_In My Life)
Remember when your mother told you not to accept gifts from strangers? Not to accept candy from that man in a raincoat standing on the corner? Not to believe someone who tells you that the check is in the mail? My mothers’ words of wisdom recently came into play when I opened up my i-Tunes library and found U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence quietly residing there. I know that I didn’t request a copy of the album and I certainly didn’t pay for it, but there it was.

Wow! What a bunch of nice guys those U2 must be to provide me with their latest album free of charge. Upon further investigation, I found out that I was one of 500 million iTunes customers to receive this generous gift. I reasoned, perhaps incorrectly that because of U2’s unparalleled success and their acquired enormous wealth as a result of that success, that this was a gift from them as a way of thanking their fans (and everyone else) for supporting the band for all these many years. I figured Bono and the boys had all the mansions, cars and yachts that they could ever need and that a token of their appreciation was the impetus for this voluntary act of kindness.

Not wanting to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, I played every selection, read the enclosed liner notes and surmised that this was a legitimate transaction based in part, as a thank you to their many U2 fans around the world.

Besides building good will and giving some people a gift they did not want, need or expect, what did this generosity do for U2? Being somewhat of a skeptic, I decided to look into this act of benevolence to see if everyone associated with this gesture was thrilled and delighted. Apparently, not everyone has been applauding U2’s giveaway.

In England, as a result of this “gift,” U2 experienced an incredible jump in sales in their entire digital music catalog. This meant that they were able to sell many more copies of their 19 album back catalog. So if you got Songs of Innocence as a freebie, it reminded many people about other U2 albums. For some, this revelation encouraged them to buy some of the previously released U2 albums to add to their collection. According to Billboard magazine the back catalog of U2 album sales as a result of the giveaway amounted to “6,744 units up from 697 units (sold) the week prior to the Apple announcement.” However, here’s the dilemma for some people; of the 6,744 units sold, approximately 95% of those sales were digital downloads. That means that record store retailers who normally derive revenue for CD/vinyl sales of music missed out on those sales as opposed to Apple, which solely reaped the enormous benefit of the giveaway. Apple won and the record stores lost!

In essence, U2 sold a bunch more albums, which benefitted them, but in effect circumvented the music retailers who normally would have made a tidy profit in a short amount of time by selling those same albums albeit on CD/vinyl as opposed to digital download.

As you can imagine, the Chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) in the U.K., Paul Quirk was none too pleased with this album promotion. His point was that it’s all well and good for an established band like U2 to give away an album. “Giving away music like this is as damaging to the value of music as piracy, and those who suffer most are the artists of tomorrow “he said. The reality for Mr. Quirk seems to be that if a consumer can get an album for free from an established band, then why anyone would spend full price on music from an unknown band.

I guess the question involves the motives behind the supposed altruistic nature of U2’s supposed act of kindness. The reality is that the decision to give away albums was made to further publicize the band and sell some of their previously released albums, while at the same time call attention to the new album. It was a clever marketing move that netted U2 some significant sales realized in a short period of time. That’s it! Don’t think anyone on behalf of the band thought about the effect this promotion would have for Mr. Quirk and ERA. And quite frankly, why should they care? I guess they should, but the bottom line for the band is “a sale is a sale is a sale…” It does not matter to them where the sale comes from, what matters to them is where the sale ends and whether it comes from on-line, retail outlet, carrier pigeon, etc., it probably makes no difference to them.

The band is in business in virtually all countries throughout the world. U2 has become a major source of revenue, employing many people whose income from the bands’ activities supports jobs and families. It’s the bands’ job to create songs and perform them at venues on a global basis and sell records. It looks like they did just that. Thanks, guys for the gift.