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Prince’s Royal Decree: The Internet Is “Over” (Computers Too!)

Stop The Presses!

Among the fads most of us are never likely to think of as "completely over": Horseless carriages. Aeroplanes. Air conditioning. Talkies. And, yes, the Internet.

Ah, wait—Prince begs to differ! At least on this last one. "The Internet's completely over," he declared to England's Daily Mirror, no doubt waving an invisible scepter to make it so. "I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else [digitally]. They won't pay me an advance for it, and then they get angry when they can't get it."

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Surely he's just talking about digital distribution of music being "over"—crazy as that sounds to most of us—and not the whole Internet, right? Wrong: he really means the whole world of bits and bytes. "All these computers and digital gadgets are no good," Prince continued. "They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

And then, in the ultimate diss, he compared the Internet to a certain cable network. "At one time, MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated," he said. This may be the first time the great digital cloud which transformed world civilization has ever been compared to Karen Duffy.

What is going to replace the Internet, then? Perhaps Prince will release his next album in the "smoke signal" format long favored by traditionalists. Could it be that the man wants to fill your head with carcinogens, not numbers?

No, in all seriousness, the distribution model Prince is now favoring is... giving his albums away free with newspapers. His latest CD, 20Ten, will be included with July 10 copies of the Daily Mirror in the UK and Daily Record in Ireland, as well as print publications in Belgium and Germany. For someone making the argument that music is undervalued, Prince has a funny way of proving its integrity when he gives CDs away like shampoo samples. (Maybe, somewhere along the way, he confused his Parade album with the Parade magazine included in many Sunday papers.)

There is no plan yet in place to distribute the new album in America. Prince is reportedly in talks with his old label, Warner Bros.—youknow, the "slave"-drivers who held him so captive that he was forced to carve S.O.S. messages into his sideburns—for a commercial release in the States in the near future. It's a good thing that when the album is given away to hundreds of thousands of Europeans in a few days, none of those people will leak it to America and dissuade us from buying it later. Because pirating is ovah!

Prince and the web seem like star-crossed lovers. At one point he was besotted with the digital revolution. For a man who battled with his record label because he wanted to release more product than they were willing to, a guy with hundreds of unreleased songs in the vault, it seemed like the perfect means to get all that music to the fans, eliminating middleman. How did Prince v. Internet become such a lovers' quarrel?

As recently as March 2009, Prince was introducing a heavily promoted new subscription website, LotusFlow3r.com. For an annual membership of $77, fans would theoretically not only get the digital version of the three-CD set he was releasing through Target at that time but loads of new and unreleased material unavailable anywhere else. But as the Wall Street Journal reported in April, the website turned out to be a bust, at least for the disgruntled followers who never got the stream of rarities and bonuses they were expecting. Early this year, Prince gave the order for the site to be shut down.

That wasn't a completely unexpected outcome for Prince fans who remembered how, in 2006, the artist put the kibosh on his New Power Generation Music Club subscription site, with which he'd apparently become bored. 

But Prince seems to have a case of attention deficit disorder when it comes to distribution in general. After he escaped from the clutches of Warner Bros. in the mid-'90s, he released a series of increasingly little-heard albums on his own label, NPG Records—some of which were only available through (you guessed it) the Internet. In the midst of that, he hooked up with Clive Davis and Arista for one album, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, before retreating to indie-dom. In 2004, he conducted his first experiment with giveaways, distributing free copies of Musicology to concertgoers, though you still had to buy a commercial version released by Sony if you wanted the full packaging. Then he moved over to Universal for his next album, 3121. Then he moved back over to Sony for his next album, Planet Earth. And then it was on to Target stores only for the album after that.

Commitment problems, anyone?

For the guy who once sang "Money Don't Matter 2 Night," it seems like Prince's main priority now is getting paid upfront, whether it's by a retail chain or newspaper—hence the rather odd complaint about iTunes refusing to give him an "advance." Royalties won't suffice for this royal.

At least through all this artistic unevenness and business chaos and disorder, there has been one constant: the tackiest album covers in the business.

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And now Prince is committed to keeping his new release off iTunes and other digital platforms, which seems like the latest in a long line of losing battles for the once-visionary funkmeister. 

We'd like to propose that Prince record a new album all about his loathing for computers and the web. He could remake some of his old tunes with lyrics reflecting his disdain for all things digital. The track list could look a little like this:

"Gett Off-Line"

"I Wanna Be Your Luddite"

"Little Dead Diskette"

"When Fail Whales Cry"

"Megabytes Don't Matter 2 Night"

"Diamonds vs. BlackBerry Pearls"

"Under the Cherry Zune"

"Facebook Down"

"iPad Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"

"1989"

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