Much talk today about U2 giving away “500 million free albums” on iTunes. There’s speculation they received between $10 and $30 million on some blogs. I don’t think so. Today’s estimate is that of those “500 million” people, only 200,000 downloaded the album even though it was free. Funny, but that number sounds right.
In 2009, the last U2 album, “No Line on the Horizon” opened with 480,000 copies. That was half as many as their previous album. So 200,000 now seems accurate, even a little high.
Add in the fact that around 160,000 of the “Horizon” sales were downloads. And Amazon sold theirs for just $3.99. U2 was already in sales decline. It didn’t help that the album wasn’t very good. It had no hits. Still, U2 managed to sell 1.1 million copies in the US.
The fan base has aged. The number of people who want to hear new U2 songs, as opposed to their 30-odd hits, is limited. “Songs of Innocence” happens to be a terrific collection. U2 may get singles off of it– although I don’t think the lead single, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” will be the one.
Still, giving away “Songs of Innocence” will set a precedent I think for other legacy acts. Who needs the embarrassment of releasing an album to much publicity, and then striking out? Even a contemporary band, Maroon 5, couldn’t open with more than 160,000 copies. Think how bad that is– they have enormous pr, Adam Levine is everywhere, they’re played on the radio. And all they could do was 160K. What did you think U2 would sell in 2014?
As for some other stories I’ve read: only Americans would complain about getting something for free. I’ve read a few snarky missives about iTunes subscribers who were actually mad that “Songs of Innocence” was sitting in their Purchased queue ready to be downloaded. Really? That takes nerve. Just say thank you.