In context: Apple may be the most valuable company on the planet, but it has made some unpopular decisions over the years. One of them was the forcible insertion of the entire U2 album into the library of every iTunes user on the planet in 2014. But frontman Bono said neither Tim Cook nor the Cupertino company was to blame for the infamous incident — and it was all his fault.
At the iPhone 6 launch event in September 2014, the U2 made an unexpected debut. The Irish rock band then announced that their 11 new albums would be available for free to anyone with iTunes. When asked about the band’s rationale, Bono said it was “a little bit of hubris, a little bit of generosity, a little bit of self-promotion and a deep fear that these songs that we’ve spent our lives on over the past few years may not be heard .”
but to the surprise of those involved, not everyone liked the tepid, centrist “Song of Innocence.” The album appeared in people’s libraries and caused a lot of protest. As Bono himself noted in his memoir “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story”, excerpts of which were published in The Guardian, a commentator summed up the move, “Woke up this morning to find Bono is in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my nightgown, reading my newspaper.” Another succinctly described: “The free U2 album is overpriced.” Apple even had to release a special tool to prevent albums from being tied to an account.
Bono said that in 2014 he explained to Tim Cook, Eddy Cue and Phil that Schiller said U2 wanted to give away Songs of Innocence. “Do you want to give away this music for free? But the whole point of what we do at Apple is not to give away music for free. The point is to make sure the musicians get paid,” Cook said. “No,” Bono replied. “I don’t think we give it away for free. I think you pay us and you give it away for free as a gift to people. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Tim Cook raised his eyebrows. “You mean we pay for the album and distribute it?” Bono replied, “Yes, it’s like Netflix buys movies and gives them away to subscribers.”
Cook explained that Apple is not a subscription organization. “Not yet,” Bono said. “Let’s be the first.” Cook wasn’t convinced, asking if the album should only be given to people who like U2. “Well,” Bono replied, “I think we should give it to everyone. I mean, it’s their choice whether they want to listen.”
Ultimately, Bono said the whole thing was his fault, “not Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue.” It seems the Apple CEO is philosophical about the giveaway. “You convinced us to do an experiment,” he told Bono. “We use it. It may not work, but we have to experiment because the music business in its current form is not for everyone.”
Bono also recalls a decade Previous collaboration with Apple on the iPod. U2 persuaded then-CEO Steve Jobs to let them appear in the famous music player silhouette ad. The band didn’t want to offer any cash for their participation, but out of courtesy, someone asked to buy some Apple stock, even a token amount. Jobs refused, calling it a deal breaker, so Bono suggested a custom U2 iPod, which resulted in a special “black with red click wheel” version that had previously only been a white device.