Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta’ giveaway prompts RIAA change on certification

Rappers have tried innovative ways to sell their records, but leave it to Jay-Z to get the best results. Samsung Electronics Co. purchased 1 million copies of his new album, "Magna Carta Holy Grail," before he even had a chance to publicly announce it. The company plans to give each copy away free to owners of their Galaxy line of phones three days before the album's official release date, through an app.
(Ben Gabbe / Getty Images)

When Jay-Z issues his new album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” it will have platinum status after all -- just with a tiny asterisk.

However, the 1 million copies of the album given away for free through the hip-hop mogul’s deal with Samsung -- the electronics giant pre-purchased the copies for a reported $5 a pop -- won’t count toward first-week sales for the Billboard 200, but will come with instant platinum certification.


The Recording Industry Assn. of America announced Monday that it would start counting digital sales toward gold and platinum certification immediately, rather than wait the traditional 30 days after an album’s release.

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The RIAA’s old method was in place to account for returns on unsold merchandise (certifications were based on copies shipped rather than units sold). Because digital downloads can’t be returned, the organization decided to amend its policy, and said it was prompted by the rapper’s “novel and creative marketing move.”

“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,” RIAA communications and Gold & Platinum program director Liz Kennedy wrote in a blog post Monday.

“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,” she noted.

Although the RIAA adapted its rules, “Magna Carta Holy Grail” still won’t have a lightning-fast debut on top of the Billboard 200 chart.

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Bill Werde, Billboard’s editorial director, wrote last month that the multiplatinum rapper had approached Billboard to include the Samsung deal in its sales ranking. Billboard denied the request.

“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,” Werde wrote.

“The ever-visionary Jay-Z pulled the nifty coup of getting paid as if he had a platinum album before one fan bought a single copy. But in the context of this promotion, nothing is actually for sale.”

Samsung users will get the new album Thursday, three days before its official release, through an exclusive app on the company’s Galaxy smartphones.

As for what giving away the first million copies means for Jay’s first week sales? Well, he beat Elvis Presley’s record for most No. 1 albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200 after 2009’s “The Blueprint 3,” so he’s likely not that worried.

Follow @GerrickKennedy


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