Cecilia Kang (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Taylor Swift’s album “1989″ is officially a monster hit, going platinum with 1.287 million copies sold in its first week in the biggest debut of an album since 2002.
The album is a rare success in an era of streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify that have made music easy to get for free or very cheaply. Until now, there wasn’t a single album released this year to reach sales of 1 million copies, making Swift the only artist this year to go platinum, according to the Nielsen Soundscan.
And she achieved her results in a decidedly old-fashioned way. She has an exclusive promotion with Target that gives customers who buy her CD in the stores three extra songs and songwriting voice memos form the artist. She put dozens of photos in an envelope with the CD. And most notably, she removed all her music from Spotify, the popular streaming service.
Swift achieved what few artists can these days: get people to pay for music.
She said in an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block: “There has to be an incentive to go to a store, buy a CD.”
“So it’s very much an experience that’s different than downloading the music itself. It’s almost like this kind of collector’s edition, the physical copy,” she added, in the NPR interview.
The move comes amid a dramatic shift in the music industry toward streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify_and downloads on iTunes fall. Apple’s iPod and iTunes was in the late 1990s was cheered by the music industry as a panacea for piracy. Now, artists fear users have become too accustomed to free music over streaming services that give musicians far less in royalties. Spotify gives back artists about 7/10 of a penny for every time their songs are heard.
The question now is if other artists can follow Swift’s lead. She’s seen an a rare exception in the music industry — so big and powerful that she can reject a service like Spotify. Beyonce has released her music exclusively on iTunes, where artists say they get more in return from direct sales of downloads. Beyonce is also looking to physical sales of CDs with the expected release of additional songs in a Holiday edition box set of CDs that expand her self-titled album released last year.
“Not everyone is Taylor Swift and the next question is what does her decision do to the broader economics of a service like Spotify?” said Ted Kalo, executive director of MusicFirst, a trade group that represents music labels, unions and artists.
Spotify said in its blog announcing Swift’s decision to pull her titles that 16 million of its 40 million global users have listened to a Swift song in the last 30 days. According to an industry source familiar with discussions between Spotify and Swift’s record label, Big Machine, the artist wanted the album to be available to Spotify’s customers outside the United States. Big Machine feared that the availability of “1989″ in the U.S. on Spotify would hurt album sales.
“If a big artist like Taylor Swift doesn’t want to be on Spotify, how many people will want to listen to Spotify?” Kalo said.
The last album to sell as many copies in its first week as “1989″ was Eminem’s 2002 “The Eminem Show.”