Apple pitches music industry on U2-style promos

U2 has been a familiar sight to iTunes Music Store visitors in recent weeks, with the online music store featuring everything from a U2-themed iPod to a digital boxed set of the Irish rock band's recordings. And if Apple has its way, other musical acts will enjoy a similar promotional push as part of an effort to bolster business at the online store, the director of iTunes product marketing told a gathering of music industry executives Wednesday.

"Elements of what we're doing [with U2], we want to work with all artists on some scale," Apple's Chris Bell said during the opening session of the Music 2.0 conference in Los Angeles.

Apple's U2 promotional campaign centered around the release the band's latest album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." It included the release of a black-and-red 20GB iPod with the signatures of the band members etched on the music player's case, a 30-second iPod and iTunes TV ad featuring U2, and a video for the new song "Vertigo" available only at the iTunes Music Store. Also exclusive to the online store is "The Complete U2," a $150 digital boxed set featuring all the group's albums, live cuts, covers, demos, and b-sides along with a PDF booklet.

While future promotions may not approach the scope of Apple's U2 effort, Bell told music executives that some elements of that campaign could be used to market any artist. Those include:

  • Rare and exclusive tracks: Bell vowed to work closely with record labels to "deliver music that's not available."
  • Digital packaging: Bell cited the U2 boxed set booklet, which features album art, track listings, and band commentary, as especially well-received content. "Our customers want this stuff," he added.
  • Streaming video: Apple added music videos and movie trailers to the music store last April. "There is tremendous interest [from iTunes users] in this," Bell said.
  • Bell's pitch for joint marketing campaigns between Apple and record labels highlighted his 30-minute speech at the Music 2.0 event. While Bell revealed no new features for the iTunes Music Store, he did offer a glimpse at the importance Apple places on constantly enhancing its online music offerings.

    "We drive interest in digital music by continually innovating," Bell said.

    The numbers suggest Apple's efforts to update iTunes features have paid off so far. The iTunes Music Store, which has seen its library grow to one million songs, passed the 150 million download mark in October. Apple continues to claim a 70 percent market share for legal music downloads and a 92 percent share of the market for hard-drive-based music players.

    Some of the enhancements cited by Bell include allowances, gift certificates, and prepaid cards that allow music purchases to be given as a gift. "You're giving someone a choice of more than one million songs," Bell said. "We're just getting an incredible response to this."

    iMix -- a feature that lets iTunes users assemble and post playlists in the online music store -- has also been a popular addition, Bell added. "A peer-to-peer-like community is emerging," he said. "DJs, artists, people who used to make mix tapes ... they're in there and they're interacting."

    Bell also described the new Artist Alert feature as a success. Similar to a feature available at other sites like Amazon.com, iTunes users can click a button on an artist page within the music store to sign-up for e-mail alerts whenever there's a new release, exclusive track or other development related to that artist.

    Bell did offer one hint about future changes at the music store when talking about the charts feature, which displays Billboard 100 charts and playlists from radio stations around the country. "There's a lot more we can do here, a lot more that we've talked about," he said.

    Improving the iTunes Music Store's offerings is important to Apple because the company believes its only scratched the surface with the business it's done so far. Apple figures that only 2 percent of the current music market is composed of legal downloads -- CD sales at retail stores continue to enjoy a 59 percent share while online CD purchases make up the rest. "That's an opportunity for us to grow," Bell said.

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