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Jay-Z leveraged his massive appeal to turn the battleship of the biz in a new direction.
"MAGNA CARTA" REWRITES
THE RULES
How Jay-Z's Rollout Got Everybody on the Phone

He said he was operating by new rules, and he meant it.

Jay-Z’s rollout was unconventional in just about every respect, from the three-minute commercial during the NBA finals announcing his new album and planned giveaway (bankrolled by electronics giant Samsung) to his use of a smart-phone app as a delivery system.

The audacious plan resulted in a viral-marketing windfall and first-week sales of 528k, a better debut than those of his last several albums—including 2009’s The Blueprint 3 (465k) and 2012’s Watch the Throne (476k).

We pick up the story of Magna Carta Holy Grail on the eve of July 4. At midnight, the Samsung app was slated to deliver copies of the album to 1 million users. This alone had prompted the RIAA to overhaul its rules for certification, extending the promise of platinum certification before consumers heard a single note.

Initial demand far exceeded what the app (hosted by Samsung’s servers) could handle, and the glitches elicited some complaints. Jay-Z acknowledged these hiccups in a fast-and-funny Twitter dialogue with fans, noting that when you’re the first to try something you’re bound to face difficulties, but vowed to do better next time. (There have also been complaints that the app unduly violated users’ privacy, charges that Samsung called baseless.)

In any case, the giveaway was completed (and by some accounts more than 1.2 million copies were ultimately sent free to Galaxy and Note owners, for which Samsung is said to have paid $5 million).

Then pre-orders began on iTunes; despite limited real estate on the front page there (presumably payback for the pact with Apple’s smart-phone rival), the album zipped to #1 on the download giant’s chart. First single “Holy Grail,” with its killer Justin Timberlake hook, made an impressive showing, while tracks like the minimalist “Tom Ford,” the Rick Ross-featured “FCKwithmeyouknowIgotit,” “Part II (On the Run)” f/Beyonce and “Oceans” f/Frank Ocean also sold briskly.

Meanwhile, IDJ rushed to press physical product over the July 4 weekend and deliver it to retail by street date. Another splashy, Samsung-funded ad featured a Best Buy tag, a clean version ensured the participation of Walmart, and Target, despite its policy of refusing product that had been part of an initial exclusive with another retailer, decided to exempt Jay-Z from this stricture and partake of Grail sales.

Not content to rule the Internet, the mall and your phone, Jay-Z seized the airwaves as well. “Holy Grail” debuted in the 30s at Pop, Rhythm and Urban with just three days of spins—despite its 5:38 running time.

Which brings us to its first-week sales triumph. Needless to say, the Roc Nation album instantly joined the ranks of Grammy contenders, too.

Does this mean that announcing your album with a splashy TV ad, delivering it weeks later through an app and kibitzing with users online will get you to #1? Um, not necessarily. No technology will rewrite this old rule: Your album has to be good and fans have to want it. Jay-Z leveraged his massive appeal to turn the battleship of the biz in a new direction.

What’s next? Well, he and Timberlake have begun the Live Nation-promoted Legends of the Summer tour, which kicked off in spectacular fashion in London on 7/13 and then headed for North America. You can find out all about it on your phone.

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