The remaining members of the Beatles and their label EMI have finally given their blessing for the band’s vast catalogue to be downloaded via iTunes, showing that the long-standing trademark feud between Apple, the Beatles’ label, and Apple, the computer company it predates, is very much in the past.
The pair had been at it since 1978, but the issue was resolved in the courts in 2006, when the courts came down in favour of Apple computers. And that has paved the way for the historic partnership.
That's not the only thing that's moved slowly. Rather than ‘rush’ into the digital revolution they’ve preferred to remain conspicuously aloof, like a bloke standing on a cornflake muttering about being a walrus. Instead they’ve been busy remastering and repackaging their catalogue endlessly to exploit it via more traditional routes.
Had the digital change of heart come a few years ago, we would all be heralding it as confirmation of the growing power of the internet as a genuine player on the music scene. This is, after all, the band that boasted they were bigger than Jesus. As it is, it feels like a band jumping on a ship that’s already sailed. And they’re no longer able to square up to Steve Jobs.
It’s hard to imagine who’s going to be rushing online to get Beatles downloads. Yes the band has sold over 30m records in the past 10 years, but the growth of digital sales has stalled, and you can’t help wondering, at £10.99 an album, or 99p a track, how much demand is really out there? Given the time they’ve had to wait, even the most tech-shaky of Beatles fans will have had their stuff on their iPods by other means years ago.
Still, the Beatles are the Beatles, and EMI will be happy. The remastered material made the Beatles their biggest seller last year, so seeing their old stuff get a digitally-powered run up the charts won’t do the pocket any harm.
There’s a fine circularity to all this. Guy Hands paid over the odds for EMI in 2007, at a time when the industry was in a spin about the digital revolution. Soon all his stars began jumping off the bus, having realised that Hands was taking them on a magical mystery tour. Now a sixties relic may prove the label’s biggest draw, on the very platform that was supposed to have killed it in the first place.