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Apple says U2's 'Songs of Innocence' album downloaded 26M times since debut

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Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue on Thursday said U2's "Songs of Innocence," which was offered for free to iTunes users, has been downloaded 26 million times since its release on Sept. 9.

In addition to full album downloads, Cue said a worldwide total of 81 million customers "experienced" tracks from the LP, either through iTunes or streaming on iTunes Radio and Beats Music, reports Billboard.

"To help put this into perspective, prior to this, 14 million customers had purchased music from U2 since the opening of the iTunes Store in 2003," Cue told the publication.

Labeled as a "gift" to iTunes users, U2 debuted its latest LP at Apple's iPhone 6 event in September with a live performance of the album's first single The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone).

While Apple made the album free to download, the company caught flak for foisting "Songs of Innocence" onto iTunes customers by linking the LP to all 500 million user accounts. For those who had automatic downloads enabled, the move resulted in unapproved downloads that took up valuable device storage and bandwidth. A special Web-based removal tool was activated a few days later for those not interested in Bono's latest production.

Apple reportedly paid $100 million in global marketing for the opportunity and Billboard estimates Universal Music Group may have netted $52 million for exclusive rights. The publication also estimated an alternate upfront fee at around $5 million, but neither Apple or U2 would comment on the matter.

Following iTunes exclusivity, "Songs of Innocence" is slated to hit digital and physical store shelves on Oct. 14 with ten bonus tracks not available on to users of Apple's music store. Using preorder metrics, Billboard estimates the physical deluxe edition could move around 70,000 units in the U.S.