U2 and the revenge of "old media"

March 3rd, 2009     by ddeal    

Have you noticed U2’s gutsy distribution strategy for the newly released No Line on the Horizon? I don’t mean the predictable release of the album on MySpace prior to its March 3 launch in stores — but rather the heavy reliance on an allegedly dead medium, the compact disc.  At Best Buy, you can find the album available in five formats:

  • Regular CD
  • Limited edition digi pak that includes CD, color booklet, poster, and exclusive downloadable film access.
  • Limited edition magazine that includes a CD, 60-page magazine, and exclusive downloadable film access.
  • Vinyl LP
  • Limited edition box set that contains a digi pak CD, DVD of an exclusive film by Anton Corbijn, a 64-page hardback book, and a fold-out poster

At a time when digital downloads have all but rendered the CD an afterthought, what gives?  Here’s what U2 is doing:

  • Leveraging the power of the brick-and-mortar retailer.   We’ve recently seen the Eagles and AC/DC successfully move CDs through Wal-Mart.  And Prince just struck a deal for Target to be the exclusive retailer for a disc set to be released March 29.  Why?  Not because the CD is obsolete — but rather the old ways of distributing content are dead.  The Best Buys, Starbucks, Wal-Marts, and Targets of the world can act as DJ, distributor, and marketer rolled into one.  During the release of Black Ice, AC/DC provided the soundtrack for the Wal-Mart shopping experience, and well-placed displays opened up the band’s back catalog  to shoppers, too.  All told, Black Ice moved 2 million units in 2008.
  • Fighting the commoditization and degradation of music.  Rock has always been as much about image as it has the music.  Sleek packaging creates an experience that helps build image and differentiate one band from another.  By contrast, digital marginalizes a band’s image and degrades the quality of its product through inferior downloads.  It’s well known that MP3 compression causes a loss of sound quality, and the slightest glitch in your broadband connection is a total buzzkill for streaming songs.  Superior packaging and well-produced sound captured on disc are two weapons in favor of a band like U2, which understands the power of image and the relationship between its image and sonic power.

U2 isn’t the only band embracing the “old.”  In 2008, David Gilmour released at least five versions of his Live in Gdansk, for instance.  Both Radiohead and Beck have released music in playful packages with stickers that consumers can use to deocorate the CD sleeves.

Soon I’m going to learn more about how artists are seizing more control of content distribution when musician and producer David A. Stewart appears at the 9th annual Razorfish Client Summit April 21-23 in Las Vegas.  (I’m putting together the agenda for my employer Razorfish.)

He’s going to discuss how artists like himself are dropping “a neutron bomb” on the current entertainment distribution model.  I can’t wait to hear him speak.  And I hope we see more bands like U2 giving us experiences we can touch and feel.


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  1. 2 Responses to “U2 and the revenge of "old media"”

  2. By david on Mar 3, 2009 | Reply

    Not to mention the five nights of Letterman, the Good Morning America…but it should be noted the MP3 version of the record was $3.99 on Amazon today.

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  2. Mar 4, 2009: Topics about Music » U2 and the revenge of “old media”

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