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Apple, U2 secretly work on new way to buy music

U2 and Apple have been working on an "exciting" digital format that will spur people to buy more music, the band tells Time.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Bono Apple/Screengrab by Oscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Apple's recent partnership with band U2 might not have won everyone over, but the parties are reportedly hoping that their next move will.

In a wide-ranging interview with U2, the band confirmed to Time Magazine that it's working on a secret project with Apple to develop a new digital music format that would get people to buy more music -- including entire albums -- and in the process, boost revenue for struggling artists.

"Bono tells Time he hopes that a new digital music format in the works will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music--whole albums as well as individual tracks," the magazine wrote in a post on its site on Thursday.

The impact of digital music on the industry has been lamented by artists for years. Piracy continues to be a major concern, and there's pressure from digital stores, like iTunes, where the main form of purchase is to buy a single track for no more than $1.29. After digital stores and the record labels take their cut, artists are left with pennies, making it difficult for them to make a living. Where significant cash is still generated in the music industry is at concerts, with people paying to see artists live and buying merchandise.

Speaking to Time, Bono, U2's lead singer, said the new digital music format will help artists who don't have a large enough audience to fill stadiums for live tours. "Songwriters aren't touring people," Bono said.

Bono revealing that he's working with Apple on a new digital music format might not sit well with the Cupertino, Calif.-based company. Apple is notoriously secretive about future plans and expects all third-parties involved in projects to uphold the same level of secrecy.

Whatever complaints Apple might have, they will likely pale in comparison to complaints over the "gift" Apple and U2 offered to iTunes users last week at the unveiling of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch. At the end of the event, Apple CEO Tim Cook brought out the band announced that all iTunes users would receive a free copy of U2's latest album, "Songs of Innocence." While U2 fans celebrated the free album, many people took to the Web complaining that Apple was forcing music on them -- and complaints quickly turned to tirades on social networks.

Responding to the kerfuffle, Apple released a support guide earlier this week that helps users delete the album from their iTunes collection.

It's not clear from the Time article when the new music format might be announced or how it would excite people enough to change their music buying habits.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment on the report and we will update this story when we have more information.