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Taylor Swift reaches out to fans, and they to her

The singer-songwriter achieves a mighty tough feat nowadays: 1-million-plus in first-week sales. Her personality and presence go a long way.

November 04, 2010|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

In the fractured world that is pop music in 2010, 20-year-old country-pop star Taylor Swift has proven that the day of 1-million-plus first-week album sales hasn't completely disappeared by selling 1,047,000 copies of her new "Speak Now" CD out of the gate.

That makes it the fastest-selling album in more than five years, since March 2005, when rapper 50 Cent's "The Massacre" moved 1,141,000 units. Since that time, overall album sales have dropped nearly 50%.

"It's an incredibly rare feat," Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts for Billboard, said Wednesday. "Even if you put aside the depression of the music market, and look back over the last 20 years, this has only happened 16 times, including this week. That's already a staggeringly tiny number.

"Thinking of it in terms of where we are today," he said, "it speaks volumes as to her popularity, how she engages her fans and how she engages with more than just one hot single; it's more about the whole package."

Swift's album easily dislodged Eminem's "Recovery" album as the first-week sales champ of 2010. That collection sold 741,000 copies when it was released in June. "Speak Now" also surpassed Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III," the last album to top combined physical and digital sales of 1 million in its first week, with 1,006,000 copies in June 2008.

"I think this shows that when we do it right, we can still get hundreds of thousands of people to line up and buy [an album] the first week," Scott Borchetta, head of Swift's Nashville-based label, Big Machine Records, said Wednesday. "There are so many factors behind why certain things are happening and why certain things are not happening in our industry: what the real unemployment level is, the fact we don't have record stores anymore … . We attacked all of that. You can't do that with every release, but you can do it with superstars."

That marketing push followed a relatively quiet summer for Swift. In the last two weeks she has gone on a media blitz to promote her third album.

She appeared on NBC's "The Today Show," CBS' "Late Night With David Letterman," ABC's "Live! With Regis & Kelly" and " Dancing With the Stars," while daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres gave over her entire Nov. 1 show to Swift and the new album. Swift also is currently on the cover of Glamour and People magazines, and had cover stories in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and Parade magazine the day before the album's Oct. 25 worldwide release.

Last Friday she shut down Hollywood Boulevard with a surprise midday free concert atop a double-decker bus outside the Kodak Theatre. She serenaded JetBlue Airways passengers last week at JFK airport in New York with a free show, and spearheaded "Read With Taylor Swift," a Scholastic 90th Anniversary Literary event telecast to 25,000 classrooms, to an estimated audience of 1 million students. She gave Target Stores an exclusive expanded version of the album that the mass merchant is supporting with a $7-million TV ad campaign. Universal Music Group, the parent of Big Machine Records, also persuaded outlets including Starbucks and Rite-Aid stores to carry the album.

"What people are telling us is that you need to stay engaged," Borchetta said. "I'm not sure you can go away now for three years, as far as that fan base is concerned. If fans find you on Facebook or somewhere else online and you haven't given them a message [recently], you will lose them; they will go elsewhere."

Added Caulfield: "It's not just about being engaging. There are a million artists who are super personal and super engaging who will not sell this many albums in their lifetime, let alone in one week. It's the combination of engagement, personableness, the way all the songs are coming from her [and] that her fan base is very widespread: She has young and old: Moms are buying it at Walmart on the weekend, and the 13-year-old girls who want to be Taylor are buying it on iTunes.

"The takeaway from this could be that 1 million copies in a week is still achievable, and it doesn't mean that anyone can do it," Caulfield said. "But if you have all the right systems in place, and a perfect artist like Taylor, it's still possible."

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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