Jay Z announced during the 2013 NBA Finals in a Samsung commercial that his 12th studio album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” would be released on July 4th. The album would be available for free but only to the first one million Samsung Galaxy phone users, via a Jay Z branded app. For the rest of the public, the album would be available three days later at regular retailers. Samsung purchased the albums from Jay-Z for $5 each, making Jay-Z five million dollars before the album’s release as a part of a 20-million dollar marketing partnership.
The app was made available on magnacartaholygrail.com. Once installed, the app requires access to the user’s email accounts and social media, including an active Twitter or Facebook account for users. For nearly each action taken within the app, a post is made on the user’s accounts documenting the action, such as: “I just unlocked a new lyric ‘Crown’ in the JAY Z Magna Carta app. See them first. http://smsng.us/MCHG2 #MagnaCarta.” Many cried that the apps permissions were invasive, had questionable privacy practices, and required too many steps. One million users did sign up despite these issues, which aided in providing additional exposure and awareness for the company and the album.
Most importantly, this deal caused music industry leaders to address the album, resulting in additional free publicity and a lasting legacy of influencing change. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) did change a long-standing rule that albums could not count towards their Gold & Platinum program until after 30 days from the release date. Now, instead, digital albums can count from day one while physical copies still require 30 days. The RIAA counts albums shipped rather than albums sold, so physical copies that were unsold could be returned. Billboard, in a letter delivered by their editor, deemed that the purchased albums by Samsung would not count towards Jay-Z’s chart rankings because customers did not meet the $3.49 threshold. Therefore, while the RIAA marked “Magna Carta Holy Grail” as Double Platinum, Billboard says Jay-Z sold only 528,000 albums in its first week. Regardless, Jay-Z still hit number 1 on every U.S. Billboard chart.
This deal led to immeasurable brand exposure for Jay-Z and Samsung. While this endeavor most likely did not generate additional sales of Samsung phones initially, it does align Samsung as an innovative company that can promise exclusive and relevant content for its consumers. Marketing tactics serve as yet another “feature,” available to customers, that will not be offered through competitors such as Apple (iPhone). The music industry, as a whole, has obviously been attempting to revitalize and reinvent itself over the past decade to varying success. Billboard and The RIAA addressed the changing landscape with the release of this album. While music sales have been down and streaming sites are struggling to monetize properly, phone providers are eager to get into the music streaming business because fans are eager to have that feature available to them. “Magna Carta Holy Grail” is one step in a larger picture that includes brand integration, exclusive content, streaming media, fan interaction and social media integration. This equates to a music-centric user experience that is completely a product of the 2010s. Even if this is never replicated again (novelty must be taken into account for its success), Samsung and Jay-Z will be known as innovators that were on the forefront of this new user experience where music has to be much more than music to make waves.