The commodification of fan experiences certainly isn’t a new concept, and Taylor Swift is not the only artist who benefits financially from abundant merchandising.
In the year of Taylor’s Version and the record-breaking Eras tour, Taylor Swift fans have been forking out heavily for concert tickets, merchandise and every special extended edition of her albums made available. While many are more than happy to hand over their hard-earned cash to get closer to the Grammy-winning artist, some fans have recently stated their frustration over the relentlessness of special releases and commodification of fan experiences.
Following the announcement of a release date for her latest re-recorded album, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), at the final show of the North American leg of the Eras tour, Swift took to social media to announce a special “Sunrise Boulevard Vinyl Edition” that was only available on her website for the next 48 hours.
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A few days after fans rushed to purchase the pale-yellow vinyl variant, Swift made another announcement – the “Aquamarine Green Vinyl Edition” with a unique photo cover was available on her website for pre-order for (you guessed it) the next 48 hours.
This is the third vinyl variant of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) made available for pre-order since the initial announcement on August 9, which has left some fans unhappy about the “cash-grabbing” tactics from Swift and her team.
By surprise dropping these special edition vinyl variants for only 48 hours and announcing them one at a time, a sense of necessity has been created to pressure fans into panic buying. A pink vinyl edition is also likely to be revealed in accordance with the deluxe CDs, which were available for pre-order in blue, pink, green and yellow variants (gotta catch ‘em all? You’ll be forking out over $275 AUD, minus shipping).
This certainly isn’t the first time Swift fans have been caught out by multiple “limited editions”. Swift’s 2022 Midnights album currently has six different vinyl variants, a Target exclusive CD with four colour variants (featuring three songs not included on other releases), another special edition CD which was only available at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium during the Eras tour stop, a cassette tape, an extended Midnights (3 a.m. Edition) available to purchase as a digital album and on streaming platforms, and most recently the Midnights (The Til Dawn Edition), which was released in May this year on streaming services and included collaborations with Ice Spice and Lana Del Rey.
Some hardcore fans even purchased all four original variants of the Midnights vinyl to create a clock artwork when put together. Each album is available at $55.99 AUD, and the wooden clock is set at approx. $75 AUD – that’s an almost $300 clock (not including shipping!). Originally only available for pre-order for one week, these variants have since been restocked on Swift’s website and even made readily available in stores (at the time of writing, all four can be found in stock at JB Hi-Fi).
In case you missed Swift’s domination of the charts the past few years, the singer-songwriter has been releasing re-recorded versions of her albums made under the Big Machine Records label in a bid to regain control over her own music since 2020. Alongside the four albums re-recorded and released so far, Swift has also released four new albums since 2019 (Lover (2019), Folklore (2020), Evermore (2020) and Midnights (2022)) under her record deal with Republic Records and Universal Music Group – which she retains the rights to.
This steady stream of releases has kept the US pop superstar at the top of the charts and contributed to record-breaking wins such as most simultaneous albums on the US Billboard 200 by a living artist and most No. 1 albums on the US Billboard 200 by a female artist.
In Australia, Swift set a new record for the ARIA Albums Chart, with six of her albums placing in the top ten in July this year, dominating the entire top five. While in the UK, she became the first and only artist this century to accumulate 10 UK Number 1 albums.
It fills me with such pride and joy to announce that my version of Speak Now will be out July 7 (just in time for July 9th, iykyk 😆) I first made Speak Now, completely self-written, between the ages of 18 and 20. The songs that came from this time in my life were marked by their… pic.twitter.com/oa0Vs5kszr— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) May 6, 2023
This domination of the charts, along with the current virality of her sold-out worldwide Eras tour, has perpetuated a hype so prodigious that cities are introducing new laws to prevent ticket scalping while fans are causing record-breaking seismic activity at her shows.
With the resurgence in vinyl popularity over the last decade, many artists are now offering multiple formats on which to purchase their albums as a standard, as well as taking advantage of the accessibility of pressing coloured vinyl to create limited or special edition runs of these releases. The oversaturation of coloured vinyl on the market, coupled with pre-ordering (which means records can be made to order and don’t have an amount limit on them), makes the term “limited edition” kind of redundant. But Swift’s merchandising team have taken it to a whole new level.
The degree of dedication Swifties have demonstrated themselves capable of, especially over the last few years, has proven fruitful in revenue for Swift and her label. Unfortunately, this leaves her fans vulnerable to exploitation.
From highly sought-after tickets being resold by scalpers for over 140% of the original price to a plain blue sweatshirt that became the “it item” of the Eras tour merchandising run, now selling for over $300 AUD on eBay (originally $65 USD) – the resell value of these items prove that fans are willing to spend big to feel connected to Swift during her moment of pop royalty reign. Swift’s team are well aware of this.
The commodification of fan experiences certainly isn’t a new concept, and Taylor Swift, of course, is not the only artist who benefits financially from an abundance of merchandising – Harry Styles’ latest record, Harry’s House, was pressed into five different vinyl editions (all available exclusively at different stores).
But the sheer volume of editions with each new release from Swift (including the re-recorded versions), which only vary slightly from each other and mostly only aesthetically, along with the strategy of drip-feeding these to fans and creating urgent time limits, feels like a much more calculated and capitalistic approach than most – and it works incredibly well for the second richest woman in music.
Taylor Swift is often talked about as an artist who lives for her fans. Her public life revolves around dropping easter eggs for her adorers; she performs over three-hour shows so that everyone in the audience can hear at least one all-time favourite track from her vast catalogue. Her fans are more than just fans – they’re worshippers. And when we worship something, it’s not only easy to turn a blind eye to unideal behaviour, it’s precedent.
For all the critique on greedy billionaires directed by the younger generations in the last few years (see: Elon Musk’s private jet tracking, WGA strike sympathisers and OceanGate submarine disaster non-sympathisers), Swift seems to be mostly exempt. Maybe it’s because even an 8/10 review is cause for death threats from Swiftie stans. However, it becomes increasingly difficult for the artist to claim it’s all for the fans when the estimated $1 billion earnings from the global Eras tour hits her bank account and the re-recorded album editions keep coming.
Some fans are calling for the artist to, at the very least, release all the vinyl options of each album at once so they can make informed decisions and limit panic buying. With two more re-recorded albums yet to drop (Reputation (2017) and her self-titled debut album) and the international extension of the Eras tour booked well into next year, it doesn’t seem likely the global superstar will be changing tactics any time soon.