Prince has angered the music industry and stirred up trouble among British retailers by giving away his new album with a tabloid newspaper this weekend.
“Planet Earth” will be packaged with the Mail on Sunday at a price of $2.80.
The giveaway has been roundly criticized as a major blow for an industry already facing rapidly declining CD sales. It has led Sony BMG U.K., Prince’s local label, to pull the plug on its own sales release of the CD in Britain.
International sales launch for “Planet Earth” is July 16; the U.S. launch is July 24.
“The Artist formerly known as Prince should know that with behavior like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores,” said Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association, referring to a period in the 1990s when the singer famously stopped using his name to protest a binding record deal.
“It is an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career,” Quirk added.
Also fueling retailers’ ire is what they see as a traitorous move by one of their own. After initially harshly criticizing Prince and the deal, music and books retailer HMV, which doesn’t normally sell newspapers, decided to sell the Mail on Sunday in its 400-plus stores across the country.
“Like it or not, selling the newspaper is the only way to make the Prince album available to our customers,” HMV said.
Rival retailers were outraged.
“We’re stunned that HMV has decided to take what appears to be a complete U-turn on their stance,” said Simon Douglas, managing director of retail at Virgin Megastores. “It’s not only retailers that suffer; the public will suffer in the long term by restricting choice on the high street.”
The use of so-called “covermounts,” where free CDs or DVDs are attached to the front of a newspaper to catch the buyer’s eye, is widespread in Britain where many newspapers are struggling to retain readers who are turning to online news and entertainment.
Most of the giveaways are compilations of archive recordings or older films. Past giveaways by the Mail on Sunday include CDs by Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel and Dolly Parton. Prince’s CD contains new tracks along with old hits such as “Purple Rain.”
Sony BMG U.K. said it decided it was “ridiculous” to go ahead with its own sales launch in light of the newspaper deal, but stood by its star singer, adding it remained “delighted” to be working with Prince.
The Mail on Sunday declined to say how much it paid to secure the deal or how many copies of “Planet Earth” it planned to sell. Its average circulation is 2.3 million copies.
Quirk said the deal was “yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.”
Beyond the covermounts, the value of recorded music is already under widespread threat from the rapid rise of digital downloads. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimated that overall music sales worldwide fell around 3 percent last year as a doubling in digital sales failed to compensate for falls in physical CD sales and digital piracy.
Prince also plans to give away a copy of “Planet Earth” with each ticket sold for his 21-date London concert later this summer.