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U2 frontman Bono takes the blame for the ill-fated iTunes album giveaway of 2014, an extract from his memoir reveals, but while Apple took heat for the endeavor, CEO Tim Cook apparently wasn’t fazed by the response at all.
Apple’s gift of a free copy of the U2 album “Songs of Innocence” was seen as a massive blunder for the music-selling service, with complaints from many forcing Apple to come up with instructions to remove the album from user libraries.
In extracts from Bono’s memoir “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story” published in The Guardian, the rock frontman recounts meetings between the band and Apple executives in 2014. In the meeting, Bono spoke with manager Guy Oseary, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, and Tim Cook, with the suggestion of a giveaway being from Bono’s side of the table.
“You want to give this music away free? But the whole point of what we’re trying to do at Apple is to not give away music free. The point is to make sure musicians get paid,” Bono was told.
Bono instead insisted that Apple should pay U2, but then give it away as a gift. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?,” he added. When Cook pressed, Bono compared it to how “Netflix buys the movie and gives it away to subscribers.”
“But we’re not a subscription organization,” Cook fired back, before Bono offered “Not yet. Let ours be the first.”
Cook was apparently still skeptical about the deal, and asked further if this was just to those who liked U2. “I think we should give it away to everybody,” Bono proposed, “I mean, it’s their choice whether they want to listen to it.”
On the reception the album had, Bono states he takes full responsibility. “Not Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue.” Bono believed that if the music was made available for listening, people “might choose to reach out toward it.”
Bono has previously apologized for the incident, which saw automatic downloads of the album to millions of users, in the weeks after it occurred.
“At first I thought this was just an internet squall. We were Santa Claus and we’d knocked a few bricks out as we went down the chimney with our bag of songs,” he offers. “But quite quickly we realized we’d bumped into a serious discussion about the access of big tech to our lives.”
Bono takes a moment to commend Cook on his actions afterward. “You talked us into an experiment,” the CEO said to the rockstar. “We ran with it. It may not have worked, but we have to experiment, because the music business in its present form is not working for everyone.”
Bono then points out the “probably instinctively conservative” leadership style of Cook, and that while he wanted to try and solve a problem, he was still ready to take responsibility.
The extract also discusses another Apple CEO interaction ten years prior, with Bono and Edge visiting Steve Jobs with Jimmy Iovine in tow. While U2 didn’t do commercials, it was proposed that the band was a good fit for Apple’s ad style at the time.
For remuneration, Jobs didn’t think Apple had the budget such a band would expect. Bono countered by saying they just wanted to be in the commercial, however while the band wasn’t looking for cash, they suggested a “symbolic amount” of Apple stock, though Jobs called it a “dealbreaker.”
As an alternative, a customized U2 iPod in black and red was suggested, though Jobs insisted “You wouldn’t want a black one. I can show you what it would look like, but you will not like it.”
Later, after the band were shown the first version and found it favorable, design chief Jony Ive was invited to look at the device’s design a second time. Eventually, the special edition iPod in red and black saw public release.
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