost the several years preceeding the deal.

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