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The Beatles come to Apple iTunes

Apple made an extraordinary fuss about the arrival of Beatles music on its iTunes download store – even allowing the news to take over its home page for a day or two.

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Why? I can think of a few reasons. Because Steve Jobs was born in 1955 and this is the music of his teen years. Because it is the finale in a long battle between Apple Computer and Apple Corps Ltd. And because the Beatles are arguably the pinnacle of popular music, regularly topping lists like the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In fact, Beatles albums occupy four of the top ten slots.

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It follows that the Beatles coming to iTunes is a landmark moment for Apple (computer) and shows the extent to which it now dominates music delivery.

That said, some observers were bewildered. Beatles fans already have the music, and have ripped their CDs to music servers and iPods so that iTunes availability will make no difference to them; and people born from a decade or two later than Steve Jobs mostly do not revere the band in the same way.

Speaking personally, those four albums are not in my top ten all-time favourites, good though they are, and I am more likely to put on Lennon’s cathartic Plastic Ono Band album than Sergeant Pepper.

I also wonder how long iTunes can sustain its position. To my mind, the streaming model of Spotify, where you pay a subscription and can listen to anything you want, makes more sense than the download model of iTunes.

But you want to own the music? Well, you cannot; even a CD or LP only sells you a licence. An iTunes purchase is more ephemeral than a CD, because it is a personal licence with no resale value, and comes with no physical container that you can put on the shelf. It is also, in the case of the Beatles albums and many others,  more expensive to buy the iTunes download than the CD, so you are paying a premium for the convenience of near-instant digital delivery.

It follows that iTunes offers rather poor value in an absolute sense. It is best to think of it as a service; and Apple does a nice job of making music easy to find and enjoy.

Final note: even if you have no interest in buying, it is worth running up iTunes and playing the hitherto unavailable video Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964, which you can stream for free for an introductory period.

One thought on “The Beatles come to Apple iTunes”

  1. Having long been a user of Napster (the legit version!) and Spotify, I too am baffled at people’s enthusiasm for spending real money on iTunes when for the cost of an album a month they could plunder almost all the music in the world to their hearts’ content. To me, 79p for a track is far from negligible and I don’t want to have to ration myself, such as just taking a portion of an album based merely on 30 second previews of individual tracks (isn’t that how iTunes works?).

    But only the other day I was thinking about how I’ve stopped listening to the Beatles because I just don’t use the CD player any more. It occurred to me that if I, a huge admirer of the Beatles (I have the three Anthology double-CDs, for example), was no longer listening to them, it probably meant that they were finally fading from our national culture. Somehow, ripping the CDs of theirs that I owned seemed too tawdry a thing to do – and I may subconsciously have been influenced by the mystique of the ‘no-MP3 brand’. And, having discovered the freedom of subscription streaming, there was no way I was going to pay to listen to the albums I didn’t own. So, in a way, I was reconciled to leaving the Beatles behind as a fond memory and concentrating on discovering new (and ‘new old’) stuff. Interestingly, Spotify often promotes re-masterings of Kinks, Who, Cream, Hendrix albums and stuff like that, and I’ve been listening to those, plus I’ve discovered an incredible amount of fab music from the 60s that I never knew before (ever heard anything by Blossom Toes?) so for me the 60s is very much alive… but without the Beatles.

    And if I was thinking that, I was sure that there must be very few young people discovering the Beatles for the first time. And then came this iTunes announcement – but Spotify is still beneath The Beatles apparently. I can’t help but think that it’s a bit late, and that they’ve missed the boat.

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