U2 and Apple have continued their collaboration in a much missed announcement at the launch of the iphone 6 and iWatch last week by giving away U2’s new album for free.
U2 have been promised over $100m worth of marketing by Apple in return. However, this promotes Apple more than U2.
Why? Because the angle is that you have to have the iPhone and iTunes to enjoy the new U2 music for free. That’s not promoting U2; it’s promoting the platform that you can listen to U2 on. For free.
That’s not valuing music. That’s giving away something artists claim has a value—for nothing. So far 33 million people have apparently listened to the album/downloaded it but apparently many more have complained that a new album has appeared in their iTunes library and they don’t want it.
Such is the backlash (proof that you literally can’t give some things away) that Apple have had to explain how you can delete the album from your iTunes library. It seems that even if you give U2 away no one wants it.
Based on the fact that their last album sold only a million copies, you can understand why they
decided to go down this free route. However, as with the bands who gave away entire CDs of new albums with newspapers a few years ago (and were criticised for doing the same thing) it does at least value the platform it’s being giving away on, i.e. iTunes.
The initiative also does get new material out to people who would otherwise not have listened to it and may like it. Although based on reviews of the album no one will be converted by this new material from U2 so all they have done is save fans $10.
But the line has now been crossed. Once a giant band like U2 start giving away entire albums then all those arguments about banning Pirate Bay go out the window. What’s the difference between a free album on iTunes and a free album on Pirate Bay? Um, nothing—they’re both free.
In many ways iTunes has also shot itself in the foot. It has given away an album that it otherwise would have sold. It is still trying to get you to buy music while giving away a brand new album. All this does is send out a giant message that music has no value and is now free everywhere.
Of course, Apple doesn’t really care as iTunes is a loss leader that is there to sell iPhones and previously iPods. The content of iTunes is only there to sell the big profitable items, i.e. the iPhone, where they make 40-50 per cent profit (the highest in the industry). Adding free music just adds to the reason why you want iTunes and potentially an iPhone to play it on.
The music industry though really has shot itself in the foot with this stunt. Next time you hear a music executive complaining that no one is doing anything about teenagers downloading music for free, just say U2 and Apple to them and they have nowhere to go. It’s now a free-for-all. All music has no value.
Expect albums to be given away with breakfast cereals, Coca Cola, Mars Bars, bank accounts, credit cards, insurance policies, Starbucks coffee… The sky’s the limit now that myth of music having a value has been exploded by a leading rock group and the leading distributor of paid-for music. In a few years’ time, when all music is free, you can look back at this moment and say it all started with U2 and Apple.