Canadian Retailers Break U2 Embargo

Candian Press by Betsy Powell (1997-03-03)

By BETSY POWELL, Canadian Press

TORONTO (CP) — Midnight sales, contests, cassette giveaways, and Irish cream coffee are some of the gimmicks awaiting customers at record stores across Canada Tuesday as U2’s new album, Pop, goes on sale.

But, while some retailers planned to open their doors at midnight Monday night to help generate excitement, Vancouver-based A and B Sound started selling the disc Saturday, leaving retailers in several western cities no choice but to follow suit.

The move angered U2’s record company, Polygram, and other Canadian retailers.

“What the industry needs at the moment is excitement,” says Vince Parr, marketing director at Tower Records in Toronto.

“Whether it’s fireworks or tanks coming down Yonge Street, you create that with a co-ordinated push of holding it off, holding it off. If it sort of trickles into the market, by the time it finally comes out … there’s no bang it’s more of a pop, if you excuse the pun. So that’s really damaging for everyone.”

Lane Orr, vice-president of software at A and B, admits the chain “behaved badly” but said the retailer was reacting to unfair pricing by Polygram. He expects Polygram will penalize A and B by withholding advance shipping privileges on new releases.

John Reid, president of A and M, Island and Motown Records Canada, owned by Polygram, said he was “disappointed” by A and B’s “breach of trust.”

“We believe our ongoing relationship with the more professional retailers in this country will give us a better long term view,” he said Monday.

Reid also criticized the move as a slap in the face of retailers who invested time and their own money to set up interesting marketing schemes, such as the Breakfast with Bono promotion at Tower Records.

Instead of opening at midnight, the downtown store planned to open at 7 a.m. and serve Irish Cream coffee and pastries for anyone buying Pop before 10 a.m.

The move is a recognition that the “thirtysomething age group of U2 fans” aren’t interested in staying awake until midnight to buy a record they won’t listen to until the next day, Parr said.

For the music industry, Pop – the Irish supergroup’s long-awaited ninth full-length record, one originally due last September – has turned into a potential white knight at a time of flat CD sales following the boom years in the first half of the ’90s.

“The entire retail community believes in the strength of this U2 record,” says Laura Bartlett, vice-president of marketing at HMV, a 90-store music chain.

“U2 has been looked on as a catalyst not only to up the momentum but to keep it there.”

The industry, whose leaders gather in Toronto this week for their annual conference, will be keeping an anxious eye on Pop as a gauge to what lies ahead in 1997.

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