You could still argue that Taylor Swift would have sold even more if she’d licensed Spotify. But most likely, she would have sold less: according to stats just released by Nielsen Soundscan and tweeted by the singer, Red shifted an unbelievable, record-setting 1.2 million copies during its first week alone. And, this is in the US only.
The result puts a recent, Spotify-powered success story by Mumford & Sons into a totally different light. Leading into the Taylor release, Mumford’s Babel set a massive streaming record on Spotify, and still went on to sell a sizable 600,000 first-week units. The strategy of granting full access obviously worked, but in the end, Babel sold half of what Red sold. These are different artists with different audiences, with different consumption behaviors.
And, Red sold an almost unthinkable number of units, especially in such an album-challenged era. Swift surpassed the previous million-plus first-week seller, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, by roughly 100,000 units, but Gaga received a tremendous boost from a sharply discounted, 99-cent album bonanza on Amazon. That was a near-freebie for fans, and a subsidized attention-getter for Amazon.
Yet Taylor’s camp decided against such a ploy: in fact, Swift’s label, Big Machine Records, expressly restricted Red from appearing on Amazon MP3 (and Google Play, for that matter). The reason was simple: Big Machine wanted to prevent that sort of price-chopping from happening, a development that would have devalued the full-priced integrity for exclusive partners like iTunes, Target, and even Papa John’s Pizza.
Which means, in the end, Red sold 1.2 million the old-fashioned way: at full price, and through a highly-controlled list of retail partners. And the last album to reach that first-week tally was The Eminem Show, released in 2002 – before Spotify, before Amazon MP3, and even before the iTunes Music Store.