Prince's war with iTunes plays into the hands of illegal filesharers

Prince is right to have issues with iTunes and YouTube. But making his album available only to Mirror readers goes against his philosophy of reaching as many listeners as possible

Prince in 2006
Sign of the times ... Prince gives away his latest album free with the Mirror. Photograph: Erin Siegal/Retna

As a Prince fan, I bought the Mirror for the first time on Saturday to get a copy of his latest album, 20Ten. As a musician, I was puzzled by why he felt the need to give away his music with a UK tabloid that costs 65p. I was equally perplexed by his decision to snub iTunes because it doesn't pay advances. Why would he need an advance? He's Prince, for God's sake. Surely he should trust that people would buy his music anyway. Besides, many more fans would have access to iTunes than a newsagent on one day.

In an interview with the Mirror, Prince compared the internet to MTV, saying that its days are numbered. Is this the reason why, when I put his new CD into my computer, Gracenote, the music database used by iTunes, didn't recognise the titles? Is that why there were 66 five-second silent tracks before the bonus track?

It's a strange turnaround for someone who, a decade ago, described Napster as "exciting". "What might happen with young people exchanging music is that they might develop a real appreciation," the "purple Yoda from the heart of Minnesota" said. He also claimed that online distribution could enable musicians to end exploitation from record labels. Surprisingly, despite his dismay with the music industry, Prince later signed with Columbia Records and, in 2005, with Universal.

Since then, he seems to have had a change of heart. Prince has reportedly threatened YouTube with a lawsuit for copyright infringement, forcing it to take down live footage of him playing Radiohead's Creep at the Coachella festival in 2008. Now, I have issues with YouTube, and I fully support an artist's right to decide what happens to their music, but Prince's decision to make his new album available as an exclusive covermount goes against his philosophy of reaching as many listeners as possible.

The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), unsurprisingly, objected to Prince releasing his album as a covermount. Pointing out that his record sales have halved since the first Daily Mail covermount in 2007, it claims Prince's latest move "could kill his career". While there could be other explanations for the decrease in sales – illegal filesharing, for example – I agree that covermounts devalue music. It makes people question if a CD is really worth £8 when a major artist such as Prince can afford to give it away with a 65p paper.

I agree with independent record label Blancomusic that it's unfair that iTunes takes the same share of the retail price (30%) as the bricks-and-mortar shops, manufacturers and distributors – despite not taking the same risks when stocking product. I also agree that artists make little from other digital stores and streaming services. Yet, making their music available on legal digital outlets is something that they all have had to accept. That's what music fans want, and if they can't get it legally they'll get it illegally, without paying a penny.

ERA concluded its press release by saying: "Go away and make an album that people are prepared to pay for. We still have faith you [Prince] can do it." With 20Ten, I think he has. Unfortunately, most people will now only be able to get it illegally.


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  • Vercoda Vercoda

    12 Jul 2010, 12:13PM

    Hmmm. Prince holding court on't internet, and how it affects him, Prince. Hmmm.

    Or, as a giant chunk of Young People today would say:

    "Who?"

    Sorry, Squiggle, it's a little bit difficult to take your musings on them tharr interweb thingy seriously.

    Not to mention that, a-bloody-gain, iTunes et al are enormously restrictive in developing any kind of musical interest. Virtually nothing that I want to listen to/buy can be found on iTunes (not that I'm looking for Polynesian goat herder songs from 1907, mind you, but it's still an Epic Fail for iTunes at least 9/10 times, as it just doesn't have what I want) - that's one reason why YouTube works, as I can much more easily find 'my' music and convert to MP3s that way, seeing as I can't otherwise find/buy what I want.

    Which, now that I think of it, doesn't really include a small, purple man whose last gasp of cultural relevance/interest to most people was some time back in the early to mid-90s, if I recall correctly...

  • EndaP EndaP

    12 Jul 2010, 12:18PM

    that's one reason why YouTube works, as I can much more easily find 'my' music and convert to MP3s that way, seeing as I can't otherwise find/buy what I want.

    Really? You can't be terribly interested in sound quality if you're happy to make mp3s from YouTube.

  • S0litaire S0litaire

    12 Jul 2010, 12:23PM

    Think the issue here is the Music Industry and the power the Labels have over artists. You said : "It makes people question if a CD is really worth £8 when a major artist such as Prince can afford to give it away with a 65p paper."

    But how much of that £8.99 would the artist /performers get after the label's taken their cut? Probably a lot less than the 65p for the paper.

    By by-passing the usual labels distribution and doing it himself he probably will get more per CD than if it was released in the shops or iTunes.

    And probably his album will now get a larger audience via P2P that it would in the shops...

    Which, in the end, is what you think music should be about...

  • jforbes jforbes

    12 Jul 2010, 12:32PM

    Unfortunately, most people will now only be able to get it illegally.

    If its given away for free is it illegal to file share it?

    Prince has always been a little eccentric to say the least so reading wider industry lessons into his actions may be foolish. Seems he doesn't even have an official website any more.

    Personally I think he is cutting off his nose to spite his face, if he wants people to hear his new music he needs a wider distribution model than the readership of the Mirror.

    Lots of copies on eBay - from which he won't see a penny.

  • Vercoda Vercoda

    12 Jul 2010, 12:37PM

    Really? You can't be terribly interested in sound quality if you're happy to make mp3s from YouTube.

    There's a lot of music there encoded at, say, 190kpbs (or whatever), which is perfectly adequate for just listening to on an iTouch, or dropping through a simple sound-system.

    Ramping up the sampling rate much more than 190kpbs is not really going to add much more to most music; I'm not interested in the most pristine, 'perfect' audio quality, as, again, it's just not going to be especially noticed if you're on a bus etc, is it? As such, most audio on YouTube - if checked before converting/encoding as MP3s - is fine...

  • DavidJayB DavidJayB

    12 Jul 2010, 12:54PM

    I don't know the details of Prince's deal with the Mirror (obviously), but they printed over 2 million copies of Saturday's edition. If Prince got, say, 10p per copy, that would be over £200,000 in the UK alone, with similar deals in other European countries. I would guess this is more than he would get from selling the CD the conventional way. The album itself, incidentally, is not bad, but sounds rather like a pastiche of his own records of around 1990, such as Diamonds and Pearls. I wouldn't have bought it at the standard CD price.

  • Bobsticle Bobsticle

    12 Jul 2010, 1:05PM

    I should think his sales halfing is less today with giving away that dreadful album with the Mail on Sunday and more today with him losing his purple mojo and fans like me voting with our wallets.

  • Hol48 Hol48

    12 Jul 2010, 1:15PM

    Prince is just throwing his toys out of the pram - he can't control the internet, so he's dismissing it. Which is foolhardy of him

    Given that Prince still has to pay for the making of the album, still has to pay his record label and managers (the fact that he's not distributing in the usual way doesn't get him out of the fact that by contract any album he produces is his record label's), still had to pay for the manufacture and delivery of 2 million CDs... I really can't see that he's saved all that much money. Even assuming that the Mirror stumped up for manufacture and delivery and paid him an advance, the bigger bucks are going to have been in the royalties for an making of fthe music itself, and those really aren't that much reduced by covermount.

  • MrJP MrJP

    12 Jul 2010, 1:24PM

    That's Prince's point though. He has no record label. No management. The Mirror will have stumped up for the CD production costs and marketing, plus he will have been given a flat fee for giving the paper the right to distribute the music. There is no financial outlay for him and that's the way he seemingly likes it.

  • Pir8pete Pir8pete

    12 Jul 2010, 2:32PM

    I used to be a massive Prince fan and wanted to buy the paper on Saturday to get this album, but due to moving house and the wifes birthday completely missed buying the Mirror.

    Does that mean I can only now illegally download it, or miss out on it completely. Because that seems a bit bonkers to me.

  • jimbo66 jimbo66

    12 Jul 2010, 2:37PM

    if he owns the product, it's up to him how he distributes that product. It appears he's found a method of distribution that vastly reduces his financial risk, cuts out some middlemen and provides a guaranteed return.

    He's a successful businessman as well as a musician - that what separates him from musicians who make great music but no money.

    The rather eccentric quotes all make for great free press, which helps sell copies of The Mirror and funds the deal.

  • winstonbennet winstonbennet

    12 Jul 2010, 2:38PM

    No, itunes should not charge 30% - the same for CD shops. This is one reason why people download illegally so much as they are not making the savings they should through shopping online.
    Prince knows his records are well made and well written but he reached his peak years ago. However, as a live performer he is brilliant and making gifts of his CD will bring punters to his live shows in throngs. Nothing is for free and there is always a pay back and Prince will be rewarded for his forward thinking through packed out shows and the resulting $.
    Winston

  • BlancoMusic BlancoMusic

    12 Jul 2010, 3:35PM

    First off, thanks Helienne for mentioning my blog.

    Prince. Will we ever know exactly what goes on in his head? Probably not. If we are to believe wikipedia though (can we?), he's the world's highest-paid musician ,and as recently as 2008, played a live concert to the largest recorded television audience ever. Even if that's not true, we can probably all accept that he's doing alright, financially. That puts him in the position where he can release music without having to give a damn about whether it makes a profit or not, and more importantly, puts him in the position where he can experiment a bit with distribution methods etc.
    There are some musicians who are perfectly happy with music 2.0. Good luck to 'em, I'm not into starting flamewars here or anywhere. Equally, there are musicians who are not happy with music 2.0. Most of the musicians I know fall into the latter camp, but most of the musicians I know can do nothing about it. You see, if you fall into the former camp, and feel that filesharing/streaming are good for your career, great, those resources are there for you. If you're of the latter camp though, tough, because you don't have a choice in the matter. The moment your music goes onto the internet in a digital format, it's out of your control. The main issue in the music 2.0 debate is about control. A lot of artists would be happy to see their music winging its way around the world instantly, if they felt they had any say in the matter.
    I don't think we should get so upset by Prince, just because he's having a look at different ways of getting his music out to the world. This experiment may not work, it would all depend on what his goal was in the first place. If the goal was to make loads of cash and avoid having the record fileshared, it won't have worked. If the goal was to explore different ways of getting music distributed or to have a go at changing a system that currently works badly for almost everyone involved, maybe it was a success. If, as is quite possible, Prince doesn't really need the money, might we imagine that there may have been other reasons for his doing what he did? It certainly beats the usual response to the changing music economy from the big players, which is, as far as I can surmise, to close their eyes, ram their fingers in their ears and repeat :'it's still 1990, it's still 1990' until all the prosecco runs out.

  • EyeSeeSound EyeSeeSound

    12 Jul 2010, 3:44PM

    @winstonbennet

    yep :)

    Plus, I know indie shops take 30/40% but don't the bigger one's take more? Amazon whack 100% on goods (at least from the little sniffing round I did). One of the reasons that we'll only supply to indies is the mark up. The other, of course, is support indies :)

  • HammondOrganB3 HammondOrganB3

    12 Jul 2010, 3:45PM

    Prince is right to have issues with iTunes and YouTube. But making his album available only to Mirror readers goes against his philosophy of reaching as many listeners as possible

    Good.

    The fewer people subjected to his excremental, castrated pop-pap, the better.

  • EMF4EVER EMF4EVER

    12 Jul 2010, 4:29PM

    How much do bands make from online sales?

    The following link makes for interesting reading and may explain why a few artists aren't overly keen:

    mashable

    If itunes are charging 99 cents for a tune, surely your better off buying the CD and burning a copy, I'm not really an audio purist and although I agree with Vercoda that recording video links at 192 kbps can be just as much fun as a FLAC file, I can't really see how mp3s or AACs can be sold for more than the price of a CD when they offer less value for money, I guess the prices are determined by what the market can bear etc etc, but can't help noticing that the little guy (not the one in the pic) is getting screwed over again.

  • Kalyr Kalyr

    12 Jul 2010, 5:00PM

    @EMF4EVER

    I think the 79p a song for downloads is only value for money if you're cherry-picking individual songs. For a whole album, you're right.. £7.99 is way too much, you're much better off buying the CD

    Personally I think artists should get the same royalties (as an absolute amount, not a percentage) as they do for CD sales. The price you pay should still be lower, representing the vastly lower incremental costs of digital retailers with no physical inventory. Yes, that does mean percentage royalties for downloads should actually be higher, not lower.

  • SD1000 SD1000

    12 Jul 2010, 5:20PM

    In an interview with the Mirror, Prince compared the internet to MTV, saying that its days are numbered.

    He's so right, it's clearly a fad.

    I give it another year or so.

    He's clearly entirely sane and entirely up-to-date with the modern world, so his decisions should be taken very seriously.

    Personally I never use the internet myself.

  • jaffahc jaffahc

    12 Jul 2010, 7:41PM

    Surely it is a simple mathematical question for Prince , How much did I make from my last shop sold cd then how much do i make from The Mirror ? If the Mirror will pay him more it is worthwhile. Also many more will get to hear his music and then go to see him live. The Mirror will sell more copies and sell more advertising space. Everyone involved wins and only those oleft outsde lose and then moan.

  • ninorc ninorc

    12 Jul 2010, 9:45PM

    As even (especially) Prince's most die-hard fans must acknowledge, the artist is a total control freak. That's why he got into the legals with Warners: because they insisted on a marketing strategy that prevented him from putting out more music of indifferent quality than most of us knew what to do with. How many people reading this own Emancipation, Squiggle's 3CD celebration of not being told what to do, by anyone? Since then - 1996 - Prince has only gone to record labels for distribution. Funnily enough, he hasn't out out any truly classic records since then, either (and I own a copy of Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic). Then, in 2007, he realised he could get the records distributed via newspapers and get an instant, upfront cash return. It's not just the couple of hundred grand he probably got off the Mirror, but he's done similar deals all across Europe, where he's currently touring. (He won't be gracing the UK with his presence, since we got 21 nights of him at the O2 back in 2007).

    When His Badness says the Internet is over, he's talking, as always, about himself and his own experiments in the medium. Prince was an early adopter and innovator, but once again his control freakery defeated him. He shut down all the fan sites and co-opted the webmasters of the best of them into his Love For One Another site, but it was stupidly dense and slow-loading for its (pre-broadband) time. His experiment with the NPG Music Club was flawed by that familiar lack of quality control. However, Prince was ahead of the game in understanding that live performance is where the money is and, happily for him, Prince is an unparalleled live performer. These days, the records are just adverts for the gigs and, as a multi-instrumentalist, he can make 'em at home alone. (20Ten features no one else but some hired horns and backing vox.)

    As for the YouTube issue, it's a real shame that we can't review Prince's career in the way that we can, say, Bob Dylan's, but he can't take down the cover of Creep because it's not his song and, famously, Radiohead insisted that it should remain online. Similarly, there's the duet with Beyonce on Purple Rain and the very cool footage of Prince and Sheila E jamming with Stevie Wonder on Superstition in Paris on July 3rd. And that's about it!

  • danduryea danduryea

    13 Jul 2010, 1:09PM

    Prince is unquestionably a musical genius, and arguably the most consistently creative and exciting musician and composer of the 1980s.
    However, even the die-hardest of Prince fans find it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for his new albums these days, simply because the purple one himself doesn't seem to value them, tossing them away in covermount scenarios like this. I remember attending my second of two O2 shows where everyone with a ticket received a copy of his new album at the door, and by the end of the night, the O2 floor was literally covered with these things.

    Prince never lost his musical chops, but sometime back in the 90s (starting with the Batman ST imo) he seemed to lose his relevance with audiences. With the influx of hip hop, grunge and other genres into the mainstream, none of which he had anything to do with, he struggled to keep hold of his throne. Sad attempts to adapt to the times made for immediately dated pop, and his albums quickly became irrelevant - reminders that he was still making music in-between the ill-advised label disputes, embarassing name changes, or the odd bizarre public statement.

    Princxe's latest comments about the inernet are bizarre, and, of course, rediculous. His decision to continue releasing music via The Mirror or (lord help us) The Daily Mail are ill-advised and self-defeating. One can only speculate what Prince could actually achieve if he actually embraced the internet positively (his authorising the release of high -quality recordings of live shows, as well as opening the vaults to his vast backlog of unreleased demos dating from the late 70s would no doubt prove a gold mine), rather than shunning it with kneejerk paranoia.

    But with this latest, and half a dozen past releases, Prince seems to have given up on making an impact through recorded music, choosing to make his money through live shows. Which is kind of sad, but possibly inevitable. As great as it all is, Prince must get tired of playing "Kiss", "1999", "Purple Rain", etc again and again.

  • Weaves Weaves

    13 Jul 2010, 2:59PM

    Hey, the fact that all you guys are still discussing Prince, a musical artist who has been releasing albums nearly every year since 1978 pretty much sums up his intention. How many old timers out there are still making new music and getting noticed. Yes, you can probably name a few but I can name alot more who disappeared into the ether. Terence Trent D'Arby or Sananda Maitreya still writes albums but I bet you’ve not heard his new one from last year. I agree with Prince’s attitude towards iTunes and You Tube. I will always buy or acquire a physical format of a Prince album. And all those Prince singles and Eps make nice bonus discs in my iTunes library. 103 albums and counting! I reckon Prince will be around for another 20 years performing just like James Brown did a few years ago. Owwww!

  • danduryea danduryea

    13 Jul 2010, 3:49PM

    Weaves, the James Brown reference is sadly relevant. From his beginnings until about the mid-70s, James Brown was unstoppable, but by the late seventies JB's musical contribution had pretty much came to a halt, being replaced by an audience's preference for disco and later, hip hop. James' attempts to adapt both of these genres (The Original Disco Gofather, and later, "I'm Real" albums (produced by Full Force), both proved career lows - although drugs and problems with the law likely didn't help much.

    The point is that James spent the last 20 years of his life basically aping the style he'd created back in the 60s. Not a bad thing if it pays the bills, but a sad thing to see happen to Prince, who was (and may be still) as brilliant a songwriter as he is a musician.

  • Weaves Weaves

    13 Jul 2010, 9:43PM

    Danduryea, yep, the James Brown reference probably not the best example. I just meant that Prince will remain around for quite a while. It highlights my point that there isn't anyone close to Prince who remains in the news and who always sells out of his live shows. Ok, Cliff Richard and The Rolling Stones will always sell out but these kind of artists are not constantly writing new material and finding new ways to release music. David Bowie came back to write some brilliant material in the 90s and 00s. I'm sure Prince could still write another classic album but a giveaway in The Mirror is not the answer. After the Rainbow Children, I really thought he was going down the Jazz fusion route, experimenting with new sounds and technology. I can only wish…

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