In the New York Times, Jon Pareles gets it exactly right:
Prince’s priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it’s purchased or not. “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it,” his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. … Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music — impossible as that is in the digital era — and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.
Prince’s latest album Planet Earth was bundled for free with newspapers in the U.K.; His 2004 album Musicology was given away with all of his concert tickets that year, as he’s doing again this year. And in his 1993 track “Pope”, Prince said, “Every time u want it, I’ll be live — bring a date, I mean a computer; When it’s over, press save.” — I think he meant it. Somehow the record industry thinks that giving music away for free is unsustainable, but I suppose that depends on what you’re good at.
The Times story has a bunch of MP3 samples of Prince’s biggest hits, too.