Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In a Struggling Music Industry, Taylor Swift May Have Cracked the "Successful Album Release" Code

The last decade has been awash with reports about the imminent demise of the music industry.  And while the industry has certainly dealt with major disruptions from a variety of sources (most notably new technology and shifting consumer habits), at the end of 2012 the major record labels remain (mostly) intact.

Album sales have declined steadily over the last decade. So a successful album release strategy for a major artist is still largely unknown.  But with that in mind, the innovative strategy behind the October release of Taylor Swift's new album, Red, may have finally cracked the code, selling 1.2 million copies in its first week.

Swift first leveraged her existing marketing partnerships to make sure promotion was at a peak leading up to the actual release. She also limited the availability of the record in its initial release to those outlets that would give her the most money for each album sold: i-Tunes, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Target.  Some of those were partnerships she made specifically for the release of Red, for instance Walgreens is open 24 hours which meant that true fans could pick up the album at 12:01am the morning it was released.  Creating new opportunities where I can't imagine anyone saw one previously, she also partnered with Papa Johns, offering a Taylor Swift pizza deal that came in a special box with a copy of the new album-- at the full price of $14.

The distribution strategy is also significant in the outlets that she chose not to allow the album to be released through.  Generally speaking, these were the streaming music services such as Spotify.  By withholding the album from these outlets, it forced fans who wanted to hear the album to go out and purchase it. The thinking behind this strategy is simply that streaming music is an advertisement for the artist, and Taylor Swift is already so huge and has so many loyal fans that there was very little value added by those services. 

This strategy is also based around an assumption that fans needed to hear the album first and early. While the album has been incredibly successful in the weeks after its initial release, this release strategy (of which, the distribution strategy was just a part) prioritized first week sales, and did so very effectively.

Questions: Can the release and distribution strategies used by Taylor Swift for the release of Red be used by other artists in the music industry, or was this a unique case?  What lessons can be extracted and applied to other industries?  Have you heard Taylor Swift's new album and if so, what did you think of it?  (It received a 77/100 rating on MetaCritic)  Finally, is this release strategy applicable outside of her unique demographic?

The Guardian - "Music is thriving, but the business is dying. Who can make it pay again?"
TechDirt - "Where Record Labels Ran Into Trouble: Monoculture"
ThinkProgress - "The Record Industry Is In Even More Serious Trouble Than We Thought"
Planet Money - "Album Sales Hit Record Lows. Again."
Billboard - "How Taylor Swift's 'Red' Is Getting A Boost From Branding Mega-Deals"
Planet Money - "The Secret Genius of Taylor Swift"
Taylor Swift - Official Site

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