The fact that a catalog almost as old as multi-track recording finally being available for digital download is the biggest news we have to offer is just more undeniable proof that the music industry is stuck in the past, and boring away its customers.
The Beatles, arguably the most influential rock band of the 20th century, have been long-time holdouts of participating in the digital realm (well, their rights holders have). A battle over the name "Apple" in 1978 with Apple Records (holder of the catalog) did not put the two on a sure footing for future business, that's for sure. But the grudge seems to be over, or better put, EMI seems to be strapped for cash. Today Apple and Steve Jobs announced the Beatle's catalog, each of the Beatles' 13 remastered studio albums, are now available for purchase on the iTunes store (visit their new page in the store here
). But you probably already have all of it on your computer if you're at least marginally tech-savvy and a fan.
Is this important, or in a sense, depressing? Our top selling artists both in concert tickets and records still tend to be pre-download era giants like U2 and The Rolling Stones, it has been observed and asked again and again; who will replace them when they fizzle? And why did a giant like The Beatles wait years and years for this, allowing people to flood the underbelly of music piracy with an ample stock of their material before making it officially, legally available through a digital distributor? The move seems analogous to the industry's delayed acceptance of the internet, but even its "implications" are overwrought. It's almost boring.
The Beatles will sell plenty of digital which will be nice for sales stats, but it's way too late to call it a "victory" for anyone but Apple, who just want to absorb everything and slap a forced simplicity on all of it. The industry is not simple. Its stagnant attitude towards change and innovation has left the new generation of people working in music with a severely devalued product. This remains our biggest problem. Raise your hand if you've downloaded a Beatle's track off the internet and justified it with a hearty "well, it's not available for real yet" or "I own this on vinyl already". The lines are blurry, do you really "own" any copy of the song on the internet or just that record? The old ways are rooted in old distribution, one "copy", a record or CD, is yours. It should be the same way with the MP3, but it's fluidity in the sharing realm has made it seem more like an idea than a product. Just because it can't be touched or seen, it has less intrinsic value in our minds.
What is the value of something that is too universally available? Economics tells us it's inherently less than the value of something scarce. For example, the idea of a reissue is confusing to a younger generation, one when the digital record store has every record you could possibly dream of even if it's technically "out of print". Scarcity made reissues valuable. And scarcity is no longer a component of even a moderately popular release. But the industry clings to the reissue, just like they continue to cling to a lot of things that plain don't work anymore or make sense. Tradition is about values and sharing, but when we're all at each other's throats for money, tradition seems more like foolishly dwelling in the past.
Another problem: too many people in the music business expect free where it doesn't apply, and that trickles down into consumers expecting free product over paid downloads, tickets and CDs. You might think your marketing company gains the edge when you slice a piece of recorded audio or video off the top of the web, but each snatch results in perpetuating a machine of low expectations. If the precedent becomes free, music won't be worth anything again until it becomes scarce or even unavailable... a terrible future ultimatum to even imagine for artists and fans who live in a world of 'everything at our fingertips, all the time'.
But what can we do to re-engage with a generation of fans who think the internet is the only future, and music should be free? The Beatles catalog certainly doesn't hold the answer to that one, and neither does Apple (at least not yet). We need someone to set an example that music still has value in the minds of the industry, and hopefully, the new fans will follow. -joe puglisi