Prince, the artist formerly known as 'the artist formerly known as Prince' has released his CD Planet Earth by giving it away free with the Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK on July 15. It is expected that around three million copies of the newspaper have been sold.
Now, three million is an incredible distribution for a CD. In comparison, Prince's previous CD sold around 80,000 in the UK.
Clearly, this is good promotion for the newspaper. An artist of the stature of Prince will have a sizeable fan-base who absolutely have to have that CD. So they will buy the newspaper where they might not have ordinarily. They might get to like it and become regular readers.
Prince is reported as getting around £250,000 ($500,000) out of the deal, which is probably more than he would get if he released the CD in the normal way, so he's happy.
He has a series of concerts coming up, which is where he makes most of his money, so the CD is excellent promotion for that.
But there is potentially a problem. The record industry in the UK doesn't like it because Prince is effectively giving away music for nothing.
This, they say, is tantamount to saying that CDs ought to be free, and therefore they have no value.
Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association said, “The Artist formerly known as Prince should know that with behavior like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores.”
It is certainly true that people value things more when they cost money. I suspect that most of those CDs were put out with the trash like the newspaper itself.
But is this teaching the market that they should expect CD for free? Will they now put off buying a CD by their favorite artist because they think it might be given away free with a newspaper at some point in the future?
My feeling is that Prince has made a good move for himself. He has outsmarted the record industry, which is what many musicians would like to do, but he has done it at the highest level.
At the time of writing it is the day after the release of Planet Earth. I would love to be a fly on the wall in record company offices. July 15, 2007 might go down as the day when musicians took back control!