Prince's U.K. Promo in Tune With Mixed-Up Media World

Emma Hall From London

By Published on .

Prince just gave away 2.8 million copies of his new album, Planet Earth, to readers of U.K. tabloid The Mail on Sunday. He is potentially giving away another 450,000 copies to fans during his 21 dates at the London 02 Arena, where each ticket purchase earns an album.

Bearing in mind that Snow Patrol, the group behind the U.K.'s biggest-selling album last year, sold just 1.6 million copies, we have to give big credit to the small man for pioneering a controversial marketing strategy that has earned the prolific 49-year-old's 46th album release a lot more media coverage than he's achieved for decades.
Emma Hall
Emma Hall is Advertising Age's London reporter, and although she has grown out of her love for Prince, she still likes to party like it's 1999.

Music stores (already squeezed by internet sales) are mad at being left out of the loop. Sony BMG's U.K. arm has withdrawn from Prince's global deal and will not be distributing "Planet Earth" in U.K. stores. ("Planet Earth" is scheduled for normal release in all other countries, but there are no plans to release it in shops or online in the U.K.)

On July 15, The Mail on Sunday sold an extra 600,000 copies (at $5.70 each) above its June 2007 average of 2,276,107. The promotion has cost the newspaper an estimated $2 million in printing, marketing and licensing costs, but it expects to break even at the very least, claiming that all the publicity sent advertisers flocking to the newspaper's pages at premium rates.

Prince will probably make a lot more money on this album and tour than he otherwise would have in the U.K., but at what cost to the artist's dwindling reputation? The Mail on Sunday is a pretty middle-brow, middle-age newspaper.

Has Prince given up on any remnants of his "cool" credentials and made the decision purely on a financial basis? Or does he think that his own cool transcends The Mail on Sunday's duff image?

"The world's greatest newspaper giveaway," as The Mail on Sunday calls it, is a fascinating example of our mixed-up media world. Newspaper pitted against music retailer; ticket and merchandise sales taking precedence over an artist's original work; long-term branding vs. short-term hype; pragmatism vs. preciousness. Not necessarily initiatives to be admired, but certainly a lesson to be learned in breaking rules and experimenting with the possibilities of our time.
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