When pop star Beyonce shocked the world with a self-titled surprise album on Dec. 13, her fans were overjoyed. Who wasn’t thrilled? Target, the retailer who had worked with her on the heavily marketed roll-out of her last release.
In response to Beyonce’s decision to go it alone, Target decided that it would not stock the physical album on its shelves, unlike other brick-and-mortar retailers like Wal-Mart. The company said it preferred to carry albums released at the same time in all formats, to give physical sales a fighting chance.
This bold rejection of perhaps the most relevant female recording artist is likely designed as a warning to other musicians: If you won’t work with us on exclusive promotional deals to bring people to our stores, we won’t add to your sales. Target is the fourth-largest source of album sales in the US, according to Billboard, but its 5% share of the market is well behind iTunes, Amazon, and Wal-Mart, the top three that control 60% of the music market.
That means Target isn’t leaving a lot of revenue on the table with its PR move. Beyonce’s last album, 4, sold 1.4 million units in the US. Assuming that Target sold 5% of them at $12.99, it garnered $909,000 in revenue. (For reference, the company had earnings of $341 million last quarter.) What Target really wants from Beyonce, then, isn’t the money it would make selling her album. It wants the customers enticed into the stores by the exclusive promotions Beyonce denied them.
Beyonce, however, is no fool, and her ersatz publicity stunt is paying off. While 4 was the worst-selling of her studio albums to date, the new surprise album has sold 617,000 copies on iTunes in the first week of its release, already giving it the title of fastest-selling album in the platform’s history.