Remember back in 2014 when U2 gave away an album’s worth of songs to every iTunes user in the world? And it turned out that a large number of them didn’t want said album anywhere near their music library — to the point that Apple had to release a special tool to remove it? That was completely my bad, U2 lead singer Bono wrote in an article for The Guardian.
When Bono approached Tim Cook, along with Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller about the idea, he was met with some incredulity. “Are you talking about free music?” Cook said, according to Bono. “But the whole point… is to make sure musicians get paid.”
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think we give it away free. I think you pay us for it and then you give it away free, as a gift to people. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?'” Bono wrote.
“Tim Cook raised an eyebrow. ‘You mean we pay for the album and then just distribute it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, like when Netflix buys the movie and gives it away to subscribers.’ Tim looked at me as if I was explaining the alphabet to an English professor. ‘But we’re not a subscription organization,'” Cook said in the excerpt. “‘Not yet,’ I said. ‘Let ours be the first.’ Tim was not convinced. ‘And this is just to people who like U2?’ ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I think we should give it away to everybody. It’s their choice whether they want to listen to it.”
It was clearly a humbling lesson for the band when they realized that many people not only didn’t want to listen to it, but didn’t want it there in the first place.
“As one social media wisecracker put it, ‘Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper.’ Or, less kind, ‘The free U2 album is overpriced.’ Mea Culpa,” he wrote. “‘I take full responsibility. Not [U2 manager] Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue. I’d thought if we could just put our music within reach of people, they might choose to reach out toward it. Not quite.'”
Bono also recalled a happier tie-up with Apple on the iPod, which feted its 21st anniversary just yesterday. It was U2 that convinced Steve Jobs to let them be in those famous iPod silhouette ads for the first time, and also talked him into building the U2 edition iPod in black with a red click wheel — marking the first time it wasn’t white. Amusingly, they also asked Jobs for some Apple stock, even a symbolic amount — which he refused, in his typical direct style. “‘Sorry,'” said Steve, according to Bono. “‘That’s a dealbreaker.'”
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