Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

The Beatles and iTunes: A question of money?

November 25, 2008: 12:35 PM ET

Beatles press conference NYC 1964Last we checked, the full catalog of Beatles songs was supposed to be available for sale on the iTunes Store before the end of 2008.

Well, it's not happening this year, according to one of the band's two surviving members, and for all we know it may never happen.

"The last word I got back was it's stalled at the whole moment, the whole process," Paul McCartney told reporters gathered Monday for the media launch of his latest album, Electric Arguments. (link)

Where's Fake Steve Jobs when we need him?

Nobody was better at cutting through the posturing, lawyering and stonewalling by Apple Inc. (AAPL), the Beatles' Apple Corps and EMI that have kept the world's best-selling musical act off the world's largest digital music store lo these many years. (EMI owns the rights to Beatles recordings, but must get permission from Apple Corps to release them in new formats.)

A year ago, McCartney told Billboard.com that the deal was all but signed. "The whole thing is primed, ready to go -- there's just maybe one little sticking point left, and I think it's being cleared up as we speak, so it shouldn't be too long. It's down to fine-tuning." (link)

"Let me put that statement into American English," Dan Lyons (a.k.a. Fake Steve Jobs) wrote at the time. "Paul wants more money." (link)

Now, a year later, the sticking points seem to have multiplied.

At Monday's press conference, Sir Paul was asked once again when the Beatles were coming to iTunes. Here, according to Billboard.biz, was his full reply:

"That is constantly being talked of, we'd like to do it," said McCartney. "What happens is, when something's as big as The Beatles, it's heavy negotiations.

"We are very for it, we've been pushing it. But there are a couple of sticking points, I understand. So the last word I got back was that it had stalled, the whole process.

"They [EMI] want something we're not prepared to give them. Hey, sounds like the music business.

"It's between EMI and The Beatles. What else is new." (link)

EMI, in response, issued this statement:

"We have been working hard to secure agreement with Apple Corps. to make the Beatles' legendary recording catalog available to fans in digital form. Unfortunately the various parties involved have been unable to reach agreement but we really hope everyone can make progress soon." (link)

Translation: Paul wants more money.

Or maybe Yoko Ono is the problem. One of the classic entries in the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs -- before Lyons gave it up to write full-time for Newsweek (and before Newsweek finally muzzled the Real Dan Lyons) -- was the scene in which he imagined Jobs and Yoko trying to thrash out an agreement in John Lennon's old apartment in Manhattan. (The deal falls apart on Yoko's insistence that the band be billed as  "John Lennon and the Beatles" with Yoko listed as the fifth Beatle.) (link)

The irony is that the parties involved have dragged their heels for so long that much of the deal's original value may have evaporated. Most everyone who cares about the Beatles has already filled their iPods with songs ripped from the CDs. Meanwhile, as Peter Kafka reports on All Things Digital, the boom in digital music sales seems to be slowing, which could make even the digital Beatles harder to sell. (link)

If Sir Paul is really waiting for a better offer, he -- and the Beatles fans -- could be waiting for a very long time.

[Photo: The Beatles' Feb. 7, 1964 New York press conference, courtesy of Apple Corps.]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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