The Beatles: Remastered, but stuck on the CD

Ronny Kerr · September 9, 2009 · Short URL:

One of the greatest rock bands finally gets remastered, but you still can’t download them

The Beatles Stereo Box SetToday, Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music released the entire original Beatles catalog, completely digitally remastered—for the first time ever—in both stereo and mono. Coinciding with the worldwide release of The Beatles: Rock Band video game (for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii), Beatlemania is officially back in full effect.

Available at $220 for the Stereo Box Set or $270 for the Mono Box Set, the Beatles music got the full 21st century technology treatment that this band more than any deserves: transfer from the analog master tapes to a Pro Tools workstation, lengthy discussions over how to approach each track individually, and side-by-side comparisons with the original mixes.

What we have now on our hands, as many reviewers are already raving about, is the best-sounding Beatles yet.

Unfortunately, there’s one thing to lament about in all this revived Beatlemania: EMI’s music distribution model is still stuck in the 20th century.

While customers can obviously purchase the box sets online, it is still impossible to legally purchase a download of a Beatles album. Desperate Internet rumors swirled over the past few days that Apple (the computer company) would announce the availability of Beatles albums on the iTunes Music Store.

But EMI quickly shot those rumors down.

“Conversations between Apple and EMI are ongoing and we look forward to the day when we can make the music available digitally. But it’s not tomorrow,” Ernesto Schmitt, EMI’s global catalog president told the Financial Times.
Beatles for Sale
In spite of urgings from half the Beatles (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr), Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison to make the Beatles’ music available on the iTunes Music Store (and, presumably, other online music retail outlets), EMI has remained obstinate. According to McCartney, EMI’s principle concern is piracy.

Ironically, a simple Google search reveals that both the stereo and mono sets have already been circulating the Web since at least Sunday. Even if we take into account that both box sets have probably been downloaded hundreds, if not thousands of times already, there’s one important fact that EMI is overlooking (and they provided this one themselves): 50,000 of those $270 mono sets have already sold out.

Clearly, someone is still willing to pay for music.

By refusing to release the Beatles material to online retailers, EMI is not preventing piracy. As shown above, both sets have probably already leaked many times over and been downloaded countless times. All EMI is preventing is wider distribution of their product and, in turn, a high potential for extra revenue.

Even if the release of these box sets does cause a small bump in the yearly plummet of CD sales, that will be it: just a bump. Then the plummet will continue on its merry way.

If the major record labels, EMI included, wish to save the starving music industry, they need to shift the focus away from material products. They need to rethink music for the digital age.

Until that day comes, you can be sure the Beatles’ guitars still gently weep.

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