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Taylor Swift's new album, Red, sold more 1.2 million copies in its first week — the highest first-week sales total for an album in over a decade. She did it partly by answering a surprisingly complicated question: What's the best way to sell an album?
There are so many ways to release your music these days. You can sell it at Amazon, iTunes, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks. You can release it to streaming sites like Spotify. You can go on tour.
Each artist chooses a mix of tools from this toolbox. And choosing the right mix can help an artist make money — something that's hard to do in an era when it's so easy to get free music.
Taylor Swift picked expertly. As Paul Resnikoff, editor and founder of Digital Music News points out, she has chosen from the toolbox only the outlets that would give her the most money for every album sold: Outlets that pushed a full album purchase.
The first week her album came out, you could only get it in a few key places: i-tunes, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Target. You could order a Papa Johns pizza and receive the CD — at the sticker price of around 14 bucks.
But the tools Swift didn't use are as important than the ones she did. By refusing to release her singles on Spotify, or any other streaming site, she pushed her fans to buy the album. Spotify pays the artist pennies on the dollar. Taylor Swift skipped it.
"Taylor already has so many fans, that she doesn't need to have that, like, incentive," 16-year-old superfan Lindsey Feinstein says. "Like, 'Oh, listen to this, and then you'll buy it.' She's past that level."
Streaming music is more like an advertisement for the artist. It's a process of music discovery, not necessarily music fandom. You build brand loyalty to the artist through streaming. Taylor Swift does not have a problem with brand loyalty. As Lindsey says, she's past that.