EMI and Apple have this week shared their very impressive sales figures for the Beatles back catalogue – finally available on iTunes after years of legal wrangling. The rundown is basically that album sales for the first week were 450,000 while single sales number 2 million. Once you consider the cost of purchasing all these tracks (around $10 million as a quick estimate) then it starts to become clear why there was so much at stake in the first place, and why both parties remained at the discussion table for long enough to sort something out. One expects that iTunes revenue from Beatles singles and albums will eventually rise into the tens of millions, even if sales taper off rather sharply (as is the norm for digital releases). So, all this must make folks at EMI and Apple rather content – but what interests me is the role that the blogosphere and media have played in these events.
After all, everyone remembers the annual rumours, which have been common over the years, that Apple would make such an announcement, and then the inevitable climbdown as it never materialised. Then, finally in 2010, we all recall the slight sense of underwhelming disappointment when Apple scheduled a mysterious announcement last month and then revealed not an exciting new product, but simply that the Beatles would be coming to iTunes. Not to say that this was insignificant, but simply that after years of discussing the Beatles already, and more recently the iPad, maybe journalists and bloggers were keen for something a little more juicy.
Nonetheless however, everyone went and wrote about it anyway, from the BBC to the smallest blogs out there – we all covered it to some degree. However, the more I think back on it now, the more I recall that much of this reporting and coverage had little actual content apart from simply announcing to readers that iTunes would soon feature the Beatles – not unlike a the function of a normal advert. And look what happened – sales figures for Beatles tracks have been huge for the first week, aided by a few Apple television adverts and an absolute mass of blanket coverage in every media outlet and platform from blogosphere to major news organisations.
Now, all this is not meant to sound like some veiled criticism of Apple – they are one of the biggest tech companies on the planet, and it’s perfectly normal for writers and reporters of all kinds to cover their activities. However, where a problem perhaps might emerge is where the level and tone of coverage becomes slightly disproportionate to the actual developments in question. It is here that articles and blog posts run the risk of turning into ‘adver-torials’, or simply fanboy enthusiasm which does the job of Apple’s marketing department for them.
Yes, the Beatles were a hugely influential band and a pop culture phenomenon, but their addition to iTunes is not any more significant than when, in the early days, different major labels came on board – and as a result saw huge boosts in the sales of their back catalogues. As far as I remember, this wasn’t reported with the same enthusiasm as the Beatles addition.
I suppose the point really is, well done to Apple – they have once again used their exceptional status in the mainstream and specialist media to ensure another immensely successful venture. At the same time, I would add – perhaps not everything Apple does is requiring of a flood of coverage, even if they do announce it in a special event: they’re doing quite well enough on their own without us also becoming unofficial full-time word of mouth advertisers. For instance, I sincerely hope that if AC/DC or Jay-Z (to name but a couple more high-profile iTunes abstainers) also decide to one day come to iTunes, we’ll have a slightly more appropriate level of coverage. Let’s wait and see…