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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 09:35 GMT
Will the Beatles go digital at last?
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The Beatles
The Beatles had 16 number one singles in the UK
If you download music, then money really can't buy you Love - the latest album by the Beatles.

In fact, none of the Fab Four's music is available online in its original form.

You can download cover versions by Joe Cocker, En Vogue and something called the Beatles String Tribute Ensemble, but nothing by the band themselves.

The only legally available recording of a genuine Beatle singing a genuine Beatles song is of Paul McCartney performing Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with U2 at Live 8.

So why have the iconic band been so slow to embrace the MP3 age?

They were sceptical about how much mass market appeal there was for downloading
Mark Mulligan, digital music analyst
It is partly because of the long-running trademark dispute between the Beatles' record company, Apple Corps, and iPod manufacturer Apple Inc.

Their court battles ensured that fans looking for the Beatles on the iTunes music store faced a Hard Day's Night.

But it did not explain the absence of the group's music on other download sites, such as Napster or Rhapsody.

The real reason for the rockers' reticence, says Mark Mulligan, a digital music analyst at Jupiter Research, is caution.


Beatles album
The Beatles took Apple to court over their name and logo
"The Beatles are principally an album band, and for album sales the online market is still a relatively niche opportunity," he explains.

"They were sceptical about how much mass market appeal there was for downloading."

The Beatles have held back on new music technology in the past - making fans wait until 1986 before they released their albums on CD - but they are now the last major act to abstain from the digital market.

Some analysts believe the band's representatives have been trying to negotiate a better deal - wary of artists who complain that online sales rob them of profits.

Other artists claim that shops like iTunes wrecks the artistic integrity of an album by allowing songs to be purchased for 79 pence apiece.

The Beatles
These are some of the most famous pop records ever made - they've sold in their millions already
James Masterton, Chart analyst

Indeed, Mulligan argues it is more important for online stores to secure the Beatles catalogue than it is for the band to move online.

"Steve Jobs can't say that his iTunes store offers everything you want, because it doesn't," he says.

"It's an anomaly that needs to be closed."

Closure appeared to become more likely this week when Apple computers and the Beatles announced a truce.

Under the deal, Apple Inc takes full control of the Apple brand and will license certain trademarks back to the Beatles' Apple Corps for continued use.

Many analysts believe it is now a certainty that Lady Madonna, Eleanor Rigby and Mr Kite will set up home on the internet.

"It goes from impossible to a lock that it's going to happen - it's a function of time at this point," says Gene Munster, an analyst with investment bank Piper Jaffray & Co.

Steve Jobs launches the iPhone
Steve jobs teased fans with a Beatles song at the iPhone launch
In the UK, this could have a rather strange effect on the singles chart - which recently began accepting any downloaded track into the Top 40.

HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo says a top 10 made up entirely of Beatles' tracks "would be almost guaranteed" as soon as the songs go on sale.

Bookmaker William Hill is offering odds of 10/1 on an all-Beatles top 10 before he end of the year, with Hey Jude favourite to be the band's first digital number one.

But chart analyst James Masterton, who writes for Yahoo! Music, called such predictions "wishful thinking".

He points out that the last time the Beatles singles were reissued in the UK, in 1976, only Yesterday broke the top 10.

"You've got to consider that these are some of the most famous pop records ever made," he said. "They've sold in their millions already."

"The chances are that if people own an iPod and they want to listen to a Beatles song they've already gone out and bought it."

Those who are holding out for the digital versions, however, may still have a wait on their hands, as both Apple and the Beatles have refused to comment on their plans since Monday's announcement.

Deal ends Beatles' Apple battle
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At the core of the Apple dispute
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Beatles lose Apple court battle
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08 May 06 |  Entertainment
iTunes giant defends apple logo
05 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
iPhone court battle put on hold
02 Feb 07 |  Technology

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