On September 10, not only did Apple present the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus, they offered in their minds what probably seemed like a slam dunk. They gave every Apple iTunes subscriber the new U2 Songs of Innocence CD for free. Not only was it free, Apple automatically downloaded it to every iTunes account, whether subscribers wanted it or not.
That’s 500 million copies of the CD sent out for a mere $100 million by Apple. With a push of a button (or signing of a check), U2’s Songs of Innocence obliterated the current #1 selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, by 435 million copies. They were free to subscribers, so do they count? Simply put, they were bought and paid for by Apple. That counts in my book. What about the copies that are deleted? Doesn’t matter…they’re bought. What we do with it after we get it doesn’t get Apple a refund.
Congrats, on this “accomplishment”, U2. Enjoy it, because at the same time, you and Apple pissed off millions of people and you may have alienated yourselves from many musicians. Time Magazine’s came out with an article (read it here) about Apple and U2 working together on a new digital format that is focused on making sure bands get compensated for their art. However, with this stunt, many feel they have devalued music for all bands. It looks like they mean they should be compensated hugely for their music while they (further) ruin the industry for everyone else.
Sharon Osbourne, never one to be shy, went on a Twitter tirade criticizing their music and political agendas. You can read her actual Tweets here. Keith Nelson, guitarist for Buckcherry, also criticized the band (read here) for devaluing music by giving it away for free. By not selling an album that has good potential to make actual sales makes things harder for newer bands. Obviously, retailers weren't happy about it as it will cost them sales.
For Apple, they didn’t get out unscathed. According to this Vocativ article, the cost came out to $50 per album. And that's with many not wanting it. Apple also had already come under fire for privacy practices and giving the CD to customers without their consent does nothing to help solve that. They also had to send out directions of how to remove the download to customers.
Overall, I don’t think either U2 or Apple needed the additional publicity from this stunt…even if it hadn’t had such a huge backlash. The iPhone 6 is going to sell either way. U2 fans would buy the new CD…granted, they wouldn’t have made $100 million in sales. They also saw a spike in sales of the back catalog. But their reputation is taking a hit. There's definitely a trade off and you can decide if you think it was worth it.
I'm not a fan of U2, so that could be clouding my judgment. While there are a ton of U2 fans, I'm curious what the reaction would have been if they worked with Paul McCartney. I can't think of anyone that would be more popular than him. I'm sure there would still be detractors, but I wonder if he would have taken as much heat.