Do you like free music? The answer you give may not be the resounding yes Bono was hoping for in 2014. That’s when the U2 frontman joined the Apple CEO on stage during the keynote which also saw the iPhone 6 unveiled. More than that, it’s become one of Apple’s biggest bloomers, alongside the uninviting launch of Apple Maps and that puck-shaped Mac mouse.
The incident has just come back into the public consciousness as Bono’s memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story”, is about to be published.
The 2014 album, titled Songs of Innocence, would be available to all iTunes Store users, it was announced.
Cool huh? After all, that was before the days of Apple Music, where your monthly subscription puts 100 million albums at your fingertips. At that time, you bought each album or track separately.
Even so, it’s quite nice to choose the music you own, I’d say. And many people noticed that the album was automatically downloaded without their asking. Which meant it just sat there, taking up space in every user’s iTunes library. And if you’re not a U2 fan, you might find it rather boring.
Since there were 500 million people with iTunes accounts at the time, that must have annoyed a lot of people.
So what, you say? Surely it’s not that hard to delete an album, is it? Except in this case, it seemed impossible to delete. As users reported back then, there was an option to hide it in iTunes but not to delete it.
This escapade is what I would call a reverse Orwell. By this I am referring to another digital debacle, this time involving Amazon in July 2009 and unauthorized removal rather than installation in customer devices. Without warning, Amazon remotely removed some digital editions of George Orwell’s Animal Farm from the Kindles of users who had purchased the book.
Along with an extra helping of Irony with a capital I, he also picked up a few copies of Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984. Given this book’s themes of state-governed thought control and the origin of Big Brother, it’s hard to resist the spiciness of this moment. .
Amazon did this, by the way, because it discovered it had sold digital copies of these books through a company that didn’t have the rights to them, and quickly apologized for what he said was not a good answer.
But what was Apple going to do?
On September 15, 2014, it offered a tool to delete the album, laden with the warning that once deleted, you cannot change your mind and re-download it as a previous purchase.
U2’s album had massive instant download numbers, undoubtedly breaking records. But it probably also held another record for the album being deleted in greater numbers and in a shorter time than any album before or since. And surely there is the distinction of being the only album for which Apple has created a dedicated delete button.
If there are red faces, Bono says in his memoir that the blushes should have been his: “I take full responsibility. Not Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue. I thought if we could just put our music in front of people, they might choose to reach out to it. Not enough. As one social media wisecracker put it, “I woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my newspaper.” Or, less kindly, “U2’s free album is overpriced”. Mea culpa.”
Mind you, we’ve all made terrible musical choices, surely.
Which makes me wonder, maybe we should wish Apple had performed this trick more often. So when a friend says, “I can’t believe that terrible song is on your playlist,” you can say, “Oh, no, I didn’t choose it. Apple gave it to me.
On second thought, maybe not.