Dec 18, 2013

    How Beyonce changed the game


    BEYONCE'S surprise album release last week was celebrated by some commentators as a herald of things to come in the music industry, and dismissed by others as a mere stunt.

    But by sheer sales numbers, it was an unqualified success.

    The record, "Beyonce" (Columbia), appeared on Apple's iTunes store on Friday morning with no warning. Yet Apple reported on Monday that it became the fastest-selling album in its history, with 828,773 copies sold around the world in the first three days, including 617,213 in the United States. It reached No. 1 on iTunes' sales rankings in 104 countries.

    In the US, where albums are typically released on Tuesdays, "Beyonce" had the fourth-biggest opening-week sales of any album this year, after Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" (with 968,000 sales), Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (792,000) and Drake's "Nothing Was The Same" (658,000).

    It also performed far better than Beyonce's last album, "4", which sold 310,000 copies in its first week two years ago.

    News of the release caught fire on social media. On Monday, Twitter published an animated heat map showing Beyonce-themed tweets spreading across the planet, turning into a white-hot glow after a few hours in the US, Britain and Turkey.

    The surprise release defied most of the music industry's standard marketing strategies, especially in how the singer and Columbia did not supply a single to radio stations in advance. But radio programmers seized on the release anyway, buying the album from iTunes and putting songs from it - particularly Drunk In Love and Partition - in rotation on multiple formats.

    Mr John Sykes, the president for entertainment enterprises at Clear Channel, which has about 850 stations, called the release "a great event for radio".

    According to Mediabase, a radio-tracking service, at least 14 million people in the US were exposed to Beyonce's new songs over the radio by Sunday night.

    "It made people rush to the radio," Mr Sykes said in an interview on Monday. "Thousands of radio stations were playing those songs day and night. We were thrilled."