First: No Glue Factory today
This past Monday, Apple promised a major announcement on Tuesday. On Tuesday, they unveiled that The Beatles catalog would be available for download on iTunes. This past week has been nightmare-ish at work, but I sat back and read a lot of the backlash of this announcement on Twitter. I got to read things like “What a joke of an announcement,” “The Beatles are awful,” “This announcement was way too small for such hype,” etc.
While it is not my duty to defend Apple, I would like to provide a bit of background and insight into this “event,” and bring forth the opposite opinion: why The Beatles on iTunes is a major event.
I recall back in 2001, Apple took a risk of creating an online store to purchase music. Nobody thought it would be effective because people could illegally download whatever they want due to existance of file sharing networks like Napster and Lime Wire. This caused the record industry to spiral out of control because sales of physical media were plummeting. Many saw the iTunes store as a cushion for some of this loss. The mentality was that people could spend just a buck per song that they want and pretty much do whatever they want with it within the umbrella of iTunes.
People actually used iTunes to purchase music, so other comepting markets became available. Napster launched a legit market, so did Walmart, and many others. The problem with the competition was there was little variety between networks; record labels such as Apple Corps (the publisher of The Beatles catalog, not to be confused with Apple Inc) were refusing to license their music to iTunes or other online retailers. The choice to where purchase music became a matter of convenience and price, so Apple/iTunes, which by this point had introudced their iPod line of portable music devices, remained the most popular online music store.
Popularity of iTunes due to continual innovation of the iPod led to expansion of the iTunes model toward movies and television shows, but looking back at music, companies were still holding out on digital licensing. In 2010, the lack of ability to download music by bands like The Beatles, who are arguably the most popular and influential band of all time, is a major deficiency in the digital distribution business. For this reason alone, the ability to download from The Beatles catalog is huge news. Not to mention the fact that other holdouts will probably follow suit now that this barrier has been breached.
Many people reacted to the announcement as, “ok, whatever” and, to most people, the announcement does not affect day-to-day life. Lets face it: the people who are major fans of The Beatles already have access to digital files from the ability to rip from CD’s, especially after the 2009 CD re-release of the entire catalog remastered in stereo, and the people who hate The Beatles will not even think to download their music. What both ends of this spectrum is missing is that the majority of music purchased is done on impulse. So let’s say a kid likes Guns N Roses and downloads a song called “Live and Let Die” from Use Your Illusion I, iTunes can potentially say “Since you liked that, you should try ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles.” And lets say the kid is open-minded and throws down the cash for that song, and likes it. That kid is more likely to revisit the iTunes store and purchase even more music.
As a matter of fact, as of yesterday, songs from The Beatles catalog have taken over more than 25% of the top 200 download spots on iTunes. If that’s not proof that Tuesday’s announcement was major, I don’t know what is. Of course this level of popularity will not last, but it is nice to see that a band that has been broken up for forty years can generate a buzz greater than any current band.
For my library, which contains the whole stereo catalog of The Beatles, Apple’s new Ping social tool can be a lot more useful. Same thing goes for the Genius feature in iTunes.
And I’m not even going to get started on the people who said things like “The Beatles are awful.” I used to be one of those people, and, after listening to the entire catalog chronologically, I regret most of the negative things I said…