U2's Latest Charity: You

u2 300from  CNET / Joan E. Solsman & Share Tibken: "Apple's iTunes scores U2's new album. You score it free. Every iTunes customer -- more than 500 million people, but who's counting? -- get the band's new album free in what CEO Cook calls the largest record release in music history." Full CNET article here. U2 "Songs Of Innocence" iTunes | Artist Site

This is too big of a story to ignore -- U2 and iTunes are literally giving the entire new U2 album away free to anyone with an iTunes account. Not just a single, no email list signup required, no messy zip file downloading from a band site, no recursive bandcamp authorization emails. I completely see the benefit from U2's side - they can launch a massive tour later this year for their fans that didn't have to think twice about obtaining the new album. Also, they're getting press in publications like Forbes, CNET & WSJ that normally wouldn't cover a new U2 release. For iTunes, I guess its just a huge loss leader to get people to the store. Or maybe U2 even paid out some version of the profit that Apple would otherwise collect on such a huge release. Maybe Apple thinks this will bring in those remaining few holdouts that don't yet have an iTunes account, or maybe they just did it so Amazon wouldn't do it. Hmm that last one seems the most likely!

Here's a Wall Street Journal article that reveals some more of the machinations behind this free release. U2, Apple and the Deal Behind Getting ‘Songs of Innocence’ Free of Charge They mention U2's major label, Universal, but not the publisher, I'm curious what deal was struck there to pay the publisher for the mechanical licenses. Is this a new model for album releases? Only a few bands have the market power to pull this off, and persuade their major label, their publisher and an online distributor to go along with it. Regardless of how much money/benefit all parties made off of the deal (per the WSJ article), I'm impressed that these entities so entrenched in the standard music business model were brave enough to try it. I do think this model can work for baby bands, especially those that are unsigned and retain the rights to their publishing, and many smaller bands do give their music away free on their sites or bandcamp, hoping that translates to fans that will buy tickets and merch when they come to town.

A few last thoughts/notes:

  • I downloaded the album with surprisingly little hassle--from the front page of the iTunes store, click on the link that says 'Purchased' under the QUICK LINKS menu on the far right side. Then you'll see the album with a little cloud symbol in its top right corner. When you click on that the album will download into your iTunes library. I'm listening to it right now and it's good --better than their last few by a long shot.
  • The album liner notes have a nice dedication to Paul McGuinness, their long, longtime manager who they parted ways with last year. That's sweet.
  • Anybody else find it ironic that the liner notes are formatted and typed as though they were done on an old-fashioned typewriter font? That's so dissonant with the most high-tech album release of all time that I've got to think its on purpose.
  • Since U2 engineered such an impressive feat, can the next thing on their to-do list be to make Tim Cook fix iTunes so that album digital booklets can be viewed within the app? It's so awkward to look at it in a separate Acrobat window. Should be child's play to Apple after pulling this release off.