The Lessons of Beyoncé's Shock-and-Awe Album Approach

Losing Target's support was a small price to pay for Beyoncé's ground-breaking album rollout.

Beyoncé's surprise self-titled album set an iTunes record for the 828,773 copies sold worldwide in its first three days.

Beyoncé's surprise self-titled album set an iTunes record for the 828,773 copies sold worldwide in its first three days.

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"They don't like the idea of windowing, but the harsh reality is this is the way the world is going," Mulligan says. "Digital is becoming the most important platform and it's where the most valuable customers are by a long shot. And so it wouldn't make much commercial or marketing sense to do an exclusive with Target instead of an online destination."

[ALSO: Beyonce's New Album Release Is a Surprise]

For all the fuss about the rise of streaming services, Apple still carries its weight within the industry – a 41 percent share of the market to be exact, making it the top retailer in the industry. YouTube has become a hugely important venue for artists to showcase their work – so much so that Billboard is now including YouTube data in its Hot 100 chart. "But in terms of where music sales are happening there is nobody more important than apple," Mulligan says.

Music is getting the visual treatment.

"Video is going to be absolutely a center point of music experiences," Mulligan says. Lady Gaga and other artists experimented with bringing in a visual component to their albums by releasing them via apps. Perhaps in part due to the quirks of app pricing, these ventures have fallen flat. Beyoncé was wise to use a conventional delivery system – iTunes — to deliver an unconventional album.

"We're so far behind in music product strategy" when it comes to making the most of digital technology, Mulligan says. "Whether you buy it on the street or download, it's still a static audio file." Beyoncé has always been an immensely visual artist, so it works in her favor that the album is a comprehensive experience. To wit, many of the "Beyoncé" reviews incorporated not just the music, but the videos themselves, into their judgements.

The music still matters.

Not to be overlooked is the quality of "Beyoncé," which has received overwhelming praise from critics who have hailed it "close to a masterpiece," "terrific" and "her best." Beyoncé is well known for being a perfectionist and even obsessive about managing the product she is putting out. (The irony that many of her songs are critical of the media's obsession with perfect has not been lost on some.) Yet it pays off in music and videos that are expertly executed. Sure, there was rush of iTunes users who bought the album sight unseen and sound unheard. But the praise that "Beyonce" continues to attract all but guarantees it will keep selling well when it becomes available at other venues (just not Target).


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