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Way before the Internet: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon (1940 - 1980) and George Harrison (1943 - 2001) of British pop group the Beatles, in January of 1964.
Way before the Internet: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon (1940 - 1980) and George Harrison (1943 - 2001) of British pop group the Beatles, in January of 1964. Terry Disney/Express/Getty Images
As many have long speculated it would, a major computer company announced this morning that its digital music store would finally begin selling songs by a long defunct British pop group.
The announcement, which was teased yesterday, follows a protracted courtship between the company and the pop group that derives from a 1978 lawsuit in which the corporation that has long managed the band's business sued the computer company because it took a similar name and logo.
The band, of course, is the Beatles, and the digital music store iTunes. Though the band's music has never gone out of print, the surviving members of the band and the estates of its deceased members, organized under the Apple Corps Ltd. umbrella, have resisted making the Beatles' music available for digital download.
Now, all 13 original Beatles studio albums will be available via iTunes for $12.99 per album. Three collections of hits are priced at $19.99. Individual songs from the band's catalog will sell for $1.29, the upper limit for songs on iTunes (previously, all songs were priced at 99 cents). A box set of all available material can be purchased for $149.
Whether the decision not to sell music digitally was based on disagreements between the Beatles and Apple or was just the latest step in the digital evolution of a band that — as noted in a Wall Street Journal story that broke the news yesterday — has long been slow to embrace changes in technology (its albums were issued on CD in 1987 and just reissued last year), the announcement is being treated by iTunes as a second-coming.
"In 1964 the band that changed everything came to America," banners on Apple's website trumpet. "Now they're on iTunes."
Some have wondered if the delay in reaching an agreement cost the band and iTunes millions of dollars. As John Perry Barlow told the The New York Times, "Anybody that hasn't managed to come up with a digitized version of the Beatles' songs by now never liked the Beatles."
Apple and the Beatles have to hope that that demand for the band's songs will override the digital format's slowing growth. Steadily rising sales of digital downloads have been the one bright spot in an otherwise ailing industry over the last decade, but in the past year, those sales have hit a plateau.
Apple's campaign suggests it hopes two demographics find something compelling about the long-delayed availability of the band's music. The iTunes website is filled with nostalgic imagery, including photos of the Beatles throughout their career and video of the first-ever concert the band performed in the United States, in February 1964.
Long-time fans have proven a reliable consumer base for the band. Since the release of the three-part Anthology in 1997, the band has placed six collections of its material on in the top ten of the Billboard album chart (others include Cirque du Soleil collaboration Love, Let It Be (Naked) and the hits collection 1). For fans who resisted re-buying the albums when they were issued on remastered CDs last year, the option of digital downloads on iTunes could prove enticing.
But that heavy focus on the arrival of the band in America, and the wave of adoring youth that greeted them, which casts John, Paul, George and Ringo, preserved in black and white, as an eternal teen-pop group, suggests Apple hopes that younger iTunes users will discover the band anew.
So how might you use this news? Are there a few Beatles songs you've always wanted to have and now you can buy them singly? Will you buy all the albums you already own but haven't uploaded to your computer? Will you send songs to your kids? Or is this just another opportunity to argue that the STONES are really the better band?