How Beyoncé Got Us to Pay for Music

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 13 2013 10:31 AM

How Beyoncé Got Us to Pay for Music

180961042
The exception that proves the rule.

Photo by Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Just as I was writing about how hard it is to get people to pay for music, what do I find myself doing but paying for Beyoncé's new album, which dropped secretly with no publicity early this morning on iTunes.

Why does it work? A bunch of factors:

  • Everyone already knows who Beyoncé is, and there's a large audience for "the new Beyoncé album" that doesn't need details about its content.
  • She's created artificial scarcity by distributing it exclusively through iTunes.
  • The no-publicity thing serves as a great publicity stunt; everyone's talking about it on social media.
  • Surprise is a great way of getting people out of their stingy mindset. I like Beyoncé, but she's not my very favorite artist. There's probably something else I could have done with the $15 I dropped on this. But because the availability of the album was a surprise, it became an impulse purchase.
Advertisement

Long story short—good for her. It's important to keep innovating in business models. But this almost certainly isn't generalizable. To make it work, you have to be such a big star already that "grow your audience by distributing as widely as possible" isn't an important consideration. A handful of artists can take this approach. But for everyone else, in order to ever become a big star you need to adopt a growth-first distribution strategy.

And of course the surprise album is a genius idea, but the genius of it is precisely that this isn't the way it's done. If everyone dropped unannounced albums at midnight with no publicity, it'd be boring.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?