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Originally published May 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 12, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Analysts don't see Beatles as big cash cow for iTunes

Despite signs that Apple may land a historic deal with The Beatles to make the band's entire catalog of music available on its iTunes store...

MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO — Despite signs that Apple may land a historic deal with The Beatles to make the band's entire catalog of music available on its iTunes store, analysts say such a move would be a "nonevent" in terms of the company's profits.

Rumors of such a deal have circulated for years. Speculation grew to a feverish pitch Friday when ex-Beatle Paul McCartney told Billboard magazine that an agreement with iTunes is "virtually settled."

Currently, none of the digital-music merchants has rights to sell Beatles tunes online.

iTunes is by far the largest player in the sector, but Apple was hampered by a long-running trademark dispute with the band's music-publishing arm, Apple Corps.

The two sides reached a settlement in February, which many expected to pave the way for an eventual deal to sell Beatles songs.

Still, this won't do much to boost profits at Apple and other online sellers, analysts said during interviews Friday.

At 99 cents a song, it is believed Apple simply breaks even on song sales.

Though the company does not disclose its actual profitability on those sales, Chief Executive Steve Jobs has said there is little in the way of profits in sales of music.

He said he started iTunes to help boost sales of the company's popular iPod.

"Having the Beatles on iTunes is fabulous, but it's a nonevent," according to W.R. Hambrecht analyst Matthew Kather, who has a "buy" rating on Apple.

"It's not a needle mover," agreed Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research, who also has a "buy rating."

Still, the development is sure to be a boon for music aficionados and for Apple Corps, the company that manages The Beatles' commercial interests, Wu said.

Meanwhile, Apple Corps and EMI Group, which holds the rights to the band's recordings, said in April they had settled a long-standing dispute over royalties, paving the way for the band to release its back catalog through digital-music retail platforms.

A recent agreement between Apple and EMI to make EMI's artists available over iTunes without copyright-protection software, albeit at a higher price point, also has raised expectations a deal will soon be reached to allow The Beatles' material to be sold digitally.

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