There's nothing you can sing that can't be sung on the web. But the complete recordings of the Beatles will -- once again -- be excluded from Apple's press conference Wednesday -- and, hence, from iTunes.
Predicting the behavior of Apple and its mercurial leader Steve Jobs can be hazardous to your health, but a source with direct knowledge of the situation, as reported today by AllThingsD's Peter Kafka, confirms that Apple's iTunes store will not offer the new digitally remastered Beatles catalog, which gets a makeover and box-set release from EMI the same day.
Although the Beatles' homegrown label Apple Corps buried the hatchet long ago with the computer giant that bears a similar name, the Beatles remain a conspicuous absence from iTunes. And for several years, no Apple event has occurred without a swirl of of Beatlemania (much to the frustration of reporters covering the story). Wednesday also marks the release of The Beatles: Rock Band, a video game allowing players to emulate the Fab Four, which marketer Viacom (VIA) hopes will resonate with players who may not even have been born when the Beatles were active.
But Beatles fans have salivated over the prospect of a digitally remastered audio catalog for years. Apple Corps, which controls the rights to the catalog on behalf of the surviving Beatles and the estates of the others, has been negotiating for years on digital distribution with Apple and EMI.
But with the imminent release of the remastered catalog, some tracks have, predictably, hit filesharing networks. The remasters were leaked over the weekend and quickly found their way to public bit-torrent networks, Wired's Elliot Van Buskirk reported.
How much will the traffic in illicit copies of the remasters affect CD sales (and, eventually, iTunes sales)? It's difficult to quantify traffic on, or revenue lost to, illegal filesharing networks, but it's fair to assume that some people will choose to both upload and download the material instead of buying the remasters through legitimate channels. Last year, a blogger who posted unreleased tracks from Chinese Democracy, the album from Guns 'n' Roses released last Christmas, found himself busted by the feds, tried, and sentenced to a year's probation, two months' home confinement, and government monitoring of his computer activity.
Many people will buy the physical discs on Wednesday, because they want to have the entire remastered Beatles catalog in the highest quality. The generation that grew up with the Beatles -- those now in their 50s and 60s -- may not be the most well-versed in online fileswapping, but they've got plenty of disposable income to take a nostalgia trip by buying compact discs. And the quality of tracks on filesharing networks can vary wildly; many will be willing to pony up the cash to have the genuine article.
Steve Jobs and Apple are masters at whipping up publicity for their special events. No doubt Apple will announce some interesting innovations on Wednesday. But Beatles fans still have a long and winding road ahead.
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