The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

U2 and the IPod

Paul Boutin has an interesting article in The New Republic on the U2/Apple affiliation, and whether or not the IPod (or IPod like players) will have cultural significance rivaling that of the trasistor radio. He makes a lot of good points on this subject, and makes another interesting observation somewhat off topic:

The members of U2 are the first big stars to jump on the obvious marketing opportunity: In tandem with the new album, they've also launched The Complete U2 on Apple's iTunes Music Store. It's a download-only collection of every album the band has ever released, plus out-of-print singles and outtakes. The enormous one-click download dwarfs CD box sets with its 400-plus songs--enough to overflow 30 compact discs. You may never listen to all of it, but that's okay. It's about keeping the band's entire oeuvre handy in your pocket. Why didn't Springsteen think of this?

400 songs! One of the most important aspects of the MP3 era is that music distribution costs are now essentially zero. Of course, record companies woud prefer that no one notice this, but it is undeniably true. Transportation and storage costs used to act as a natural limit on the size of an album. The average album has about twelve songs on it, which reflects the amount of space available on an old fashioned record, or on a 74 minute compac disc. As these media are now close to obsolete (DJ use notwithstanding) it no longer makes sense to limit a new release of music to only twelve songs.

U2's 400 song release is simply making the most of the new medium, and they are wise to embrace it instead of resisting it. More musicians should follow their lead. They can now afford to give their fans more (and still make a fair profit, I'm sure), which is exactly how the system is supposed to work.


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