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Apple Finally Snares Beatles
Steve Jobs is nearing the end of his long and winding pursuit of the Beatles catalog.
Apple Inc. is preparing to disclose that its iTunes Store will soon start carrying music by the Beatles, according to people familiar with the situation, a move that would fill a glaring gap in the collection of the world's largest music retailer.
The deal resulted from talks that were taking place as recently as last week among executives of Apple, representatives of the Beatles and their record label, EMI Group Ltd., according to these people. These people cautioned that Apple could change plans at the last minute.
Spokesmen for Apple and EMI declined to comment.
Apple on Monday posted a notice on the home page of its iTunes Store that it would make "an exciting announcement" Tuesday morning.
Terms of the deal that brought the Beatles music to iTunes couldn't be learned, and it was unclear whether other online music services would gain access to the catalog too. However, Apple maintains a roughly 90% market share in the online music business.
EMI has been under financial strain following an ill-timed leveraged buyout by Terra Firma Capital Partners LP in 2007. If the iTunes tie-up generates significant cash advances or sales, it could delay breaches in the company's loan covenants. Terra Firma borrowed £3 billion ($4.9 billion) from Citigroup Inc. to finance the deal, but has fallen into breach of those covenants, forcing it to add millions more to its equity position last year.
Even as recorded-music sales have plummeted, the Beatles have remained one of the most reliable franchises in the business. In 2009, 39 years after breaking up, they sold the third-highest number of albums of any act in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, with 3.3 million copies sold.
The Beatles aren't the only big iTunes holdout. AC/DC, Bob Seger and Kid Rock all have withheld their music from the online store. Other longtime digital wallflowers such as Metallica and Led Zeppelin have relented in recent years.
The Beatles' deal with iTunes was delayed in part by ongoing trademark litigation, the most recent round of which was resolved in 2007.
The Fab Four's arrival in the digital age comes very late compared to most other major acts'. The group also was a latecomer to the CD era, waiting until 1987 to issue their main body of work on a medium that the industry had embraced in the early to mid part of the decade.
People who have done business with the group and its corporate entity, Apple Corps Ltd., describe a very slow-moving process in which the two surviving members, and the heirs of the other two, can take a long time to reach consensus.
The group started moving with a bit more alacrity following the 2007 death of Neil Aspinall, the long time Beatles confidant who ran Apple Corps for many years. Founded in 1968, Apple Corps controls certain rights related to the Beatles recordings, although the recordings themselves are owned by EMI. Mr. Aspinall was replaced as Apple Corps' CEO by Jeff Jones, a former executive of Sony Music's well-respected Legacy division, which handles back-catalog releases for Sony Corp.'s various record labels.