Apple’s iTunes has billions of songs from Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ but one artist who is the arguably the greatest band of all-time, the Beatles are not present. The Beatles aren’t on the dozens of iTunes competitors either. Why or why not is the subject of “Digitisation and its Discontents. (The Economist)

As it turns out, in a sea of digital there are a few analog standouts:

  • Harry Potter books are not e-reader compliant.
  • Episodes from the hit Discovery TV show, ‘Deadliest Catch’ are not available for viewing on the web
  • The Beatles music is not available for download

Why not digitize?

Unlike the rush from vinyl LPs to CDs or hardcover to paperback, the digitalization of the music and book businesses cuts out the distribution and the replication costs while reducing the smallest unit of sale from $12.99 to 99¢. When faced with a choice of buying a favorite song for 99¢ or the CD containing the favorite song, a lyrics page, custom artwork, a cool plastic jewel box and ten others lessor tunes for $12.99, the consumer almost always chooses the one song.

Now these three example laggard franchises are definitely not the norm. They are doing quite well without ‘digitization’. [[1 – The Beatles Album]], released in 2000 of the #1 hits in US and UK on the 30th anniversary of the band’s breakup, is the best-selling album so far this century, a ringing endorsement to the age-old cliche, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It sold 31 million copies so far. Not bad for a collection of 30-year old tunes!

Also, being the most famous examples of non-digiterati means that any claim to offer these tunes, shows or books for download immediately invite copyright police (FBI in the USA) scrutiny.

The British (in 1709) and the US Constitution provides protection for intellectual property including artist control of their creative works. If these franchises want their value to endure in the coming decades, they will continue to repackage their works in new formats, new styles and new bundles as their financial goals change or stay the same. It is possible they may be available online one day, but it may take a while.

For the rest of the creative industries, being digital has greatly reduced the cost and financial risks. The record companies have imploded, becoming mere shells of their former glory. The superbands are touring around the world to promote their franchises while charging exorbitant fees (hundreds of dollars for 1 show).

At one time, only an estimated 5% of CDs in print were profitable. The online digital transition has greatly reduced the cost to deliver a tune to the consumer, which greatly lowered the threshold of who is a performer and who is not, of who is hot and who is not. It also eliminated the chokehold that record companies had on what is a franchise and what is not.

The entertainment industry is in transition, and how it all shakes out will be very interesting to watch and participate in. I liken this to the way Gutenburg changed society with the invention of the printing press – both democratized the distribution of ideas and creative works. That has to be a good thing, right?

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