Coldplay released the album “X&Y” exclusively on iTunes, with two extra songs not available anywhere else, the great clatter heard around the world was the sound of records being broken.
The first single, “Speed of Sound,” is the best-selling song on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store – not a surprise, given that digital downloading has been all about singles, which make up more than 98 percent of all digital sales.
What was surprising, even stunning, was the album sales. In the first week of its June release, “X&Y” sold 64,000 albums through iTunes, eclipsing the 37,000 sales during the first week of U2’s heavily promoted “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”“When we launched U2, you knew that was a big number. Now you see bands like Coldplay come in and double that,” said Steve Berman, head of marketing and sales for Interscope, U2’s record label.
With “X&Y,” iTunes proved that the digital medium can sell albums, not just singles – a watershed for the still-fledgling online music model. For artists and record labels that have been trying to figure out how to continue selling albums in the digital age, Coldplay showed that it could be done.
At least it could be done on iTunes. The Coldplay success provides more evidence of Apple’s dominance over online competitors like Los Angeles-based Napster Inc., Yahoo Inc. or RealNetworks Inc. “ITunes has done a tremendous job,” said Berman, who also heads up sales and marketing for the Geffen and A&M labels, all part of Universal Music Group. “I’m sure these other partners we have in digital music will continue to grow and figure out their business.”
Coldplay’s strategy is a case study on how online marketing has advanced in just a matter of months. Where the U2 release late last year relied on iTunes exclusivity and a televised iPod commercial featuring the band, Coldplay’s label, EMI Music, made sure to assault consumers from all fronts – using a wider set of marketing partners than just Apple.
A deal with Cingular Wireless LLC had a song clip from “Speed of Sound” available as a ring tone a week before it was heard on radio. Two weeks before the album’s June 7 release, the band appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” and Apple ran an iTunes commercial featuring the band’s new video and offering the album for pre-order on iTunes.
Yahoo Music posted an online version of the video on its Web site that week, but could not sell the album. MTV Networks’ Web site, MTV.com, streamed the album exclusively for the week prior to its release, but it was not downloadable. The day of the release, AOL Music had an exclusive stream of a Coldplay concert, again available for listening, not purchase.
But when it came time to purchase the album, all roads led to iTunes, though EMI is careful not to play favorites in talking about the campaign. “We had lots of different initiatives with Coldplay and lots of our digital partners,” said Jeanne Meyer, senior vice president with EMI Music, a unit of EMI Group Plc. “To suggest there was just one is a misnomer.”
Apple’s Web site is still the only place to download the album with the two bonus tracks, although the regular album became available through all services after its release date.
“I don’t think top acts are going to go with smaller companies on an exclusive,” said Frederick Moran, media analyst with the Stanford Group. “Players with clout like Apple iTunes can attempt to corner proprietary content.”
But why would AOL Music want to be part of a marketing effort that ultimately sends customers somewhere else? Because it got a live concert, which was viewed more than 700,000 times the first week, according to EMI. As for Yahoo, Coldplay was the number one rock video title during its debut week.