Rather bizarrely, The Mail on Sunday (a UK newspaper) is giving away Prince's new CD today. I can see that it makes sense financially - Prince will get more from the newspaper than he would as an advance from a record company - but I find it hard to believe that MoS readers would be big fans of Prince (or vice versa).
It therefore seems likely that a lot of the CDs will be thrown away unplayed, and that a lot of copies of the newpaper will be discarded unread.
Apart from the environmental issue, music retailers in the UK are not happy:
Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association, said the 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," said Mr Quirk, referring to a period in the 1990s when Prince famously stopped using his name in favour of a symbol.
"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."
Hmmm.. I wonder how many copies of this album would have been sold in UK record stores. Not very many, I venture to suggest.
Anyway, after initially criticizing the move, HMV have decided that they will stock the newspaper:
HMV's move was attacked today by rival Virgin Megastores, which "expressed disbelief" at the company's decision.
"We're stunned that HMV has decided to take what appears to be a complete U-turn on their stance towards covermounts and particularly in this case, as only a week ago they were so vocal about the damage it will cause," said Simon Douglas, Virgin Retail managing director.
"Simon Fox [HMV chief executive] labelled the Mail on Sunday deal as 'devaluing music' and 'absolute madness', now they appear to have joined forces to sell more copies of the very same paper," Mr Douglas added.
"It's not only retailers that suffer; the public will suffer in the long term by restricting choice on the high street. Of course people will take a free CD by a platinum-selling artist like Prince but you only need to look at what's happened to Fopp going into administration to get an idea of the potential long-term impact
There are two issues here, I think. The first is rather specific to the UK, where newspapers give away DVDs, CDs, posters, etc. in an effort to boost circulation - though usually the DVDs and CDs are either very old or rather obscure. I doubt that it really does the newspapers any good, and it probably reduces the perceived value of CDs and DVDs. So I do think that HMV are taking a risk here (though maybe they are right that some people will buy some CDs along with their 3 day old Mail on Sunday).
The second and universal issue is that CDs and DVDs are on their way out, and shops such as HMV and Virgin Megastores are just going to having to come to terms with that. If you can download music and video, why bother going to a shop to buy physical product? It also means that artists need to find other ways to earn money (see Free doesn't mean worthless), and so I happen to think that Prince is being pretty smart here.