The Apple/Beats deal: coming to a headline near you soon — maybe

beats audio and apple 300wToday brings the latest update of a story that won’t die … and won’t start, for that matter. Claire Atkinson of the New York Post cites unnamed sources who claim that Apple‘s rumor-factory acquisition of Beats Electronics will be finalized and announced this week. This is the third consecutive week of raised expectations.

The cost of acquisition is reportedly lower now, reduced from $3.2-billion to an even $3-billion.

The leaks started on May 9, when it was widely reported that Apple would pull the trigger on its biggest-ever acquisition, acquiring Beats Electronics for $3.2-billion. the sale would include subscription music service Beats Music, which launched in January.

The seepage of that news was substantiated in wild style by Beats co-founder and rap star Dr. Dre, who tweeted a video of his joyous self proclaiming that he would become the world’s first billionaire rapper. Apple is a notoriously secretive company, and Dre’s outburst was widely speculated to have displeased Cupertino execs and stalled negotiations.

Another leak could have troubled the calm waters of sober negotiation, when a Beats Music royalty statement was posted on the Internet. That document included a total-service subscriber count and some financial details. We can’t say what effect that indiscreet disclosure might have on merger talks, but it was eaten up ravenously by observers starved for information about the Beats Music business. (At the end of March, Beats had 111,000 paying monthly subscribers, according to the leaked statement.)

Today, the NY Post quotes a source saying that Apple had not started its due diligence of Beats when the royalty statement came out with a low subscriber count. If true, that claim indicates that the entire negotiating process was in an early stage — preliminary, really — when news of the prospective merger broke earlier this month. Due diligence of a major acquisition target with several components can take months.

As unabashed participants in responsible rumor-chasing, we have been twice-bitten by this one. If the diligence process is as rushed as today’s stealth information implies, completion this week is doubtful. On the other hand, if Apple is serious about vaulting into the subscription-music space, there is not a moment to lose in a fast-moving, hyper-competitive field.

Brad Hill