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Universal reportedly placating retailers with promise of extra U2 tracks

By | Published on Thursday 11 September 2014


So, is U2 giving away their new album ‘Songs Of Innocence’ to 500 million iTunes account holders worldwide (well, those who don’t angrily ‘hide’ it from their purchased list) a revolutionary content distribution initiative, a sign of things to come, and further proof that the future of digital music is content exclusives?

Or is it just a stepped-up version of what Prince did with the Mail On Sunday in 2007? A major artist taking their full royalty cheque (as anticipated) upfront now, out of a big brand’s promotions budget, rather than banking an advance and then waiting three years to get the balance. And concurrently reducing album release overheads by letting the brand pay for the marketing, and using the whole thing to promote a more-lucrative-for-the-band-anyway live venture.

Either way, it seems that such audacious album launch stunts, needing, as they do, one brand or another to write a mega-bucks cheque, will only ever be an option for premier league artists. Though the content exclusives thing – whether secured through cash or marketing support – remains interesting.

Some are still convinced that ultimately streaming services – them all offering pretty much the same catalogue at the same price with the same discovery tools and, eventually, the same audio quality – will need to start scoring content exclusives Netflix style to compete. And when it comes to new content exclusives, it’s Apple which is already dabbling here, albeit more with its download store than the two streaming services it now owns (probably due to their geographic restrictions); though both iTunes Radio and Beats are enjoying the U2 exclusive too.

These content exclusives, however, do not go down well with the traditional retailers, who, especially in the US, have a habit of boycotting records that launch via an exclusivity deal. Of course the boycotts aren’t that significant, given most people will have already bought the album from the launch partner by the time the exclusivity period expires, but it’s a way for the retail firms to publicly acknowledge their disapproval.

And the labels don’t, in the main, want to fall out with the CD sellers; even in the US the physical market remains a substantial revenue stream, even if combined digital sales are now outperforming disks. To that end, word has it certain US retailers, including Target, which boycotted Beyonce’s latest album after her iTunes alliance late last year, are being placated this time with the promise of extra U2 tracks once the record goes on general release.

According to Billboard, it’s thought four more tracks will appear when the new album goes properly on sale, while insiders say U2’s label Universal is sitting on three further songs that could be used to placate particularly pissed off retailers, or secure further marketing support down the line.

And if more content exclusives really are the future of digital music, such politicking on the part of the labels to keep other distribution partners happy could become a routine part of big album launch campaigns.