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The biggest band in history has finally decided to sell its music as digital downloads. The Beatles held out for years. But that changed this morning when their entire catalogue appeared in Apple's iTunes music store.
Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Apple teased the deal with a message on its home page that said this would be, quote, "a day you'll never forget." For most of us, that would be hyperbole. But apparently not for Apple's CEO Steve Jobs, who's been trying for years to land The Beatles' catalogue.
(Soundbite of song, "Can't Buy Me Love")
Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Member, The Beatles): (Singing) Can't buy me love, love.
ROSE: By all accounts, Jobs is a Beatles fan. And it bothered him that you couldn't buy the band's music from his iTunes store.
Mr. STEVEN LEVY (Author, "Insanely Great"): It was a symbolic thing. It was like a white whale for Steve Jobs.
ROSE: That's Steven Levy. He's written a book about Jobs and Apple called "Insanely Great."
Mr. LEVY: He has a relationship with Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono. And I think it was a constant thorn in his paw that he didn't have The Beatles there.
ROSE: The relationship has been strained over the years by a series of lawsuits between The Beatles and Apple alleging trademark infringement.
(Soundbite of song, "You Never Give Me Your Money")
Mr. McCARTNEY: (Singing) You never give me your money. You only give me your funny paper. And in the middle of negotiations, you break down.
ROSE: The Beatles' record label - officially known as Apple Corps - sued Apple Inc. three times, most recently in 2004, after the computer and iPod-maker launched its iTunes music store. When that case settled in 2007, a deal to bring The Beatles' music online seemed imminent. But the band took its time.
Roger Faxon is the CEO of EMI Group, the label that distributes their music.
Mr. ROGER FAXON (CEO, EMI Group): The Beatles are very, very conscious of their responsibility, and it has taken some time for them to be comfortable that the online world can do justice to The Beatles catalogue.
ROSE: Faxon says the band's exclusive deal with iTunes will last for, quote, "some months." And while that looks like a marketing coup for Apple, there are those who think The Beatles could have sold many more digital downloads if they'd moved more quickly.
Mr. CHARLES ARTHUR (Technology Editor, Guardian): It's pretty hard to find somebody who does like The Beatles who hasn't already got it in some form or another.
ROSE: Charles Arthur is the technology editor of The Guardian newspaper in London.
Mr. ARTHUR: So I don't quite see what the business proposition is, apart from, you know, to make Steve Jobs happy.
ROSE: There may be another reason Jobs wants to do the deal now. Writer Steven Levy says Apple is rumored to be working on a so-called cloud music service, where customers can stream any song they want directly to their computer or phone.
Mr. LEVY: To create this jukebox with everything in it, it would seem pretty empty without The Beatles.
ROSE: Apple declined to be interviewed for this story, so did a representative for the band. But in a written statement, Ringo Starr said, quote, "I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when The Beatles are coming to iTunes." One suspects that Steve Jobs feels the same way.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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