U2 Album Downloads Off To Decent Start

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

U2 arrive at the 86th Annual Academy Awards on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, CA

Sources tell Billboard that, following Apple's press event on Sept. 9, when the company announced it was giving away U2's new album Songs of Innocence to all 500 million iTunes account holders, the collection was downloaded about 200,000 times in the United States. A Universal Music Group spokesman says the number "is completely inaccurate." Not being debated is that the the new album got off to a decent start. 

U2's 'Songs' Arrives, But Free Model Will Delay Billboard 200 Debut

The 11-track Songs of Innocence is available to iTunes account holders in all 119 countries where iTunes is available. While Apple makes the claim that "over half a billion copies" are being "distributed," in reality not all account holders are likely to experience the album. Apple places Songs of Innocence on a user's "purchased" list, where the files can either be streamed or manually uploaded. Some consumers may choose to stream the album elsewhere. Apple's Beats Music subscription service and iTunes Radio streaming service also have the album exclusively.

Retailers contacted by Billboard estimate the album would have achieved first-week sales between 450,000 and 500,000 units with a normal release, but in light of the iTunes exclusive, they predict first-week sales of about 150,000 units.

U2 and Universal Music Group will face some hurdles due to disgruntled retailers. Sources say Target has a policy of not carrying any title that was first released to digital retail. Target refused to initially carry Beyonce's self-titled album following her surprise iTunes exclusive, and Amazon withheld the usual prime page placement. To entice retailers, Universal is offering four tracks that iTunes will not have until November, according to sources. Some retailers could walk away with more tracks, as sources say Universal has three additional tracks for select retailers.

The awareness surrounding the Apple giveaway and related advertising efforts could be a financial boon to U2's catalog. As such, Universal is said to be planning the most aggressive catalog program it has ever executed for U2. The band's catalog has already been sale-priced at iTunes and is promoted as "limited-time pricing" on the iTunes Music Store home page. Studio albums are $5.99, live albums and collections are $7.99, and deluxe studio albums are priced at $11.99.

Update: This story was edited to include UMG's dispute of Billboard's sourced data.