The entire Beatles catalogue became available on Apple’s iTunes online store on Tuesday, after agreements on pricing, packaging and marketing ended a decade-long dispute that had kept the band off the top digital music retailer.
Apple is offering songs for $1.29 – a premium to the 99 cent flat price iTunes once demanded and to the 69 cents at which it now sells many older tracks. Each of the 13 remastered Beatles albums will sell for $12.99, while the full catalogue, packaged with a newly digitised film of a 1964 concert, is available for $149.
The launch will be closely watched as an indicator of the health of music downloads, which have flattened out in the US, and because the Beatles catalogue is a prime asset for EMI’s recorded music business, which could be sold if Terra Firma, its private equity owner, cannot resolve differences with Citigroup, its lender.
Roger Faxon, EMI’s chief executive said the launch was unrelated to Terra Firma’s financial issues. He predicted that Beatles downloads would be “very successful”, but would not comment on any impact on conditions in EMI’s loans. Terra Firma is still expected to need more equity to avoid breaching covenants next spring.
The decision to wait to release The Beatles’ music online has been as controversial as the band’s early resistance to compact discs, but Mr Faxon said it had helped ensure strong sales of a heavily-promoted CD reissue in September 2009. EMI has sold 18m of the remastered albums since.
“At every juncture they, and EMI with them, have taken the right steps,” he argued, saying that they had waited until the technology was ready to allow a digital release that would “knock the socks off” consumers.
Analysts challenged his view. “The right time to strike for the Beatles was 3 or 4 years ago,” said Russ Crupnick of NPD. “I don’t think it is going to make a monumental difference in the fortunes of paid digital downloading.”
Mr Faxon said downloads continued to grow faster in markets outside the US, which account for most of The Beatles’ sales. Apple plans a marketing campaign including TV advertisements and promotion in Apple stores, he said.
The agreement comes two years before copyright on The Beatles’ earliest works will begin to lapse, putting pressure on EMI and Sony ATV, which manages rights to the band’s music and lyrics, to exploit further a catalogue that has already seen many re-releases.
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