U2’s recent decision to push their new album, Songs of Innocence, to every single iTunes user might seem like a harmless — if somewhat lazy — publicity stunt, but it has had some very real consequences according to the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association chairman Paul Quirk.
In comments posted on ERA’s official site, Quirk claims that the move has hindered physical sales, cheapens the value of music and makes life difficult for up-and-coming acts.
Quirk likens the dumping of Songs of Innocence upon 500 million iTunes customers to music piracy, for its detrimental impact, and said it will be future artists who suffer the most from U2’s actions.
“Giving away music like this is as damaging to the value of music as piracy, and those who will suffer most are the artists of tomorrow,” says Quirk.
“U2 have had their career, but if one of the biggest rock bands in the world are prepared to give away their new album for free, how can we really expect the public to spend £10 ($18) on an album by a newcomer?”
The ramifications of U2’s giveaway has also been felt by record stores throughout the UK. As reported by Billboard, the free download of U2’s new album did result in an increase of aggregate sales of U2’s back catalogue, improving from 697 units, the week prior to the band announcing the free release of Songs of Innocence, to 6,744.
However, the vast majority of those sales, at 95.4%, were digital downloads. A miserly 313 units accounted for physical sales of vinyl or CDs. The reason for physical sales making up less than 5% of the total aggregate sales, according to ERA, was retailers not being informed in advance to order more stock.
“This promotion is a failure on so many levels. It devalues music, it alienates the majority of people who don’t use iTunes and it disappoints those who prefer to shop in physical stores since few shops had U2 stock available,” states Quirk.
Research conducted by ERA showed that iTunes is not used by over 60% of the UK public. Quirk went on to add that U2 have devalued music to the level of software updates and spam.
“Dumping an album in hundreds of millions of iTunes libraries whether people want it or not, reduces music to the level of a software update or a bug-fix or just plain spam.”