In the first 10 days after its surprise release, Beyoncé's new album sold just a shade under a million copies. According to Musicmetric and Billboard, fans also illegally downloaded Beyoncé nearly a quarter of a million times over the same span.
According to Billboard, those pirated copies would have yielded another $3.8 million in sales at $15.99 per album – if each person who illegally downloaded a free copy chose to pay for it instead, that is. Entertainment executives are at odds over whether content shared online results in a net gain due to increased word-of-mouth and informed consumer decisions or a net loss due to unrealized sales.
Beyonce's entire catalog was shared using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol about two million times in 2013, according to Musicmetric, which analyzes such data. Her catalog spiked upon the release of the new album.
"The usefulness of BitTorrent data is that it allows record labels to have an incredibly detailed insight into where their artists are popular – right down to the town," Musicmetric Chief Executive Gregory Mead told Billboard. "Although the file-sharing numbers may be high, it will be possible to translate many of these into buyers."
Whatever Beyoncé might think of fans who download her music without paying, she's clearly been in a giving mood. She recently made a surprise appearance at a Wal-Mart store to buy her own album and hand out hundreds of $50 gift cards to fellow shoppers. Also, a video of the superstar singing earlier this month with a terminally ill fan just surfaced online.