The release of a blockbuster album has historically come with a few standard marketing moves.
Flood the radio with an early single. Book as many TV appearances as possible. Line up partnerships with big retailers and consumer brands.
But at midnight Thursday, when Beyoncé released her latest album, she did none of those things.
Instead, she merely wrote, “Surprise!” to her more than 8 million Instagram followers, and the full album — all 14 songs and 17 videos of it — appeared for sale on iTunes.
Most Read Business Stories
- The penthouse atop Smith Tower is on the rental market for the first time
- Washington state ‘literally failed workers,’ and fixing the unemployment system won't be easy
- Downtowns will be back, but Seattle has choices to make
- Costco, Whole Foods rise in Greenpeace rankings of grocery chains' plastic use
- Black Amazon manager sues executives over alleged racial discrimination and sexual harassment
The stealth rollout of the album, “Beyoncé,” upended the music industry’s conventional wisdom, and was a smashing success.
Apple reported Monday that it became the fastest-selling album in its history, with 828,773 copies sold around the world in its first three days, including 617,213 in the United States.
It reached No. 1 on iTunes’s sales rankings in 104 countries.
“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it,” Beyoncé said in a news release, which so far represents the only public comments that she or Columbia, her label, have made. “I am bored with that.”
Though few acts could attract the same attention as Beyoncé, the episode contains some lessons — and possibly a future blueprint — for the music industry.
In bypassing the industry’s traditional promotional machinery, she demonstrated social media’s power to amplify news and to forge a direct connection to her audience.
The release was “designed to highlight that it’s about her and her fan relationships,” said Alice Enders, a media analyst with the firm Enders Analysis in London.
Beyoncé appeared to agree with that assessment.
“There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans,” she said in the news release. “I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it’s ready and from me to my fans.”
The news quickly spread well past Beyoncé’s core audience, however.
The swift online reaction to the album’s release — according to data from Twitter cited by Billboard, the news generated 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours — became a news story in itself.
Other stars like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga promoted it to their millions of followers on social media, magnifying the attention.
The album also quickly gained critical acclaim.
As a stunt, the release also showed the marketing value of no marketing.
Typically, to spur sales for high-priority albums, record companies follow Hollywood’s time-tested strategy of pointing consumers — repeatedly, and through every media platform available — to a specific release date in the future, and piggybacking on the promotional might of big consumer brands.
Justin Timberlake, for instance, blitzed late night-TV and was in commercials for Target and Bud Light Platinum before releasing his album “The 20/20 Experience” in March.
Beyoncé also bucked other industry trends.
At a time when singles are the dominant sales unit for pop music, the album was presented to fans as a complete multimedia work that had to be purchased in its entirety for $15.99.
Accompanying the songs is a collection of videos by celebrated directors like Hype Williams and Terry Richardson.
As Beyoncé explained in a video posted to her Facebook account, she wanted the album to be consumed and appreciated as a full artistic expression.
To prevent leaks, Columbia waited until after the exclusive iTunes release to manufacture the CD-DVD version of the album, which the release on Friday promised “will be available at retail in time for the holidays.”
Beyoncé’s surprise album did not turn away radio stations, which are usually supplied with music in advance and courted by the record labels.
Dion Summers, who programs urban music at SiriusXM Radio, said that rather than wait for Beyoncé’s label to deliver the music, he bought the album early Friday and began to play the songs “Drunk in Love” and “Partition” immediately.
“It’s an instant classic; a game changer,” Summers said.
“It has a long life ahead of it.”