Even though we have yet to hear note one from Jay-Z’s new album Magna Carta Holy Grail, it’s already become one of the most controversial albums of 2013 — at least from a business standpoint.
Starting this Thursday, July 4, owners of Samsung phones will get first crack at Magna Carta Holy Grail. The first one million Samsung users will be claiming their free copies of the album, which led to an interesting question: Does that mean that Magna Carta Holy Grail is already platinum, even though it’s not even on sale yet?
The definitive answer is: yes and no. Yesterday, the RIAA announced that it will start counting digital sales towards Gold and Platinum certification right away, rather than wait the traditional 30 days after an album’s release. The old rule was in place to account for returns on unsold merchandise (Gold and Platinum certifications are based on copies shipped to stores, not copies sold). But because you can’t return an iTunes download, the organization has decided to amend its policy—just in time to certify Magna Carta Holy Grail.
“Not only do we believe it’s sensible and logical to align digital album rules with those we have maintained for digital singles since the program’s inception, we also consider today’s move in line with our larger efforts to modernize the G&P Program to reflect the new music marketplace,” the RIAA’s Liz Kennedy said in a press release. “The reality is that how fans consume music is changing, the music business is changing as labels and artists partner with a breathtaking array of new technology services, and the industry’s premier award recognizing artists’ commercial achievement should similarly keep pace.”
Since Samsung already pre-purchased one million digital downloads of Magna Carta Holy Grail, it will be eligible for platinum certification immediately. However, the chart-keepers at Billboard will still not be recognizing those sales of the album on its weekly charts. The magazine will still not be counting those one million albums purchased by Samsung as albums sold, since there is no actual retail transaction occurring. “Had Jay-Z and Samsung charged $3.49 — our minimum pricing threshold for a new release to count on our charts — for either the app or the album, the U.S. sales would have registered,” the magazine explained. Instead, Jigga will not show up on the Billboard 200 until Magna Carta Holy Grail goes on sale to the rest of humanity on July 7.
So the RIAA will recognize the transactions while SoundScan will not. So here’s the final question: In doing these things, Jay-Z is going to be able to claim platinum status, but does he also render that status meaningless? In the unlikely event that nobody buys a retail copy of Magna Carta Holy Grail, would it still be considered a success, especially considering Jay has already made his money on the deal?
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