Here is a tale of multiple freebies and what we are now calling “the etiquette of giveaways” (patent pending). First up, musical humans One Direction gave away the lead single (EEEEEK!) from their imminent new album (SCREAM! OMG!!) earlier this week but limited it to a 24-hour period (FML!!!). ‘Fireproof’ was downloaded 1.1m times according to their label when, to give this some context, a big single in the US will sell about 300k copies in its first week (1D FTW!!!!). The album pre-order mechanic also exploded as it went to #1 in 67 counties on pre-sales (EMOJI!!!!!).
Meanwhile, accountancy alchemists U2 gave their new album away on iTunes on Tuesday and early indications suggest it’s doing pretty well but is not going to reach the much-trumpeted “potential” 500m iTunes “customers”. Billboard estimates it has been downloaded 200,000 times in the US (Universal says this is “completely inaccurate”). There has, however, been a huge backlash against how U2 and Apple went about this, basically putting the album in your iTunes “Purchased” feed whether you wanted it or not – and it would download automatically if you had certain settings switched on.
Inevitably Twitter was full of what people still insist on calling “THE LOLZ” about how it was a “virus” and why Apple needed to buy everyone a new phone etc. But it does beg a wider point of the correct etiquette of free. U2 fans with iTunes accounts will be delighted, floating voters might be intrigued but there will be a huge number of people who have no desire to hear it and believe Apple overstepped the mark here. Can a gift really be a gift if the “recipient” doesn’t want it but is still forced to take it? That makes U2 four Mrs Doyle’s forcing tea (e.g. songs) on us all.
And, just thinking out aloud here, could this screw around with any future iTunes/Beats algorithms where they push you music (Snow Patrol, Coldplay, probably bloody Sting too…) based on those U2 tracks on your iTunes account that you never wanted in the first place?
Finally, Google Play Music is getting into the whole “free” vibe too. It is making Demi Lovato’s new album available for free for a week, tying it as a promotion around her US tour. The service has been massively discounting some albums recently (helping to drive a Bob Marley compilation into the US top 10), but this marks a serious upping of the game.
Is all of this an inevitable part of marketing or are we on the cusp of a “free” arms race in downloads to try and breathe new life into the format in an age of YouTube and Spotify? And will be see a huge reaction against it and a push towards premium pricing? Cue: Radiohead surprise-releasing a new album and charging £75,000 a copy.