The Mail on Sunday (MoS), one of the U.K.'s best-selling national Sunday newspapers, claims it has established itself as a music distribution brand-leader with its controversial CD "cover-mounts" campaign which this month sees it giving away "Memory Almost Full," Sir Paul McCartney's current studio album.

The album, originally released in June 2007 on the Starbucks Entertainment/Concord Music Group-owned Hear Music label, will be offered for free with the newspaper's May 18 issue.

"Memory Almost Full" entered the U.K. top 10 last June and has sold 100,000 copies to date, according to the Official U.K. Charts Company. The MoS hopes McCartney's album will emulate the success of Prince, who gave away his newly released "Planet Earth" CD with the newspaper last July (Billboard, June 27, 2007).

"As far as we're concerned, Paul McCartney is the biggest name in music, and we've made a great deal of effort to establish ourselves as a brand leader in this form of music distribution," says Peter Wright, the MoS editor. "We had a huge success with Prince and we expect to do something reasonably close to that with Paul McCartney."

The MoS sold an extra 600,000 copies on top of its normally weekly circulation of about 2.2 million copies when it gave away the Prince album. But the newspaper angered the U.K. music-retail sector and Sony BMG opted not to release the album in the United Kingdom.

Trade body ERA (Entertainment Retailers Association) even filed an official complaint against the MoS to newspaper-circulation auditor ABC. ERA described the cover-mount at the time as "a blatant attempt by the MoS to skew its circulation figures" (Billboard.biz, July 12, 2007). ERA did not respond to calls for comment today.

However, at U.K. market-leading music merchant HMV, a spokesman says: "As a music specialist, our principal concern is that we should always have an equal opportunity to make any recording available to our customers, which we do in this case. This is not something we would consider ideal, but we have always had enormous respect for Paul McCartney, including the fact that he is consistently looking for new and innovative ways to engage with his fanbase."

He added: "We will also keep an eye on sales of this title and other McCartney catalog to see if the promotion, and the increased profile that will come with it, acts as a stimulus for increased sales in any way."

The MoS had also angered many in the music industry when it pressed 3 million units of "Tubular Bells," Mike Oldfield's 1973 album, to distribute as a free covermount in April 2007.

The newspaper, which has traditionally boosted sales by giving away free gifts as a reader incentive, has since tied up similar free-CD agreements with other artists such as UB40, and Simply Red.

Wright is unrepentant. "Recorded music is now a way of getting music known so that fans will go to the concerts," he declares. "What we're doing is supportive of the music industry."

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