On Sept. 9, 2014, 500 million iTunes users woke up to find U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, automatically downloaded to their iTunes accounts. What the band thought was a genius idea (who doesn’t love free music?) quickly became a disaster. It was criticized as a marketing ploy and a misfire by one of the biggest bands and brands of the era. Since then, U2 hasn’t quite been able to shake it off.
Today (Oct. 22), The Guardian published exclusive excerpts from Bono‘s forthcoming memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, in which the frontman discusses the iTunes debacle. Looking back, Bono writes, “You might call it vaunting ambition. Or vaulting. Critics might accuse me of overreach. It is.”
The idea, he says, was hatched a decade after an initial meeting with Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2004 when the band offered their song “Vertigo” for an iPod commercial — something it never did, Bono asserted — and unveiled its own iPod model. Yet, Jobs refused U2’s request to be paid in company stock.
Fast forward to 2014, when the band met again with Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss a new idea — giving away its brand-new album for free. After some hesitation from Cook, who didn’t want to showcase Apple as an outlet for free music, Bono recalls saying, “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? … I mean, it’s their choice whether they want to listen to it.” How very wrong he was.
Bono writes in the memoir that he takes “full responsibility” for the gaffe. “Not [manager] Guy [Oseary], not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not [Apple’s] 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. 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.”
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story will be released Nov. 1. Bono will begin a North American book tour the following day in Boston.