November 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

Beatles Finally Embrace iTunes, Now That Nobody Cares

The Beatles’ music is finally available for purchase in Apple’s iTunes music store, after years of rumors and reports to that effect. At 10am ET on Tuesday, Apple announced that a distribution deal has finally been made between Apple Records (The Beatles) and Apple (the computer company) as first reported by the WSJ.

This represents a massive scoop for the paper, because the “Beatles on iTunes” story has almost come true so many times that this reporter swore off of writing anything about it until it is actually happening.

It is now possible to purchase Beatles songs within iTunes — songs for $1.29, albums for $12 to $20, or the whole box set for $149, as of Tuesday morning at 10am ET (updated). ITunes also now includes a full 29 Beatles movies, including documentaries, live shows, and those wacky feature-length movies featuring lots of witty banter and the Beatles trying to evade hordes of fans, much as they did by delaying this move so long. (We can’t list prices for those because Apple’s links aren’t working yet.)

A scan of the news coverage reveals no solid reason for why this is happening now, and not, say, five years ago. Some point to the death of longtime Apple Records’ head Neil Aspinall in ’07, which the WSJ says may have moved the process along. Others have speculated that the Beatles wanted to sell complete albums rather than individual songs.

But lost in the minutia of how this finally happened is how little it matters, in the grand scheme of things.

Most people who have wanted to listen to Beatles music in a pure digital format at some point in the last decade or so have already either ripped their CDs (of which remastered versions have already been released) or downloaded someone else’s rips from bit torrent, Limewire, and so on.

In addition, the action is moving from downloading to streaming, now that the Beatles have finally embraced the download. Americans’ music downloading (from stores and P2P) increased slightly in the last period measured by NPD Group, but their streaming of music is increasing much faster. In France, streaming is already more popular than downloading.

For over seven and a half years, the Beatles failed to sell music downloads on iTunes, so this putative announcement corrects a historical wrong. Why should people be denied the chance to purchase music just because it was recorded by the Beatles?

But another rumor swirling around iTunes could make this Beatles news more significant. Some are reporting that Apple plans to launch a music subscription service — possibly one that allows app developers to develop listening, playlisting, sharing and gaming apps for Apple’s devices that can stream music from iTunes’ entire streaming catalog, so long as the person using the app is a subscriber.

If that’s the case, hopefully Beatles music will be included this time, because their music is too important to be left behind again.

(This story was updated after the Beatles’ songs went live.)