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Singing from a Different Hymn Sheet

Who, when, where?

U2, 09/09/2014, worldwide

What did they do?

As elder statesmen in a rapidly changing music industry, U2 took a fresh approach to releasing their 13th album Songs of Innocence. The surprise album was announced at an Apple product launch, and was instantly added to 500 million iTunes accounts for free. Apple CEO Tim Cook called it “the largest album release of all time”.

The reaction This release strategy proved controversial with both Apple customers and music critics. iTunes users were confused as to whether they had been buying U2 albums in their sleep, and Chris Richards of The Washington Post called the release “rock-and-roll as dystopian junk mail”. Apple received so many complaints about Songs of Innocence, it created a software tool that quickly deleted the album from users’ iCloud accounts. Furthermore, in an uncharacteristic fit of humility, Bono apologised and admitted they “got carried away with themselves”.

Could’ve done better… When Radiohead released In Rainbows as a ‘pay-what-you-want’ digital download, some commentators hailed it as a revolution for the industry. The In Rainbows experiment was a success, noted Music Ally, “…for Warner it served to prove a point that by licensing directly (ie, outside the collecting society network) and by offering a genuine one stop shop for licensing (ie, combining all the digital rights into one offer from a single entity) the publisher was able to generate far more money for both themselves and the band than would have been possible under the traditional system”. U2, with their large passionate fan base, could have announced the free album download through their Facebook page (17 million likes), giving the consumer the option of a free download.


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