No stranger to creating controversy in the music world, eclectic singer and musician Prince is once again at the centre of a fight over the distribution of his music.
The U.S. artisthas thrilled fans and incensed music retailers in the U.K. with plans to give away his newest album for free in a tabloid newspaper this weekend.
Planet Earth will be packaged with copies of the Mail on Sunday newspaper, which carries a price of approximately $3 Cdn.
"The Artist formerly known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist formerly available in record stores," Paul Quirk, co-chair of the Entertainment Retailers Association, said this week, referring to a period in the 1990s when the singer stopped using his name in protest of a restrictive record deal.
"It is an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career," Quirk added.
Freebies common in U.K.
Giveaways known as covermounts — including CDs and DVDs, but also small accessories like purses, flip flops, jewelry and sunglasses — are commonly packaged with magazines and newspapers in the U.K.
For instance, the Mail on Sunday has previously included CDs by artists as varied as Duran Duran, Dolly Parton and Peter Gabriel.
However, most covermounts are usually compilations of old material. Prince's CD, which does contain several past hits like Purple Rain, is a new album officially set for international release on Monday and U.S. release on July 24.
'Like it or not, selling the newspaper is the only way to make the Prince album available to our customers.' —HMV statement
Prince —whose ample catalogue of diverse hits includes 1999, Kiss, Let's Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, Diamonds and Pearls, TheMost Beautiful Girl in the World and Musicology —has not commented on the matter.
Sony BMG U.K., the singer's distributor in England, has pulled the plug on its own British sales launch of the CD, but emphasized in a statement that it continues to be "delighted" to be working with the star.
British music retailers, who have roundly criticized Prince and the newspaper for the deal, are also in an uproar after music chain HMV — which had also denounced the covermount — announced it would sell the Mail on Sunday at its more than 400 locations across the U.K.
"Like it or not, selling the newspaper is the only way to make the Prince album available to our customers," HMV said in a statement.
Prince a fan of alternative distribution
In recent years, the prolific, award-winning singer also angered the traditional music industry in his home country for deciding to give away a copy of his album along with each ticket purchased to one of his concerts — a move he will reprise with his 21 London shows scheduled to begin in August.
Some criticized the move for skewing music sales figures and tallies. Others have said that the giveaway practice diminishes the value of the music.
Prince has long battled with the music industry over contract agreements and control over the release of his more than two dozen albums. Inearly 1993, he legally changed his name to a cryptic symbol to protest his contract with Warner Bros.
A few years later, amid another recording industry legal battle, he appeared in public with the word "slave" written across his cheek. He eventually set up his own music label, NPG.
Over the past decade, Prince — whose real name is Prince Roger Nelson — has explored new means of distributing music to his fans, including via his official website.