The lawyer behind the worst deal in pop music

6 Responses

  1. Dave Cox says:

    Hi interesting article. Can you give me any info on the music track and where I can find this version of Its All To Much.

  2. marc says:

    what a story, never heard of it. thanks for this incredible story. loved it.

  3. Paul Murphy says:

    The figure of $100,000,000 lost to The Beatles continues to rear its head. But it’s not real. For a start, Mark Lewisohn, in quite strident terms (and anyone who knows how calmly and almost-ASMR-like Mark speaks will know that is very unusual), that “people talk about a hundred million [lost] … I’ve seen the figures … it’s just rubbish [the sum].” Secondly, the sales just weren’t there. In the first quarter, at the height of Beatlemania, the sum cleared was $1 million, as evidenced by Brian given a cheque for $9,700 [10%]. On that basis alone, to lose The Beatles ‘one hundred million’ would mean that Beatlemania would have had to continue for 100 quarters – i.e. 25 years.

    The oft-quoted $100 million appeared some 20 years ago, when the – active imaginationed, shall one say, Mark Spitz – started hurling around the supposedly cancelled Woolworths and Penny’s contracts, allegedly around $80 million worth. But that was based on the RETAIL sum – not the percentage-of-said sum. In essence, if Woolworths sold a Beatle wig for a dollar, that did not generate a dollar to The Beatles, NEMS, Seltaeb or anyone else. On standard retail mark-up, even Woolworths would only be getting 40% of that dollar. Woolworths and Penney’s would have been paying 10 cents in commision tops on the greatest deal ever.

    And many of the contracts were not ‘cancelled’ because of the legal case. What difference would it make to Penny’s if Byrne and Epstein were involved in a court battle? Their contract was made in good faith. The fact was, the merchandise bubble had burst, even if the musical one had not [indeed, never did]. How many Beatle wigs does one need? Does one buy a new Beatles watch every year? Of course not. There is a difference between a contract being cancelled, and an option not being taken up.

    Finally, which again Mr Spitz overlooked – by the time that the notices not to proceed were coming in, the Seltaeb deal had been renegotiated. You only have to look at the subline above: ‘The lost revenue would be about £1 billion today.’ Can you think of anyone – anyone, Taylor Swift, the Stones, Madonna, even Paul – all four together – who are going to garner one billion in merchandise in the next 14 months [the time-length of the original Seltaeb deal]? Of course not.

    ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ sold 5 million copies in the US, at 69 to 89 cents. Even the MUSIC wasn’t generating such sums for Capitol.

    It’s a fantasy figure, and it needs to be put to bed. Well, it will be, when Mark releases Volume 2 … breath not held.

    • Muninman says:

      Great reply, Paul. You beat me too it, and in far greater detail.
      I think Philip Norman’s Shout performed an important role in this ‘story’. Shout (1982) was the first attempt to really tell the whole narrative of the Beatles. There’s no doubt Norman is a talented writer, but although I admire some aspects of his work, there is too much of the tabloid hack about him. He likes to add his opinions, as if they hold greater weight than other commentators (notably his dismissal of George Harrison), and he also likes to inject a certainly amount of mystery – conspiracy even. The Seltaeb debacle was central to his account, not just in presenting Nicky Byrne as some kind of villain, but also creating suspicion around the deaths of Epstein and Jacobs which he strongly hinted were possibly murders. I think he may have backed away from some of these claims in later years.
      Like you I hope ML eventually presents the fruits of his knowledge and research in another volume…

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