What Went Right: How Taylor Swift Sold a Million Records In a Week

     Taylor Swift's Speak Now was predicted to have strong first week sales, but the Grammy winner's new album exceeded expectations and broke records last week, selling over a million copies in a time when many doubted that could ever happen again.

     Nielson Soundscan reports the album sold 1,047,00 last week, the first album to sell over a million since Lil Wayne in 2008 with Tha Carter III. Billboard reports that one out of every six albums sold last week was Speak Now, giving Swift the best first week numbers since 2005 when 50 Cent's The Massacre sold 1,141,000 copies in a week.

     In addition, Speak Now posted the best one weeks sales for a female since 2000 with Britney Spears' Oops!...I Did It Again and the best one week sales for a country artist since 1998 with Garth Brooks' Double Live according to Billboard.

     So, how did she do it?  Taylor Swift is an anomaly in the collapsing record industry.  Record sales continue to tumble, and 2010 is on track to be the worst year for record sales ever, but somehow, America's sweetheart pulled it off.

     The secret to Swift's broad appeal is similar to what politicians try to do election after election: energize their base and pull independents.

     Her base is country fans and pre-teen and teenage girls. Satisfying these groups is a hard task for a country crossover who just entered her twenties. To people who feed their ears garbage like Ke$ha, Taylor Swift is country. To people who actually listen to country, she's dangerously close to the dividing line separating their genre from pop. Swift makes up for this on her new record, sporting more twang than Fearless did. She's succeeding at country radio so far, as "Mine" currently sits at No. 5 on Billboard's top country chart. Her new record also carefully balances the puppy love and fairy tales that made her a household name with a more mature themes (Like husbands instead of boyfriends! The Twilight wearwolf instead of some guy named Stephen!).

     Taylor managed to energize her base, but there aren't enough record buying 17-year-old girls in America to shift one million copies of Speak Now in a week. You've got to build a coalition. Case in point: My brother who is a freshman in college, had several friends who live in the dorms with him go buy Swift's album the day it came out. They're not doing that for Miley.

     Swift's music, all self penned, appeals to a large audience. Her music is the type you can put in the car on a long family road trip and mom, dad, and all the kids will be OK with it. Even though she's singing about a boy in "You Belong With Me," there are plenty of guys out there pining for a girl who doesn't know that they belong together. Speak Now is a record 17-year-old girls buy, but so do their twentysomething brothers and their mama grizzlies. Name another current recording artist that has that kind of appeal...that's what I thought.

     The 20-year-old singer also has Kanye West to thank. The rapper's interruption during her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards did more to make her an American institution than a year's worth of radio airplay, and it cemented her sweet, likable persona. Singing that she forgives him in "Innocent" isn't enough; she should be thanking him.

     Target was the Swift's top retailer, selling 350,000 of her one million albums according to Billboard. The store featured an exclusive edition of Speak Now with bonus tracks, and it benefited from a $7 million commercial campaign where the singer promised to "name names". She also reached an estimated one million students when she performed and answered questions as the Scholastic 90th Anniversary Literacy Event. On top of these events, Swift had multiple TV appearances and performances, providing excellent exposure the week of her record's release.

     Behind Target in share of sales were iTunes (Speak Now had the best digital sales week for an album since Coldplay's 2008 Viva La Vida), Wal-Mart, Amazon, Costco, and Best Buy. A number of non-traditional chains including Starbucks and Rite Aid also carried the album, which gave her sales a boost.

     Industry insiders predicted Speak Now will continue to sell strong through the holiday season. After one week, the album is the eighth best selling-album of 2010. It could be a fight to the finish to beat Eminem's Recovery, 2010's  current best seller with 2.9 million copies sold to date.


kels said...

I'm so happy for Taylor. My family bought 3 copies, which I'm sure is nothing compared to the Schwarz family. But still.

Anonymous said...

I actually like her new song Mine. She is a talented young lady who has a head on her shoulder and who will be able to go far in the music industry. And Miley is a great singer as well. :)
God Bless

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