Prince Was a Tech Innovator Who Didn’t Always Get Credit for His Early Commitment to Digital

Embraced e-commerce in the '90s

In 1997, Prince, who died today at 57, sold a three-CD set called Crystal Ball directly on the internet, making him one of the first major pop stars to embrace e-commerce. The only other way you could get the discs was by calling 1-800-New-Funk.

In 2006, the music icon notched a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his groundbreaking commitment to distributing his songs online. At that juncture, his NPG Music Club business was offering several full-length Prince albums exclusively on the internet.

In 2015, he yanked most of his catalog from music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music and shifted the lion's share of the content to Jay Z's Tidal app because he liked the business model.

So, at least once every nine years for three decades, the godfather of the Minneapolis Sound pronounced rather loudly that he understood the power digital distribution could hold if the industry could just get it right. The problem was, many would argue, the industry didn't get it right during the lifetime of Prince Rogers Nelson—for him or any other musician.

Because he had technology-based battles at times—much like he fought with his on-again, off-again record label, Warner Music—people tend to overlook Prince's cutting-edge efforts. In fact, if you search "Prince hates the internet" on Google, hundreds of thousands of results show up.

Here's why: The musician shut down the NPG Music Club in 2006 after getting discouraged with sales, and in 2010, he told the Daily Mirror, "The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good." In 2014, he sued 22 fans, for $1 million a piece for bootlegging his concerts on file-sharing sites.

Conversely, in 2013, a YouTube account surfaced for his band, 3rdEyeGirl. And he eventually got on board with music streaming apps, making a steady home with Tidal last December.

The Purple One didn't seem to have a problem with tech when it worked—he had a problem with the poor-performing middleman whether online or offline. Who could blame him?

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