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Harvard Study Reveals Secrets of Beyonce's Surprise Album Launch

A Harvard Business School case study looks at the process of putting out a modern album and a dozen music videos without any promotion - or leaks.

Before U2 barged its way onto everyone's iPhones, Apple was the stage for another non-traditional album launch: the surprise release in 2013 of Beyonce's self-titled album and accompanying music videos. A Harvard Business School case study by Anita Elberse and Stacie Smith, released this week, dives into the process of creating and releasing an entire modern album — with no singles, no pre-promotion, and most of all, no leaks. The study touches on the origins of the effort (Beyonce wanted to make it "from me to my fans") to the secrecy and coded dealings with tech majors.

"We knew it would solve the issue of leaks if we did not have to print physical copies ahead of the launch date," explained Jim Sabey, head of marketing for the singer's production company, in the study. "And Apple’s corporate culture is one of sheer secrecy." So an iTunes-exclusive launch was planned — and Facebook tapped for publicity: It would display the album announcement to all of Beyonce''s millions of fans, using the previously unannounced autoplaying video feature. It was a big risk, but this one paid off. Beyonce shattered the iTunes store record with 828,773 albums sold in just three days.

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—Devin Coldewey