Yesterday a new U2 album appeared magically in my iTunes folder and if you’re one of the 500m other iTunes users, it magically appeared in yours too.
Depending on your iCloud settings, it may even be fully downloaded and ready to play on your desktop and your iPhone. Thanks Apple. Thank you very much.
This article is a more level-headed and reasonable version of one I wrote yesterday for my own music website. Let’s see how a nights’ sleep alters my opinion.
It’s difficult to separate a personal hatred of U2 from my more objective rationale. Would a free album surreptitiously installed on my hard drive from a band I actually love make me feel more positively about the act?
I’m not sure it would. It still feels like an invasion. Plus the act of doing so has meant that U2’s album without any effort whatsoever has become the biggest music release of all time and could potentially become the most listened to album of all time.
If anybody actually listens to it. How are they even going to measure that? According to iTunes, in the last two days the album has been downloaded 200,000 times in the US alone, but according to Billboard a Universal Music Group spokesman says the number “is completely inaccurate”.
Billboard goes on to estimate that the album would have sold between 450,000 and 500,000 units with a normal release, but because of the iTunes exclusive, they predict first-week sales of about 150,000 units.
You can certainly see the rationale of U2 jumping into bed with Apple. Less clear is the actual relationship between the two corporations. Who approached whom? Was it Apple’s idea? Did Apple pay for the recording? It’s murky stuff, and perhaps the art versus commerce argument should be saved for elsewhere.
The argument here is whether this bizarre mash-up of corporate schilling and guerilla marketing tactics is deeply underhanded or not.
In this job I feel particularly lucky that we uphold certain ‘church and state’ values from the more commercial end of the business; I’m encouraged to write independently, with my own opinions and my own sense of humour.
Much of my evening is spent writing borderline-offensive music reviews, much of my day is spent writing best practice advice for digital marketers, clarifying certain complicated jargon-heavy areas and studying how brands use digital.
Therefore obviously a huge part of this job involves tackling issues around native advertising and social media marketing. You know, those tweets from random companies that appear on your timeline even though you don’t follow them.
That Guardian article called ‘What is native advertising?’ which itself is sponsored by a company called Outbrain, a ‘content marketing advertising platform’, in a move that is not quite ironic but feels like it should be.
Basically I’m saying this because I write articles on topics like native advertising and Facebook marketing for brands because it’s part of my job and they are fascinating subjects. However, if I disagree with anything, either ethically or morally, then I am encouraged to say so and I am not controlled by commercially dictated editorial constraints.
So with all of this in mind, here is my personal opinion: I think there is something inherently wrong with native advertising, if your current advertising model doesn’t work, just think of another way, don’t trick your readers. In the long-run they’ll only abandon you because they don’t trust you.
As for promoted tweets and promoted Facebook posts, I’m not sure I really mind them to be honest. They’re easy to ignore, and it’s an ultra-tough, competitive world out there with an ever-decreasing audience who are largely protected from too much spam via various algorithms.
Besides I find a friend’s update on their bathroom decorating endeavours about as interesting as an advert from B&Q anyway.
However, by placing U2 surreptitiously in my iTunes folder without consent, Apple has committed something far more insidious than both of the above practices.
It’s the equivalent of taking the remote control away from me while I was watching something enjoyable on television and then lecturing me with a hypocritical rant about greed before screaming “hello” repeatedly in my face till I am forced to cave my own skull in for relief.
This isn’t ‘savvy marketing’, this isn’t ‘a brilliant new way to market new music in a struggling industry, this isn’t a ‘gift’. It’s an intrusion. An unpleasant Frankenstein’s monster of various annoying marketing practices. It’s up there with autoplay video, Spotify ads and downloading spyware onto your browser.
For iTunes it’s a desperate, grasping move that’s indicative of how much of a dying platform it really is. For U2, it’s just business as usual.
Wow, that nights’ sleep did nothing.