Free Prince album causes retail storm

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. rock star Prince is to give away his new album for free with a UK tabloid newspaper, weeks before its official launch, in a move that has caused dismay among music retailers.

Musician Prince performs at the taping of the ALMA awards in Pasadena, California June 1, 2007. Prince is to give away his new album for free with a UK tabloid newspaper, weeks before its official launch, in a move that has caused dismay among music retailers. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Prince’s new 10-track CD “Planet Earth” will be included with this weekend’s Mail on Sunday, the newspaper’s managing director, Stephen Miron, told Reuters on Friday.

The album is not scheduled to go on sale until July 24.

“No one has done this before. We have always given away CDs and DVDs, but this is just setting a new level,” Miron said.

Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association, said Prince’s decision “beggars belief”.

“The Artist formerly known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores,” he said, referring to a period in the 1990s when the funk star, born Prince Rogers Nelson, famously stopped using his name.

“It is an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career. It is yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music,” Quirk told a music conference in London on Thursday.

The practice of “covermounts”, where newspapers strive to lure readers with DVDs and CDs, is used widely in the industry at a time when many newspapers are struggling to keep readers amid the distractions of online news and entertainment.

Miron declined to say how many additional copies were planned by the newspaper, whose circulation is normally around 2.3 million copies, or how much the Mail on Sunday had paid to secure the deal with Prince.

Prince’s new album comes before a run of 21 concerts he will play in London this autumn.

The concerts by the innovative funk artist, who created such groundbreaking works as 1984’s “Purple Rain” and 1987’s “Sign O’ The Times” and has sold an estimated 80 million albums, will be the only shows he performs in Europe this year.


Prince has signed a global distribution and marketing deal with Columbia, a unit of Sony BMG, but the UK arm of the business has pulled out of the distribution agreement.

“Given the sheer number of copies we are talking about here it seemed the right thing to do for retailers to become exempt from the deal in the UK,” said a spokesman for Sony BMG, the world’s second-biggest music company.

HMV Chief Executive Simon Fox told reporters following the music and books retailer’s annual results he thought it would be “absolutely nuts” to give the album away for free before its commercial release. HMV saw its profit more than halve as it battled cut-price supermarket and online sales.

The Mail’s Miron said the newspaper, whose recent CD giveaways include Peter Gabriel, Dolly Parton, Duran Duran and UB40, was not out to put retailers out of business.

“They are living in the old days and haven’t developed their businesses sufficiently. We can enhance their business. They are being incredibly insular and need to move their business on,” he said.

The Mail on Sunday is owned by Associated Newspapers, a unit of Daily Mail & General Trust