Steve Redmond on how Beyonce’s success is a testament to power of bundling

Tuesday December 17, 2013

Internet entrepreneur David Pakman was among the first to identify the fact that unbundling the album - ie the ability to cherry-pick individual tracks - was perhaps the most disruptive thing about the digital revolution.

The biggest culprit in the collapse of music industry revenues to less than half of their 1999 peak, he wrote in a 2011 blog,  "is not piracy, it is the fact that consumers, when they buy music, are buying 10% of what they used to, because they only need to buy the single, not the album".

Which makes the enormous success of Beyonce's fifth album released on Friday all the more phenomenal.

The self-titled album sold 828,773 copies worldwide in just three days, according to iTunes, who have been selling it exclusively. In the UK it debuted at number five in the Official Albums Chart with sales of 68,000 copies in just 48 hours.

Most of the coverage of the album has focused on its "stealth" release - no singles, no pre-promotion - but at least as significant is the fact that the only way to enjoy its 14 new songs and 17 videos has been to buy the entire £12.99 album.

Beyonce has effectively "re-bundled" the album. And, as she says herself, that was part of the creative impulse behind the release. "I miss that immersive experience," she says. "Now people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods and they don't really invest in the whole experience."

Commentators such as Mark Mulligan are already suggesting that the success of Beyonce's tactic may well lead to a series of other artists following suit.

The irony, of course, is that this rediscovery of the power of bundling has taken place exclusively on iTunes, the biggest single player in the download market, and if David Pakman is right, therefore, the biggest single "culprit" in the collapse of music sales.

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