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GETTING EXCLUSIVE WITH DRAKE

With Drake’s Views (YMCMB/Republic) approaching a bow of 1m+ come Friday, it’s interesting to note that this album could be considered the first real benchmark for exclusivity, a release that lacks conflicting factors. A bunch of copies weren’t given away before going wide, it was released on a Friday—giving the set a full week of sales—no extra content was bundled and the sales weren’t sparked by any unexpected situation or driven by shock factor. Views is a proper album from a superstar, as opposed to a mixtape—like his If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late—or collaborative project—like his What a Time to Be Alive with Future or Jhene Aiko and Big Sean’s TWENTY88 (a Tidal exclusive). It’s also not tied to a movie like Dre’s Compton.

In an attention-grabbing exclusivity tactic, Beyoncé’s Lemonade (Columbia) was only made available for streaming on Tidal. Those unfamiliar with Tidal—or Spotify/Apple Music users unwilling to subscribe to another service—were then left with buying the set as their only option. So although fans had the option to stream, her sales seemed not to be cannibalized. That said, Bey is the queen of the sneak attack, the one who kicked off the trend in 2013 with Beyoncé. Lemonade was also bundled with her HBO special and priced at a lofty $17.99 (which may explain the intense iTunes activity for all the individual tracks, which could be amassed without the video for $15.48). As for Beyoncé, that set was also released near Christmas, a time for heavy spending.

With Lemonade and the late Prince’s catalogue, it’s fair to say that Tidal has at the very least changed the conversation over the last couple months. Bey closed her first week with 501k. As for the Purple One, his sales just continue to soar; last week, 11 of his albums made the HITS Album Sales Chart, with four in the Top 5.

But the big question still stands: Do exclusives matter? Do Bey and Prince’s sales successes reflect a new world order or are they outliers? Kanye’s The Life of Pablo (G.O.O.D./Def Jam), for example, only sold around 28k, which is quite grim when compared to Yeezus’ 2013 bow of 327k; that said, his set wasn’t properly up for sale, and that number only reflects the copies grabbed from his own website during a brief window of availability. Also, Tidal claims he did 250m streams in his first 10 days out, which is tremendous if true.  

Also, do streaming exclusives matter to the services themselves? What is the churn rate? How many people that signed up for free trials will the services be able to retain?

For perspective, Bey’s Lemonade may have sold 501k, but Beyoncé pulled in 618k in FW sales, and that 618k was earned over just three days, while Lemonade had four full days plus the Sunday night of her HBO special. Would the gap between them be even bigger if they both only had three days? Probably. One also has to wonder if success depends on the specific platform. Lemonade probably would not have sold what it did if it was an Apple Music exclusive.

And what about Rihanna? ANTI was streamed 42m times, but its opening sales number of 125k is not an improvement when looking at Unapologetic’s 2012 bow of 238k. But again, it’s apples to oranges; in a campaign with Samsung, RiRi did reportedly give away 1m copies via Tidal, after all.

For some time now, the music biz has feared that streaming might mean the death of sales, but that may not be the case. Do exclusives make a difference in sales, and how much do they influence consumer choice? Time will tell.

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