U2’s Free Download Experiment Pays Off as 81 Million Apple Users ‘Experienced’ New Album

New iTunes numbers reveal digital success for legendary band’s “Songs of Innocence”

Tim Cook The Edge Bono Apple Songs of Innocence album itunes
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Over the past month, 26 million iTunes users have taken Apple up on its offer to download the latest U2 album — “Songs of Innocence” — for free, making it one of the most popular albums ever. Those figures were made public in a Billboard report on Thursday.

U2’s new music was made available exclusively to iTunes’ 500 million customers worldwide on Sept. 9. In the first month, Apple estimates 81 million people “experienced” the album through streams on iTunes, iTunes Radio and Beats Music.

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While just 5 percent of iTunes users downloaded the album completely, that figure still shatters the record U2 previously held on the digital site.

“To help put this into perspective, prior to this, 14 million customers had purchased music from U2 since the opening of the iTunes Store in 2003,” Apple’s senior VP of internet software and services Eddy Cue said.

The physical release of the album (a CD with 10 additional tracks) will hit stores Oct. 14. That edition is expected to sell an additional 70,000 copies in the U.S., according to research based on pre-sales for the album.

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U2 and its label Interscope’s deal with Apple netted $100 million in free media exposure from the company’s global marketing campaign, according to Billboard.

The band, fronted by lead singer Bono, is said to be planning a world tour for 2015 and it’s already begun recording its next album, “Songs of Experience.” Bono said that offering is expected to launch in 18 months under Apple’s new interactive format for music, which will feature an audiovisual presentation that can’t be pirated.