Lady Gaga's latest album, "ARTPOP," will come out November 11, her Facebook page announced early Friday. But on that day, her "little monsters" won't just be lining up at record stores, they'll be anxiously tapping away on their smartphones. As announced initially last September, the album will be released in an app that "combines music, art, fashion, and technology."
"ARTPOP" also will be available though conventional platforms, though her September statement suggested it will be a lesser experience (or as she put it, "unique and different to the app"). Mobile app growth has exploded in recent years, yet artists for the most part have shied away from launching full albums through apps. Rather they have explored the space on a much smaller level, with games, photo filters or even apps that allow users to send artists virtual bottles of champagne, to varied success.
Whether Lady Gaga's release proves successful (i.e. lucrative) could be the turning point in artists using apps for more large scale projects.
"It's not a technology problem. It's a business problem," Michael Schneider, the CEO of music app company Mobile Roadie, says. "I think no one got the model down right to begin with."
Other industry watchers have come to similar conclusions, with Clyde Smith at Hypebot writing, "The one reasonable explanation I can come up with is the fact that mobile app pricing tends to range from free to a few bucks." Even though the cost for making apps has dropped significantly, record companies can't release an album for a couple bucks through an app store that would be $10 on iTunes.
Bjork released her 2012 album "Biophilia" through an iOS app, in which users got one song for free and paid for the rest of the album on a song-by-song basis. Figures were never released on how much the app made, though it allegedly cost some $500,000 to create. A Kickstarter campaign to fund a "Biophilia" app for Android was canceled early, suggesting the endeavor wasn't exactly a smashing financial success.
More recently, Jay-Z released "Magna Carta Holy Grail" through a special Samsung app. Samsung paid him $5 million upfront to release the album exclusively to 1 million of its Galaxy users for free a few days ahead of physical copies. So far, Gaga has made no intimation that she will procure a similar deal (she did tell fans in September "start asking for IPADS FOR XMAS!!"). Additionally, she is couching the app release as a measure of artistic value – "a reverse Warholian expedition," she wrote Friday – not as a commercial gain, which Jay-Z was criticized for.
But will enough people buy her app to justify whatever the extra cost to develop it (which judging by her description, should be considerable)?
Considering the September announcement, Gaga and her team has had, at the least, nearly a year to work the app. Samsung reportedly had only 17 days to put together "Magna Carta Holy Grail," and if anything, her app must avoid the glitches experienced by Jay-Z's Samsung venture.
However, according to Schneider, the app stands the best chance of success if it facilitates a long-term relationship between an artist and her fans – with a continued supply of content, artist interaction, news and special exclusives – rather than one single, big release.
In her initial album announcement last September, Gaga promised as such: "I will also be able to upload new things to the APP all the time, the same way I upload to twitter and LM.com."
Indeed, Gaga has been able to cultivate a massive and particularly devoted fan following, her so-called "Little Monsters" by engaging them actively in social media. If anyone could pull off getting fans to pay extra for an app, it's "Mother Monster."
Which could also mean, even if Gaga's release is a success, it could still be the exception and not the rule for album releases via app.