Let it be downloaded: Beatles iPod could signal end of the CD

Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

The Beatles didn't invent the LP. The 33 1/3 Long Player format was firmly established by the time "Meet the Beatles" and "Introducing the Beatles" were competing for American teenage dollars in January 1964.

But before, the LP album was pretty much an adult extravagance, used primarily in the service of crooners like Sinatra (who introduced the idea of a collection of songs with the same theme - swinging, dancing, crying in your cocktail). Or for Broadway soundtracks and especially jazz and long-form classical pieces.

Kids far preferred the far cheaper 45 rpm singles, and when pop and R&B albums did appear, they were usually just a collection of the last few hit singles by any artist, all collected on one disc.

But with the Beatles, the album became the preferred format - far more people bought Cream and Traffic albums than their singles.

Now it appears the same group that created the mass album market will be the one that finally facilitates its demise.

The album-length CD is already in the final stage of denial, being slowly strangled by iPods and downloads.

But in a few months, the CD is likely to go the way of vinyl, a format preferred only by those who like the distinct look and sound of the things.

If persistent rumors are true, the 13-album core catalog of the Beatles (not counting greatest hits sets and anthologies) has finally been remastered, at least a couple of them in 5.1 Surround, like the recent "Love" compilation mash-up.

But while they will at some point be issued on CDs, they may be initially available not just as iTunes downloads, but pre-loaded on specially designed iTunes players.

For somewhere between $15 and $20, you will be able to buy a "Revolver" or "Sgt. Pepper" iPod, with some version of the original cover art as its casing.

This has been made possible by the end of the long-standing copyright dispute between Apple Inc. (the company dropped the Computer part of its name ) and the Beatles' Apple Corps, and it was originally to have been announced in a splashy Super Bowl ad.

That was apparently complicated by the fact that the surviving Beatles and the proxies have now decided that after the initial introduction of the most wanted music on the Internet, they want to make it available via competing services as well. The pre-loaded iPods will be Apple exclusives.

This is not an altogether new idea. Apple once offered an iPod loaded with the entire U2 catalog, every song officially released by the group, and iTunes also offers a deal in which almost all the songs released by Bob Dylan can be bought together as a bundle for a deeply discounted price.

But as the technology and chips become ever tinier (as with the new iPod Shuffle) and the shell becomes less expensive to manufacture, the idea of pre-loads in some format becomes inevitable. And who will the target audience be?

Not young'uns who can find and download anything they want, anytime.

It will be older users who don't want to be troubled with download technology and would rather let someone else do it for them.

Remeet the Beatles, then on to Billy Joel.

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