81 million people listened to U2's iTunes giveaway

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Despite outrage in some corners of the Internet, tens of millions of iTunes users were happy to add a free U2 album to their music collections.

Since the giveaway began last month, more than 26 million people have downloaded Songs of Innocence in its entirety, Apple Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddie Cue told Billboard. More than 81 million people listened to at least one song from the album on iTunes, iTunes Radio, or Beats Music.

By comparison, Cue said 14 million people had previously purchased U2’s music since the iTunes Store launched 11 years ago.

u2 album cover

Songs of Innocence, released on September 9 as a free, timed exclusive on iTunes, caused a controversy by automatically adding itself to users’ iTunes libraries. Many people complained that they wanted no part of the album, prompting Apple to put out a one-click removal tool.

Although Apple and U2 haven’t disclosed the specifics of the deal, Billboard estimates that Universal Music Group pocketed more than $50 million from the exclusive arrangement, while also benefiting from Apple’s $100 million global marketing campaign. In a statement, U2 said Apple’s gift to paying iTunes customers was “both beautiful and poetic, and for that we are very grateful.”

Why this matters: The giveaway raised questions on whether Apple crossed a line, as many users are dead-serious about the curation of their personal music libraries. However, those concerns seem to be outweighed by one obvious truth: People really like free stuff.

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