How Beyoncé Got Us to Pay for Music

Moneybox
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

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.