Taylor Swift is going to save the CD

Are you ready for it?
Are you ready for it?
Image: Taylor Swift/Target screenshot
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Increasingly unloved and abandoned in the age of instant music streaming, the compact disc has been dying a miserable death. Taylor Swift, of all people, is here to bring it back.

The pop star’s new album Reputation drops Friday (Nov. 10), and there is no word yet on whether it’ll be immediately available on music-streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. Swift has clashed with those companies in the past over the amount of money they pay out to musicians, and she’s a big enough name that she could reject streaming and still rake in millions a year via other means.

One of those ways is pushing CD sales—a format that most other musicians have already given up on, as it makes little sense to try and get fans to pay $9.99 for a single record if they can have access to 30,000 songs on a streaming service for the same price each month. But Swift is determined to sell CDs, likely because they offer much higher revenue than streams; by most industry estimates, it takes 150 streams of every song on a 10-track album to match the money made from one CD sale.

The pop star’s previous album, 1989, also focused on sales, not streams—and that turned out to be a winning strategy. It was eight months after the release date that the album arrived on Apple Music, and in that time, it had already sold five million copies in CDs and digital downloads.

“Taylor Swift is one of the few artists who has the combination of star power and fan cultivation to truly drive how her music is consumed,” industry consultant Vickie Nauman said to the New York Times (paywall) this week. For Reputation, Swift has struck deals with corporations like Target and UPS: The massive retail chain will sell a special version of her album alongside two “unique, collectible magazines,” and the delivery company will bring fans copies of the CD via trucks plastered with Swift’s own face.

Many big artists these days—like Jay-Z, whose new concert tour is bringing in more money than ever because of a hack to its ticket-pricing model—are making business decisions against the grain, which is turning out to have tremendous influence on the ways that the world buys and listens to music on the whole. Swift fans will buy, not stream, her new album—but only because she says so.