Beyoncé's surprise fifth album Beyoncé sold a whopping 828,773 copies worldwide in its first three days of release, according to data acquired by The Huffington Post. The domestic sales for Beyoncé were 617,000, according to Billboard. This means that it lags just behind Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience Part 1 and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 in terms of highest first week sales for 2013, though Beyoncé's record was only on sale for less than half a week. The massive domestic sales for Beyoncé are double that of the first week sales for the singer's previous album 4, which sold 310,000 copies in it the first seven days of its release in July of 2011.
The first week sales of Beyoncé dwarf the sales of all the singer's pop diva rivals over the course of the past year. In their respective first weeks, Katy Perry's Prism sold 286,000; Miley Cyrus' Bangerz sold 270,000; Lady Gaga's Artpop sold 258,000; and Lorde's Pure Heroine sold 120,000.
A lot of the success for Beyoncé is owed to the highly unorthodox nature of its release. Putting the album on the market without any advance notice made the record an unexpected cultural event, and a great many people impulsively purchased it so they could be part of a larger social media experience. The fact that it was not available on any major streaming service in the first three days of its release also pushed people to actually buy it from iTunes, the only retailer selling the set.
Releasing the album without a single or advance hype also circumvented the problems Beyoncé faced in marketing 4 in 2011. Though that album is beloved by fans, it underperformed in the market mainly because its first two singles, "Run the World (Girls)" and "Best Thing I Never Had," were only modest hits. This put a damper on enthusiasm around 4 and gave casual fans the impression that the record was a flop. Beyoncé hit without any kind of negative buzz and was put on sale at the exact moment where her audience would have the most excitement and good will.
It will be interesting to see if any other artists attempt to pull off a similar trick in the coming year. There's a lot to recommend to this method – it drastically limits piracy, cuts down on the overhead costs of promotion that can make a record less profitable, and makes the most of social media hype – but it may only work for artists who can inspire a similar level of rabid enthusiasm. Which is to say, not all that many! But it's worth considering if you're Kanye West, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Drake, or even U2.