Label in process of remastering the catalog.

At long last Beatlemania is getting ready to go digital. Apple Corps. managing director Neil Aspinall testified in the company’s trademark court fight with Apple Computer that the label is remastering the Beatles catalog with an eye toward digital distribution.

According to a published statement submitted to the High Court in London in April Aspinall said, "I think it would be wrong to offer downloads of the old masters when I am making new masters. It would be better to wait and try to do them both simultaneously so that you then get the publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc." A source close to the company confirms the testimony.

Just when the Beatles catalog will eventually show up online remains unclear.
The Apple Corps vs. Apple Computer case continues to play out in a British court, and it’s hard to imagine the Beatles showing up online before the issue is settled.

Apple Corps could ink a deal with one or more other digital music companies. The Rolling Stones, for example, in 2003 debuted their catalog with Real Networks’ Rhapsody subscription service, not Apple Computer’s iTunes Music Store. Real had a two week exclusive for part of the catalog. There would be no shortage of retailers likely willing to cut a big check for an exclusive arrangement with the Beatles. But going to market without Apple would mean bypassing the leading retailer of digital music by far and the largest source of customers for the catalog. Apple claims sales of over 1 billion songs worldwide since its bow three years ago.

Meanwhile, Beatles producer George Martin is currently working on a remastering some of the band’s unreleased catalog for Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas that will also yield a “new” album. Martin has been spearheading the project for the last two years.

An announcement regarding the Cirque du Soleil project is expected soon. The show, which is being produced in conjunction with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, is set to debut this summer at the Mirage.

The availability of the Beatles catalog online would be of huge symbolic value to the maturity and validity of the digital music business. For years critics of digital distribution have pointed to the absence of the Beatles as a huge shortcoming of paying to download music via computers and mobile phones.

But the market has been evolving steadily. And many of the biggest holdhouts on digital music are finally making their catalogs available for sale. Dave Matthews Band signed on with iTunes in April. The Red Hot Chili Peppers released their music to Apple in March. Madonna licensed her catalog last fall.
Over 350 million tracks and 16 million album bundles were sold digitally in the U.S. in 2005, Nielsen SoundScan reports. Global sales tripled last year to $1.1 billion, according to IFPI.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

Print