Beyoncé’s fifth album was released last Friday exclusively on iTunes without any promotional marketing whatsoever. Here’s some stats from the weekend courtesy of Consequence of Sound:

  • Beyoncé is iTunes fastest selling album ever.
  • It sold 828,773 copies in three days. (The previous record was Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience which sold 580,000)
  • The album went to number one in the iTunes chart in 104 countries (out of a possible 119)
  • Beyoncé led to the largest full-priced digital album sales week ever. (Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was the previous holder with 662,000 and even that number was enhanced thanks to an Amazon promotion that sold the album for 99 cents)
  • There were 1.2 million tweets about the album within 24 hours of its release.
  • On Facebook, mentions of Beyoncé spiked more than 1,300% mere hours after the album’s release.

Here’s a picture of Beyoncé riding a golden bicycle to celebrate.

How did Beyoncé achieve this?

For a start Beyoncé has mimicked the element of surprise that other, far less mainstream, artists have utilised to great notoriety. Radiohead, Death Grips and My Bloody Valentine have all released albums from seemingly out of nowhere. It’s generates a sudden rush of publicity, and the release can be controlled in the most agile way; exploiting any window of opportunity or not if a more news-worthy event suddenly gets in the way.

The surprise album release is not how mega pop superstars like Beyoncé are meant to do it though.

Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga each released a new album this year and each one had multiple single releases, music videos, fashion shoots, TV appearances, cross-promotional tie-ins and countless other expensive hype-builders months before their eventual album releases. Only, for those three artists, none of it really worked.

Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP cost $25m to promote and sold just over 250,000 copies in its first week, this is a considerable flop and may lead to a major rethink at label Interscope and possibly lay-offs. Perry and Cyrus, the other supposed queens of pop, didn’t sell much more, with 286,000 and 270,000 respectively.

Beyoncé has barely cost her label, Columbia, a single dollar to promote, and yet it has scored record-breaking figures.

She overstepped the exhausting hype machine and has done things on entirely her own terms and more importantly, in her own words:

I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it [before], I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans.

Beyoncé has taken a gamble on social engagement and has come out as the biggest selling pop star on the planet since the digital music revolution.

Thank goodness for that too, as I was getting pretty sick of hearing about Miley bleeding Cyrus.