Travis Scott offered a discount code to longtime fans to drop the price of the vinyl version of Utopia from $50 to just $5. The strategy helped the album chart—but should it?
Fans of the rapper quickly latched onto a reddit post advertising a discount code for the vinyl titled, “$5 VINYL GO!” in August. Following that post, Luminate data reveals Scott sold 88,500 vinyl copies of the album, four week after release. Between July 28 and September 7, fans have purchased an estimated 331,000 double LPs.
The growth of vinyl as a format has exploded in recent years. It is in its 17th year of straight growth, with 2022 seeing 41.7 million units sold—for 50% growth over the 27.5 million sold in 2019. Just a peek at this graph of vinyl sales from 1993 until now highlights how much the format has grown since 2006. Scott’s offering of $5 vinyls came through discount codes and bundled add-ons when fans bought merchandise from his web store.
But Billboard estimates the rapper did not make a profit on any of the albums sold for $5. “One manager who spoke on the condition of anonymity says he was recently quoted around $7 a unit to manufacture an order of double vinyl,” the report reads. So, if it costs $7 for a double LP, then offering it up for sale for $5 means Travis Scott can’t be making anything at all. This cost doesn’t even consider the mechanical royalties paid out by the song (around 12 cents per song).
Scott moves plenty of merch at sky-high prices, so taking a loss on an order of vinyl to help an album chart isn’t a surprising strategy. But is it one that should catch on? Billboard’s data collected by Luminate cannot distinguish between a vinyl LP sold for $5 at a loss or one sold at $50 to generate a profit. In its books (and charts), a sale is a sale.
Scott’s strategy is very similar to one employed by many authors to wind up on the New York Times best-seller list—simply because appearing on that list can generate additional sales. A 2004 study found that appearing on the NYT best-seller list helped increase debut authors’ sales by 57%. On average for non-debut authors, it helped increase sales around 14%.
So Scott is taking a loss on the backend by moving merch at a massive discount simply for the visibility it provides by remaining in Billboard’s charts from the physical sales boost.