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2.05.2007 

Apple, Apple, Beatles, and Pirates

Apple records and the company formerly known as Apple Computer reached some sort of deal, finally. And as just about everyone has noted, perhaps this will finally open up The Beatles catalog to online sales, starting with availability on the iTunes Store.

We know this is coming, largely because of the Macworld keynote. As Rob Griffiths pointed out:
Steve’s slides were loaded with Beatles references. Album covers, Beatles songs playing, etc. They were everywhere. Too plentiful to miss. And yet, no announcement was made about the Beatles collection being available on the iTunes store—was there some sort of last-minute legal hold-up?


Well if there was some last-minute legal wrangling, hopefully it's over now. (In fact, I wouldn't be totally surprised to see The Beatles for sale as early as tomorrow, included with this Tuesday's new batch of iTunes Store releases.) [UPDATE: I was wrong!]

And just how popular will that batch of songs be? Coincidentally, I received a release from NPD today via Lee Graham with year-end analysis of the most popular artists in various formats.

Biggest selling CD of the year? Rascal Flatts. Rascal Who? I must be sleeping; never heard of them. But Ho-hum, that's CDs, right? Anyone still buying those is out of touch anyway.

So lets move along to digital downloads. Here's what NPD had to say about digital downloads:
In 2006, the most popular artists judged by the number of digital downloads
via paid digital music services, like iTunes, were as follows:

1. The Fray
2. Nickelback
3. George Carlin
4. Justin Timberlake
5. Rascal Flatts
6. Linkin Park
7. Johnny Cash
8. Creedence Clearwater Revival
9. Pink
10. The White Stripes

Fascinating. And all the moreso because The Fray failed to make the list of top ten CDs, as did Carlin, JT, Linkin Park, CCR, Pink, and The White Stripes. I'd attribute the disparity to youth, were it not for Carlin and CCR. But here's the really good part:
The most popular artists, judged by the number of song tracks downloaded
via peer-to-peer (P2P) services by U.S. consumers in 2006 were as follows:

1. Eminem
2. Ludacris
3. Nickelback
4. 2Pac
5. The Beatles
6. Justin Timberlake
7. 50 Cent
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. Beyonce
10. Rascal Flatts


What's interesting about that is it demonstrates that one doesn't need a new release to enjoy high demand. The classics will do quite nicely, thank you, as evidenced by the presence of both The Beatles and 2Pac on the top-downloaded list--and of course the ever-present Beatles bin at any and every music store in the world.

Yet The Beatles don't appear on the top ten list of CDs sold. And they aren't even in the top 1000 of online sales (naturally, since they have not licensed their music for sale online). It's going to be very interesting to see if, once they make a belated entrance into the market, The Beatles can transition from number five on the free downloads list to a high spot on the paid downloads list.

My guess is that, when released, Beatles albums are all going to enjoy their biggest sales since their initial release on CD format. Yet it seems very improbable that they could do as well in terms of sales on the year as they do with illegal downloads.

But who knows, maybe I'm wrong. If things work out with iTunes, maybe The Beatles could just be the next Rascal Flatts.

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