Imagine: Getting Beatles Songs on iTunes

The Rolling Stones. The Jackson Five. Bruce Springsteen. You name a band and it probably has its music for sale online.

Except, that is, the Beatles.

The best-selling band of all time is noticeably absent from the digital realm. But that could change soon. Rumors have long surrounded some type of deal between the Beatles and an online retailer such as iTunes. But no deal has materialized.

With Apple again making a big product announcement today, many industry watchers are once again waiting -- some would say eagerly -- for an iTunes-Beatles deal.

Today's announcement didn't included the Beatles -- although John Lennon once appeared on screen -- but such a deal is probably not too far off, say those who follow such things.

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"The Beatles are really the holy grail for digital music, said Aram Sinnreich, a professor at New York University's department of media culture and communications and managing partner of Radar Research LLC, a media consulting firm. "They have not been available legally from any digital music service to date. Once they are, I think it confers the sense that digital music has finally arrived in the mainstream."

A Beatles deal would mean millions of dollars, with the group having sold 170 million albums in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

And don't think that it's just baby boomers who bought LPs decades ago.


In the last 16 years alone, the Beatles have sold 54.9 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which has tracked record sales since 1991. In that time-period -- long after the band broke up -- the Beatles were the second-best selling artists in the country, after Garth Brooks.

"There's no question that there is a massive demand for the Beatles through a digital channel," Sinnreich said, "not only from baby boomers, who would replace the CDs they used to replace their LPs, but also from today's college students, who demonstrate continued interest in the band despite the fact that it's their grandparents' music."

Apple vs. Apple

There has long been friction between Apple Inc. -- which makes computers and iPods and sells songs through iTunes -- and Apple Corp., which along with the EMI Group, controls the rights to all of the Beatles recordings.

EMI owns the recordings, but any decision to publish -- in any format -- must also be agreed upon by Apple Corp., the British company owned by the surviving Beatles and the other band members' heirs.

Both Apple companies declined to talk about a deal allowing the Beatles on iTunes.

"We don't comment on rumors and speculation in general, but as we've said in the past we'd love to have the Beatles catalog on iTunes," said Natalie Kerris, a spokeswoman for Apple and iTunes. "We don't have anything to announce at this time."

Many Beatles fans saw a glimmer of hope in February when the two Apple companies settled their nearly three-decades-long dispute over the Apple trademark. Many industry watchers thought that agreement might clear the way for Beatles songs to be offered on iTunes and other online music stores.

"We love the Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks," Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs said at the time. "It feels great to resolve this in a positive manner, and in a way that should remove the potential of further disagreements in the future."

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