U2’s free downloads won’t qualify for Billboard album charts, Grammys

U2 at the Golden Globe Awards. The band's free iTunes release of its new album won't impact the Billboard 200 album charts.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Is the Apple-partnered launch of U2’s “Songs of Innocence” really the biggest album release of all time?

Yes and no, depending on how you keep score. According to America’s official scorekeeper of such things, the answer is no.

Billboard magazine, the publication that keeps the official metrics of pop music’s popularity, announced that the 500 million copies of U2’s “Songs of Innocence” that were beamed to users of Apple’s iTunes music software would not enter into its equation for its sales charts.

In a statement, the magazine’s Keith Caulfield said:


“While U2 surprised the music world by releasing its new album, Songs of Innocence, today as a free download to iTunes Store account holders and for streaming on Beats Music, you won’t see it on the Billboard 200 albums chart for another month and a half...

Free or giveaway albums are not eligible for inclusion on Billboard’s album charts and do not count toward sales tracked by Nielsen SoundScan (which supplies data for Billboard’s sales-driven charts). The same sort of scenario played out in 2013 with Jay Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail album, which was given away to Samsung users, and, on occasion, when Google Play offers free downloads of select albums.

Once Songs of Innocence goes on sale beginning Oct. 14, it will then set its sights on Billboard’s sales charts. On that date, the album will be available in both standard and deluxe editions to physical and digital retailers, as well as on streaming services other than Beats. Until then, only current or new iTunes or Beats account holders will have access to the album.”

The standard continues a precedent for Billboard where these kinds of free downloads can’t unfairly impact chart success (even if almost-free downloads were a stickier issue). The album will also be ineligible for next year’s Grammy Awards, as its commercial release falls outside of the required time frame.


Still, the album could make an appearance on one of several charts that incorporate radio, streaming and social metrics into the formula. The album’s lead single “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” could likely show up on the Alternative Songs, Hot Rock Songs, Streaming Songs and the Social 50 charts.

U2 has previously claimed the top spot on the Billboard 200 album chart seven times, including its two most recent albums, 2004’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and 2009’s “No Line on the Horizon.”

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