Reputation, by technical measures, is not very good. Pitchfork describes Taylor Swift’s new album as an “aggressive, lascivious display” that is ultimately “sadly conventional.” Most music critics agree that whatever it brings in melodrama, Reputation lacks in actual quality.
Yet when it comes to raking in money, Reputation is a wild success. On the day of its release, Nov. 10, the record sold around 700,000 copies, according to reports from Nielsen Music and BuzzAngle. Given that pace, it is expected to sell 1.4 million copies in the US alone by the end of its first week, which would make it 2017’s best-selling album. Ed Sheeran’s Divide, which currently holds that title, has taken half a year to chug to 909,000.
Most impressive of all: Swift’s sales don’t even include streaming. The singer is holding off on putting her album on services like Spotify and Apple Music during its initial sales period, instead urging fans—by means as direct as plastering her face on UPS trucks—to go old-school and buy the album in either physical format or as an iTunes download.
Clearly, the gamble has paid off. Musicians have finally learned that while streaming services are undoubtedly the future of music, there is still value in bypassing that massive audience for a little while, in the interest of longer-term rewards. Selling a record instead of streaming it may be frustrating to fans, but it also generates intrigue—and bigger profit, as CD sales bring in more money than streaming.
It’s a marketing lesson as much as a psychological one. To make millions, Swift never had to make Reputation good; she only had to make it scarce.