Beyoncé's fifth album "Beyoncé" has critics and fans alike hailing Queen Bey. Its 14 songs and accompanying 17 music videos were produced in utmost secrecy until they were released in their entirety exclusively on iTunes by early Friday morning. But one player in the music industry isn't kneeling to kiss her ring: Target will not be carrying "Beyoncé" when it is available in hard copy later this month, as Billboard first reported.
However losing Target's support is only a small price to pay for what is already declared a massive success of an album release (Wal-Mart and other brick-and-mortar stores plan on carrying physical copies of "Beyonce" later this month).
"If this was a normal release, then she would be a little more nervous about not being able to sell in Target," says music industry analyst Mark Mulligan of MIDia consulting. "But now I think she's going to feel a little bit more confident"
"Beyoncé" has already made music history for its exclusive digital full-album release – setting an iTunes record for the 828,773 copies sold worldwide in its first three days. With the album alongside her current global tour, Forbes is already predicting 2014 to be Beyoncé's most lucrative year yet.
The question is now being asked: Could Beyoncé's shock-and-awe approach work for others – and not just musicians, but even for other sectors of the entertainment industry? A fan base as devoted and vocal as Beyoncé's is certainly necessary, as is the capital and label support to produce a project that includes not just the album, but 17 full-scale videos. And while it is not the first album to drop unexpectedly, there has been no release quite like "Beyoncé," giving it a lightening-in-a-bottle, novel quality that will likely never again be captured. Nevertheless its success still suggests some small but notable changes in the music industry:
New modes of distribution and promoting (or lack thereof) can be their own marketing strategies.
"You can find a lot of buzz by doing something different. It will give you a lot more cut through for a lot less spend," Mulligan says. Beyoncé's husband Jay Z capitalized on this idea earlier this year, by making headlines outside of the Arts section with a $5 million Samsung deal that released the his album "Magna Carta … Holy Grail" as an app to the first 1 million users for free.
For the album Jay Z embarked on a rather unconventional promotional campaign, but Beyoncé took it one step farther, avoiding the typical media blitz altogether. She announced the album only moments before its midnight iTunes release – via her Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, which have respectively 13 million, 53 million, 8 million followers. While Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry have been working their tails off to promote their albums this fall, Beyoncé has stayed mum on the new music – releasing the album only with a brief statement that seemed to troll her pop rivals' efforts. Yet by shunning the press, she further piqued its interest.
"It will be no accident of this strategy that the press pick up was a keen part of it: 'How can we get the press interested in this? Let's do something that will be a news story rather than just a music review,'" Mulligan says.
Windowing is a gamble worth taking and iTunes is the place to do it.
Windowing – releasing a product via one type of distribution venue before others – is a topic being debated not just in music, but for movies and television. For Beyoncé, the strategy of releasing "Beyoncé" on iTunes early has worked, particularly because it engaged her most devoted listeners. "It creates a sense of scarcity," Mulligan says. "It made those core fans who rushed out to be one of those [617,000] who bought the album in the U.S. feel like they're getting something special before anybody else." And not only did they buy it, they talked about it. News of the album carried from Twitter feeds and Facebook likes, to blog posts and newspaper headlines, even as the first of the full-length videos and songs were only made available for free online days later. Of course this move is what turned off Target – which had its own exclusive version of her last album.