Beatles iTunes Reunion Near?

UK newspaper The Telegraph reported March 3 that Sir Paul McCartney has signed a $6 million deal to release the Beatles catalog to iTunes for downloading. While The Independent and the Daily Mail have also reported the same thing, there has been no confirmation from Apple, EMI, McCartney, surviving Beatle Ringo Starr, or the families of deceased members John Lennon or George Harrison.

Information Week has published that "some news outlets have reported that iTunes and representatives for the Beatles have denied the validity of the reports," without citing said reports.

Despite the UK papers' feeding frenzy, I have frank doubts about the veracity of The Telegraph's report for several reasons. First, there's the complete lack of corroborative detail. EMI, which still controls the recording catalog, has always insisted that no download service would have a monopoly on the Beatles downloads. Not so incidentally, while it would represent a huge payday for McCartney, it is unlikely that the negotiations would go solely through him—Sony/ATV Publishing and Michael Jackson share 50% of the publishing rights to the music and EMI still controls the motherlode. Finally, Sir Paul is in the final weeks of a divorce settlement, with the amount of alimony that he will be paying his ex-wife still to be determined—signing on the dotted line now rather than later would make him "the Fool on the Hill."

The Beatles' back catalog has long been considered the "killer app" of digital downloads, the tipping point at which the phenomenon will pass from fringe to mainstream status. Reasons for it not being available earlier have been complex, and have included both a trademark lawsuit between the Beatles' Apple record label and Apple Computers and a lawsuit between the band and EMI over accounting discrepancies. Both suits were settled last year, leading to speculation that 2008 would be the year the catalog hit the Internet.

Irony Department: Fascinating isn't it that the "wave of the future" is so reliant upon the recordings of a band that hasn't played together for 40 years for its tipping point? Ultimately it highlights that the current music business is more successful at selling the same recordings in different formats to the same customers than it has been at creating new customers or business models.

The Beatles will be available on the Internet, but saving the recording business is a task beyond fabulosity.