Harvard Business School Studies 'The Business of Beyonce'

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 09/26/2014 | 12:30 PM EDT

Top Ivy League conducts case study examining singer's record breaking self-titled album

Beyoncé is heading to the Ivy Leagues...sort of.


Harvard Business School (HBS) is set to publish a case study it conducted on the music superstar titled to dissect her business acumen, specifically the release of “surprise” self-titled visual album that broke digital sales history in December 2013.


“The Business Beyonce” case study, which will be released next week, examines what it took to pull off “ambitious and costly campaign, the prevailing market conditions, the structural and technical obstacles, as well as the many difficult decisions Beyoncé and her management team confronted along the way,” according to the Harvard Gazette.


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With insights from top executives at Parkwood Entertainment (owned by Beyoncé), Columbia Records, Facebook and Apple, the HBS case will ask M.B.A. students to decide what they would have done if they were working for Beyoncé.


The Harvard Gazette writes:


Secretly partnering with Apple, Facebook, and Instagram, the rollout was a huge artistic and financial gamble for Parkwood Entertainment, the management company that Beyoncé heads, and for her label, Columbia Records, which share the risks and rewards of her recorded-music sales. As it turned out, the critically acclaimed album debuted at No. 1 the following week, selling more than 600,000 copies in its first three days. But did the high-stakes wager pay off long-term?


“She’s clearly among the most powerful people in the music industry at the moment…so to understand the operation behind such a powerful figure is always very interesting,” said Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor who co-wrote the case study with a former student.


Elberse will teach the case in her course “Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries” early next month. “For instance, how did they keep that a secret for so long? It’s quite amazing that they pulled that off,” she said.


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The study will also explore how the 17-time Grammy winner’s groundbreaking album affected other businesses like Apple, Facebook and Beyonce’s record company, Columbia Records. It will oblige students to determine whether it was a smart move for the aforementioned companies, and how the unusual tactic could affect future releases among musicians.


Not to mention, the singer’s week-long exclusive iTunes release caused major retailers like Target and Amazon to refuse to stock the record. Another unique component that will be analyzed is the fact that consumers were required to buy the whole record, and not just pick and choose which songs they wanted.


“I think most people regard this release as a huge success artistically, and I am among them. But whether it was worth it from a business perspective is for the students to figure out,” Elberse said.


“You could look at the album and say, ‘How did it perform?’ But you also have to think longer-term and say ‘What did that do to her ability to control the next release that she’s planning?’ or ‘What does that do to her potential as a touring artist?’ Those are harder questions to answer.”

(Photos from left: Jason Merritt/Getty Images  for MTV, Harvard Business School)

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