"There's no secret room with people trying to mine through and find out which other artists you like or don't like."
——John Meneilly


WSJ Investigates What Went Wrong During
the July Fourth Rollout

The Wall Street Journal somehow managed to avoid any references to “99 Problems” in its report this morning on the glitches that beset the rollout of Magna Carta Holy Grail to Samsung Galaxy owners via an app on Google Play. The unprecedented promotion, which drew across-the-board raves when Jay-Z and his collaborators did the initial reveal during the NBA Finals on ABC, has forced them to halt their victory lap on the album’s official release day to explain these technical problems as well as user complaints about privacy, which combined to mar the July 4 event.

Problems began, writes John Jurgensen, when users experienced delays in downloading the music on and after midnight East Coast time. Frustrated, they closed and opened the app repeatedly, creating a backlog of data requests that swamped the company's servers, Colleen McDuffe, director of digital marketing for Samsung Telecommunications America, told the reporter. Samsung said that 1.2 million copies of the app were downloaded, but wouldn't say how many copies of the album have been successfully downloaded, only that the figure is "very close" to the 1 million allotted digital units.

Through a spokeswoman, Jay-Z declined to comment. On Monday, when asked in a Twitter session about complaints about the app, he replied with a conciliatory tweet that included the words "must do better."

Even many of those who were able to download the album were turned off by the amount of personal info the app requested, including their physical location and data related to their phone calls. The app also asked them to sign into Facebook or Twitter before they could use the app, and the software required users to send out an alert to a social account when they took basic steps like accessing song lyrics. McDuffe said that all of the requests were required to make the app function as planned, and that the requirement to go public on social media wasn't meant to be intrusive.

"It's much ado about nothing," said Jay-Z’s co-manager John Meneilly. "You have to provide a lot more information than was asked for in this app when you buy music with a credit card." He said the rapper's company, Roc Nation, has no plans to use any personal information gathered through the app. "There's no secret room with people trying to mine through and find out which other artists you like or don't like."

The experiment is being closely watched in the music biz, where apps are widely seen as the next distribution system, Jurgensen notes. Lady Gaga has said the release of her next album will revolve around an app. It’s unclear what effect the exclusive release through Samsung—or the initial problems—will have on sales of the album when it gets its conventional release today.

As apps gain popularity, musicians and companies are feeling their way through the new rules of digital etiquette. Michael Schneider, co-founder and CEO of Mobile Roadie, a popular supplier of music apps, says in the piece that requiring users to share their app activity on social media is especially problematic.

"Top of the list is don't force people to log in. I think that's wrong and it turns fans off," he said. In the case of the Jay-Z app, he noted, the obligatory sharing was somewhat tempered by the fact that users knew they would be receiving a free album in exchange for their tweets and posts.

His app launch is part of a broader deal with Samsung that is valued at an estimated $20 million. That includes $5 per album that Samsung paid for the rights to release the million copies of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Samsung and Roc Nation declined to discuss details of the deal.

"The reason we did the deal with Samsung is that hand-held devices will be the key to music distribution in the future," Meneilly explained.

Jurgensen theorizes that the last-minute timing of the deal could have contributed to the technical hiccups. Discussions between Jay-Z's team and Samsung went on for about four months, but the deal wasn't finished until the morning of June 14. About an hour later, a camera crew was in a Manhattan recording studio, shooting scenes of the rapper in conversation with a handful of star producers. Two days later, a commercial culled from the footage debuted in a rare three-minute slot during game five of the NBA Finals—and announced the album's release via app.

Samsung America Chief Marketing Officer Todd Pendleton said the app was built in 17 days in order to meet the release deadline on July 4, a date meant to symbolize the rapper's independence from industry norms and his direct line to fans.

On the same subject, a Samsung/Jay-Z commercial for the traditional release ran last night on CBS with a Best Buy tag—a smart use of those Samsung marketing dollars.