ame, U2’s latest album “Songs of Innocence” explores the ways in which childhood and adolescence shape the individual. As a result, the album is more personal than the Irish rock band’s previous work.
“The whole album is first journeys,” Bono told
Rolling Stone’s Gus Wenner in a press conference before its
surprise release. “First journeys geographically,
spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”
However, the album has received mixed reactions from the public. Much of the focus hasn’t been on the music itself, but on the controversy surrounding its distribution — a very different kind of “first.”
Last week, Apple distributed Irish rock band U2’s
latest album, “Songs of Innocence,” by uploading it to the “recently purchased” folders of over 500 million iTunes subscribers. For subscribers that automatically sync their “recently purchased” folders with their devices, the
album appeared without warning in their libraries
whether they wanted it or not.
According to Bono in a discussion with BBC2
presenter Jo Whiley, this was intended to be a form of guerrilla marketing: an essentially “punk” move.
However, for nearly three decades, U2 has been one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Their last world tour grossed over $700 million in profits, demonstrating their continued mainstream commercial success. They didn’t have to force their album on half a billion iTunes
subscribers to get people to notice them.
Various media outlets have been quick to point out the arrogance behind the album’s release — after all, not
everybody likes U2’s music, even if Tim Cook thinks they should. The backlash is testament to how out-of-touch Apple’s new CEO is; less than a week passed
before Apple was scrambling to produce an application that made getting rid of the offending album easier.
Because a significant number of iTunes subscribers weren’t given the option of choosing not to download the album, many people felt as if their privacy had been
violated. But did Apple really cross the line?
The relationship between consumer and company has become increasingly blurred, especially over the last half-decade. Facebook analyzes our search history for targeted advertising. Spotify mines similar data and
repays us with music suggestions based on our interests. In cases like these, we forfeit our privacy in return for a more customized and streamlined social experience.
However, even as technology increases the influence that big companies have over our lives (everything from our tastes to our purchasing patterns), we still have certain expectations about what companies should and shouldn’t do with our private information. For instance, when we purchase an iPod, tablet or computer, we assume that we control the content on those devices. For music lovers, a carefully-organized digital library is something to take pride in, and we are generally disturbed to discover that a company like Apple, without our consent, can control what goes in it.
But there is a broader issue at stake here. After all, if Apple can purchase the rights to distribute U2’s music at no cost to us, what does that say about the value of music in general? Is it zero? Is it fixed? And what should less-popular bands do to compete if a successful band like U2 has access to this kind of corporate sponsorship?
These questions remain unanswered mostly because the fate of the music industry is still undecided.
Whether or not you agree with U2’s strategy, they should be given credit for trying something new. After all, in an age where many people refuse to pay for music, bands should be looking for as many innovative and untested ways to profit as possible. If anything, the failure of U2 and Apple’s marketing strategy only shows that in terms of solutions, the music industry still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.