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Beatles, Radiohead among last online holdouts, but not forever, say analysts

AP , DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Bob Seger turned the page, and Metallica finally found justice for online fans. Now, only a few remaining big-name musical acts refuse to make their songs available on Apple Computer's popular iTunes Music Store.

Analysts say the online hold-outs -- including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Garth Brooks, Radiohead and Kid Rock -- probably can't avoid iTunes forever as fans flock to the Internet to buy music.

But the artists argue online distribution leaves them with too small a profit. And, they say, iTunes wrecks the artistic integrity of an album by allowing songs to be purchased by the track for US$0.99. Some bands, such as AC/DC have released albums on other, more flexible sites, but not iTunes.

"We've always thought certain artists put out albums that aren't meant to be compilations with 50 other artists," said Ed "Punch" Andrews, manager for both Seger and Kid Rock. "We're hoping at some point albums become important again like they were in the past 30 years."

There are other reasons bands avoid cyberspace. In some cases, various parties that own or control older music catalogs can't agree to a distribution contract. Others have avoided the Internet altogether out of piracy concerns. (Most online stories, however, use rights-management technology to protect against unauthorized distribution.)

Since record companies have realized the popularity of iTunes and other sites, many reworked contracts to give artists less money per download. Andrews said while record companies once offered artists about US$0.30 for each song sold, now musicians are earning less than a dime.

Contractual issues, the fight to save full-length albums and worries about piracy have kept both Seger and Kid Rock from distributing their works online, Andrews said. Seger, however, did allow online stores to sell his new single Wait For Me, from his upcoming release next month -- his first studio album in 11 years.

Seger, the legendary rocker who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, is considering releasing his classic 1976 album Night Moves, but wants to make it so it only can be downloaded as an album, Andrews said.

"It's amazing how many people go there," Andrews said of iTunes. "We're hoping albums work there."

Andrews said he wasn't sure if Apple eventually would allow the album to be kept intact.

An Apple spokesman declined comment.

But bands can no longer risk losing out on sales and marketing generated from the digital formats, especially on iTunes, said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media, a market research firm.

With CD sales continuing to drop, it's only a matter of time until the last holdouts give up, he said.

"Any artist that doesn't is going to be left at the station," Leigh said. "It's not a secret that growth in the CD market is as dead as General Custer."

The popularity of iPods already has made Apple's iTunes the dominant way of legally downloading music. The three-year-old store has sold more than a billion songs.

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