Late last week, Reddit broke the news of Bon Iver's sophomore album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, leaking (flooding) to the internet. A snafu somewhere along the many-linked chain of digital distribution ultimately caused Apple to make the entirety of the record available for purchase instead of just its lead single, "Calgary," which in turn led to its dissemination. So what happened?
For the vast majority of record labels, digital distribution is usually handled by a company devoted to the practice, like CD Baby, TuneCore, Ioda, et al. A label pays these companies to handle the bumpy terrain of pushing releases out to the various digital marketplaces like iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and Rhapsody. The marketplaces then take a percentage off the top of what they sell and shuttle the profits back to the distributor, who then shuttle them to the label, who then pay the artist. Anywhere along this line, the release date of Bon Iver could have been mistyped (5/21/11 instead of its intended release date, 6/21/11), or someone at iTunes could have clicked the wrong button on a computer screen that probably resembles a mission control console.
"It could very possibly be a mistake on the label's end...knowing how the backend of iTunes works, it's very easy to mistakenly release something early. It's really easy for people to blame iTunes. They're great to blame because you probably won't get anyone on the phone," says Ben Blackwell, the person in charge of digital distribution for Third Man Records, whose band the Raconteurs (signed to Universal at the time) had a similar experience in 2008 when Apple made their record available over Easter weekend, several days before it's official release. Asked whether Jagjaguwar and Bon Iver would have any recourse towards iTunes, Blackwell explained: "It's just one of those things. I don't know if you can really argue that iTunes is giving the record away, because people had to pay for it. I think anyone who would be looking for any recourse would be foolish. I'm sure Apple and iTunes didn't want it to happen."
It's a sentiment echoed by Modern Radio co-owner Tom Loftus, who uses Ioda to handle his label's digital releases. "I can't imagine Apple, as far as a business model, would do something like that intentionally. It doesn't really endear people to work with them. It's the same thing as selling a CD early in the store. That shit happened all the time back in the day and still does. This just happened to be, instead of going to Treehouse and having one guy behind the counter know you, the Mall of America yelling 'we've got this deal!'"
It's unlikely Apple, one of the largest and scariest corporations in the world, is going to come forward and admit fault, as unlikely as it is that Jagjaguwar would admit to making the mistake. What's done is done in this case, it would seem. Including, most importantly, the production of a beautiful record. "The people who are going to pay for it are going to pay for it, and people who are going to download it illegally are going to download illegally," is how Tom Loftus put it, and we'd like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to be the former, whether or not you're already the latter.