Justin Timberlake is deep in the throes of promoting his upcoming album The 20/20 Experience before its Mar. 19 release. That promotion involves more traditional tactics like an appearance on SNL (above) and goofier ideas like a full week of consecutive appearances on Late Night, but also one of the most cutting-edge sales gimmicks of the moment: giving away the thing you want to sell.
As of last night, the entirety of The 20/20 Experience is available streaming via the iTunes store (no need to pre-order, just hit “listen now”). But that doesn’t mean Timberlake and his label don’t care about sales: Billboard estimates that the album, already a top seller in Amazon.com pre-sales, could sell a half million copies in its first week, a milestone that has not yet been reached by an album in 2013.
Giving the music away for a limited time may help Timberlake get there, according to logic embraced by some in the industry. Baauer’s dance hit “Harlem Shake,” for example, was initially released for free, and such easy availability may have contributed to its transition into a meme, the label’s manager told Billboard. Even though “Harlem Shake” was a download and 20/20 is streaming, the logic is the same: fans who come to love the music when they can get it for free will happily pay for it when they can no longer access it without doing so.