Did Switching Cell-phone Carriers Cost U2 360,000 Fans?

If “Get on Your Boots” had sound-tracked an iPod touch ad, would things be different now? Most likely! First-week figures are in this morning, and U2’s No Line on the Horizon sold a respectable 480,000, beating earlier projections by a little. Even so, it sold 360,000 copies fewer than U2’s 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb did in its first seven days, which is probably troubling to anyone with a vested interest in the future of megabands.

Plenty are blaming its leak onto the Internet nine days before its release (even though Atomic Bomb leaked a whole month before it hit stores), or the overall decline in music sales (even though Coldplay’s Viva la Vida sold 720,000 CDs in a week last summer, which wasn’t that many fewer than X&Y’s 740,000 in 2005), or the cratering economy (even though Amazon was selling Horizon for just $3.99).

If we’re totally overlooking the album’s quality, though, the only plausible-seeming theory for the drop in sales is Horizon’s lack of an iPod ad. Sure, the band promoted it everyplace else, but not even five Letterman appearances or having their own street in Manhattan can compete with preferred placement on iTunes these days. Atomic Bomb surely benefited big-time from its first single’s presence in an Apple commercial (as did Coldplay’s recent Viva la Vida), along with the free promotion it got from the release of U2’s very own iPod in 2004.

But since then, Elevation Partners, the private equity firm with which Bono is affiliated, has purchased 40 percent of Palm, maker of iPod and iPhone competitors, reportedly pissing off Steve Jobs. Then, on Monday, U2 officially announced that their upcoming tour would be sponsored by Research In Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry, which we certainly can’t imagine went over well in Cupertino. One shudders to think how they’ll make up those 360,000 lost sales in ticket prices.

Did Switching Cell-phone Carriers Cost U2 360,000 Fans?