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U2 plays it smart with free stream, multiple packages

In preparation for its upcoming album "No Line on the Horizon," U2 release a free streaming single, followed by a physical album in multiple formats at different price points. It looks like this is becoming the industry standard release model.

Somebody in the U2 camp has been paying attention to recent album releases by Nine Inch Nails, David Byrne and Brian Eno, and Paul McCartney's The Fireman project.

Like these forerunners, U2 is kicking off the promotion for its upcoming album, No Line on the Horizon, by offering the first single as a free online stream, and will offer the album in five packages at different price points--from the superfan box format with a CD, DVD, poster, and hardcover book at $66.49 (if you if you preorder from Amazon, otherwise it's close to $100) to the mere standalone CD for a very reasonable ten bucks.

Choices, choices. U2/

This makes perfect sense: U2, like these other artists, is well-established but past its peak of popularity. By reaching out to its most highly engaged fans--the ones who checked out the single the second it went on sale and will spring for the box set without hestitation--U2 might be able to get them to spread the word to more casual once-fans or younger listeners who think of U2 as their parents' music. (Wow, it hurt to type that.) The old promotional channels--radio, MTV, mass-market billboard campaigns--just don't have the pull they used to, so this is becoming standard practice for album releases by big acts.

To me, U2's last few albums to sound like they were written by committee rather than a band, but the new single has an interesting Moroccan motif that kicks in during the chorus--the band started recording in Fez, Morocco--and the album cover's pretty cool, although U2's not the first artist to use that photo.