'Reduces Music to Spam': U.K. Retailers Slam U2 iTunes Giveaway

U2's Songs of Innocence Album

U2's Songs of Innocence Album released on September 9, 2014.

If bricks-and-mortar retailers were already feeling put out by U2’s ground-breaking decision to give away their new studio album Songs of Innocence to 500 million iTunes customers last week, their mood is not likely to improve in the light of figures from U.K. trade body Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA).

While U2’s publicity-grabbing album launch did generate a sizeable 868% spike in digital catalog sales in the United Kingdom -- with aggregate sales across the band’s 19 album strong back catalogue jumping to 6,744 units from 697 units the week prior to the Apple announcement -- British physical retailers largely missed out on the sales bonanza.  

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Of those 6,744 catalog sales, a massive 95.4% were digital downloads with physical format sales representing under 5%. That amounts to just 313 CD or vinyl units sold throughout the whole of the United Kingdom in the 4-day sales period following the iTunes announcement, compared to 254 the week previous -- a sales spike of just 59 additional physical units, according to the ERA, who notes that bricks-and-mortar retailers were unable to capitalize on the band’s increased profile by not being briefed in advance to order extra stock.

According to independent research conducted for ERA, more than 60% of the U.K. public does not use iTunes, while ERA estimates that the total retail revenue generated by 6,744 catalog sales amounts to just under £50,000 ($80,000). Although the retail landscape has vastly changed since the release of U2’s last studio album, 2009’s No Line On The Horizon, ERA states that 87% of U.K. sales in its first month of release were on physical formats, according to Official Charts Company data.

“If one of the justifications of this stunt is that it would drive sales of U2's catalog through the market as a whole, then so far at least it has been a dismal failure," commented ERA chairman Paul Quirk in a statement.

"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,” Quirk went on to say, adding: "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."

Quirk continued: "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. 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 ($16) on an album by a newcomer?"

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