Born This Way: a launch to learn from

Lady GaGa’s new album, Born This Way, was officially released today. It had a few challenges that I suspect a significant portion of digital downloaders encountered.

For weeks, Apple’s iTunes has been promoting the Countdown to Born This Way, featuring each of the 4 singles from the album that were released and telling fans that if they buy the singles, they can purchase the album at a discounted price using Complete My Album. Complete My Album is a great iTunes feature where single item purchases from an album reduce the price of the album.

The catch? When the album launched last night on iTunes, Complete My Album wasn’t available. The albums were only available full price ($11.99 and $15.99 for the bonus track version). I was disappointed with this and did a quick Twitter search to see if others were seeing the same problem. Sure enough, I saw many tweets a minute to @iTunesMusic, @LadyGaGa, and @Interscope frustrated, confused, and in some cases even betrayed. I figured it would be resolved in a couple hours, but after checking back before bed, it still wasn’t fixed.

Results for “complete my album” on Twitter

Graph from Neoformix StreamGraphs

I don’t know why this happened. The paranoid might say Apple was trying to squeeze a few extra bucks out of early downloaders because they knew most would buy anyway. Others might say it’s a technical glitch. I think the most likely cause is someone making an incorrect assumption. Maybe album completions are only calculated each morning. Maybe no one linked the single items as part of the album. Maybe there was a checkbox hidden deep within some advanced settings that someone didn’t check. Many of us have made bad assumptions surrounding a launch of some kind — whether it’s a judgement call on the impact of a feature not making it in time or simply thinking another person had a task covered.

I woke up this morning ready to purchase the album, confident it would be fixed by then. It wasn’t. And in the end I was glad, because that’s when I learned Amazon was selling the entire album for $0.99. I’m a sucker for some serious loss leading.

But Amazon had some problems of its own: its servers were overwhelmed and many users weren’t able to download their music. I didn’t have any problems myself, but I read enough complaints that I know many people did. Considering the rumored $8 loss on each purchase and the hit to the credibility of Amazon’s music store that they were trying to prove, time will tell if this promotion was worth it.

The Complete My Purchase option eventually showed up on iTunes for me this evening, but much too late to prevent Amazon from “capitalizing” on it. I suspect both Apple and Amazon learned a lot from today’s launch and will be able to weed out the little monsters from the next one.