I have just about every song by The Beatles in my iTunes collection. As the best-selling artists of all time, I suspect a lot of people do. Of course, not one of those songs was actually bought through iTunes, because none of them are available through the iTunes Store. Instead, they’ve magically landed on my computer through other means. I’m not going to say how, but let’s just say that record label EMI wouldn’t be too happy. Too bad. It’s their own damn fault.
Paul McCartney gave an interview on Friday to BBC Radio’s Newsbeat program. In it, he clarifies the situation a bit. “To tell you the truth I don’t actually understand how it’s got so crazy,” he starts out. “It’s been business hassles. Not with us, or iTunes. It’s the people in the middle, the record label. There have been all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to do it,” McCartney says. While he doesn’t specifically name them, that record label is EMI.
Assuming McCartney is both well aware of the details of the situation, and that he’s telling the truth (and we’re going to assume that’s the case with both), this is pathetic. It has been over seven years — let me repeat, 7 years (!) — since the iTunes Store first launched. Ever since then, there’s been no shortage of rumors that The Beatles’ catalog would be available on the platform soon. This is both because Apple CEO Steve Jobs (like everyone else) loves them, and because it just makes sense to have the most-popular recording artists of all time on what is now the most popular store (both online and retail) for getting music. But EMI apparently doesn’t care about making sense. And, it seems, they care even less about making money.
Okay, that last bit obviously isn’t completely true. But it sort of is. Think about the lost sales The Beatles have seen by not being available on iTunes over these past 7 years? The number of albums and songs that would have been downloaded legally would definitely be in the tens of millions range. Again, the key word is legally. People would have been paying for this music. Tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars has likely been lost because of EMI’s odd decision to stay out of the online marketplace.
And that’s another key. This isn’t just iTunes. The Beatles music isn’t available anywhere legally online. That means that the only way to get it onto your computer legally is to buy the CDs and rip the songs. People were likely doing this quite a bit in 2003 when the iTunes Store first launched. But now, I would bet that the other way of getting digital versions of these songs has far, far surpassed the legal means. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Beatles were the most pirated act of all time thanks to EMI’s stubbornness and/or stupidity.
Of course, EMI doesn’t think they’re being stupid. Their comment to Newsbeat reads as follow, “Discussions are ongoing. We would love to see The Beatles’ music available for sale digitally.” So yes, they’re negotiating, and have been this whole time. It’s one thing to negotiate for a few months — maybe even a year to ensure you get the best deal possible. But seven years? Again, we’re talking maybe hundreds of million of dollars in lost sales.
If EMI’s stance (and I’m not saying it is, just thinking out loud here) is that putting The Beatles catalog online would just lead to even more piracy and a decrease in CD sales, well then, I’m afraid they’re hopeless at this point.
What’s odd about all of this is that it would have seemed Apple and EMI see eye-to-eye on things. After all, EMI was the first label to offer DRM-free music on the iTunes Store after Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Music” rant in 2007. Of course, back then, the lack of Beatles music on iTunes may have had just as much to do with the trademark lawsuit between Apple and Apple Corps (the corporation in charge of The Beatles’ music). But that was settled around the same time, in 2007. Three years later, still no Beatles on iTunes (or again, anywhere else on the web).
This Fall, there will undoubtedly be an Apple iPod/iTunes event just as there is every year. And just as there is every year, there will be rumors of a Beatles launch on the iTunes Store. And just as with every year, publications will use a name of a Beatles song to title their posts of the rumors. And just as every other year, there will be no Beatles announcement. And why? Because EMI is the fool on the hill.