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Apple scraps with War Child over charity album price

Record pulled while price-tag fixed

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Apple clashed with kids-caught-in-conflict charity War Child last week when it appeared to go its own way on album pricing.

The iTunes Music Store initially sold the new War Child album, Help: A Life in the Day, for two pounds less than the price demanded by the charity. When the organisation made its displeasure known, the online store was forced to withdraw the record for almost a day while it corrected the error.

"They'd 'racked' it at the wrong price," said Julian Carrera of War Child. The new album celebrates the tenth anniversary of the charity's first Help CD, recorded back when life was simple and all downloads illegal. "But in terms of pure volume, iTunes has really come to the party - and will generate huge sales/profits, which will go straight into our projects in war zones," Carrera added.

A happy ending then, but a potentially embarrassing mistake. It would be more forgiveable if ITMS didn't have 'previous form': it famously refused to sell the re-recorded Do they know it's Christmas? single at the Band Aid-demanded price, until someone in its PR department pointed out that refusing to help starving Africans, or to stock the current number one single, might not win over prospective customers.

Last December, ITMS was forced to donate 79p to Band Aid for every single sold, allowing the charity to gain the £1.49 is was asking and ITMS to continue selling the single for its standard price of 79p. That led to claims that ITMS was not able to sell tracks for anything else because the 79p price had been hard-coded into its e-commerce engine.

That allegation resurfaced last week. While the War Child album is now on sale everywhere for the correct £9.99, tracks from the album are still on sale for just 79p on ITMS - 20p a song less than the charity is selling them for on its own site.

Apple wouldn't tell us how many people bought the album at the discount price, if it'll be giving the difference to the charity, or if it'll be handing over that 20p discrepancy on sales of individual tracks, as it agreed to do with the Band Aid single.

Meanwhile, the album itself has been selling spectacularly, with downloads via the charity's site topping 18,000 in its first two hours on sale. With 60,000 tracks sold on the first day, and the physical CD still to go on sale, War Child already feels confident that the exercise has been an overwhelming success, claiming that it's on track to become the biggest downloaded album ever.

In a remarkable feat of timing, while Apple and War Child were chatting over sticker prices, both were nominated for best digital music store in the BPI-sponsored Digital Music Awards, alongside Napster, Tune Tribe and KarmaDownload. War Child Music may not have the variety, back catalogue or ambition of the others, but at least it can get its own pricing right. ®

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