Has Kanye West bagged himself a number one album with very few actual sales?
There is no physical version of the album for fans to purchase, whether CD or vinyl. There’s nothing on iTunes. There’s only a digital download available through Kanye’s own site. And up until last week, The Life of Pablo was only available to stream via Tidal.
Now, projections place this album at the top of the upcoming album charts, based largely on streaming activity.
Kanye West is a polished pro at placing himself squarely in the center of controversial situations, with tactics that excite the emotions and generate headline dominance. But Kanye definitely had bigger plans than simply bagging the latest headline.
The exclusive strategy.
The Life Of Pablo has so far been a smash, albeit in its own little world. Tidal reported that the album was streamed over 250 million times in the first 10 days. Kanye subsequently proclaimed that the album would ‘never never never’ be available on Apple Music or any other streaming service, causing a craze in Tidal sign-ups.
The masses dubbed this a bad idea, especially as Kanye’s album didn’t even chart initially. But this may have simply been a problem with Tidal, a platform that somehow wasn’t communicating streaming figures to Nielsen Music (intentionally or accidentally).
Increasing availability strategy.
After saying that The Life of Pablo would ‘never’ be available on any other service besides Tidal, Kanye ‘changed his mind’ and made the album available on both Apple Music and Spotify. With Spotify’s estimated 100 million users (30 million paying), and Apple’s 11 million subscribers, The Life was headed towards bigger arenas.
Album modification strategy.
Just as his fans had thought they’d had enough of listening to the album, Kanye announced that he was making significant alterations to numerous songs on the album, which he did. At present, nearly every song on the album has had an update. So those fans that have already streamed the The Life of Pablo, continued to stream the album, over and over again.
The result was lots and lots of engagement. The combination of constant alteration, Tidal exclusivity, and sudden, increased availability through Spotify and Apple Music created a steep incline in streams. And since Billboard now includes streaming figures and individual track downloads into their chart formulas, a digital-only strategy is suddenly translating into a trophy.
Indeed, Kanye’s genius strategies for increasing streaming numbers may have bagged him the first number one album fueled exclusively by streaming. And very few actual sales.
(Image by Kenny Sun, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic, CC by 2.0)