Will Taylor Swift's 'Lover' Conquer All With Another Million-Selling Debut?

Music executives say the days of million-selling debut weeks are over -- but they’re still hoping Swift proves them wrong

When Taylor Swift’s Lover album comes out Aug. 23, many in the music business will be watching closely to see if she can once again hit the industry’s iconic benchmark for success: 1 million U.S. sales in the first week.

The last time an artist sold 1 million copies of an album in the United States in a single week was in 2017, when Swift’s Reputation sold 1.2 million in the period ending Nov. 16, according to Nielsen Music. Her three previous releases -- 1989Red and Speak Now -- also sold over 1 million, making her the only artist in history with four albums to cross the million-sales mark in his or her first week (or any week). In this business climate, the only other act who could probably do so is Adele, whose last set, 25, moved 3.4 million copies in its first week back in 2015.

Since then, the downturn in album sales -- which have dropped 35% since 2017 -- coupled with the rise of streaming, have seemingly made hitting the million-sales mark almost impossible. This year’s biggest seller so far is the Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins, which sold 357,000 its opening week.

Lover’s first week will serve as a bellwether for the health of music purchases as a business model, and several label executives and retail merchants think sales could reach 600,000. 

While that total is half the 1.216 million copies that Reputation sold in its debut week, that album also had the benefit of coming out in November, during the holiday season, which always boosts sales.

In a new move for Swift, Lover is her first album to be available on streaming services the day it arrives and is expected to generate another 125,000 to 150,000 album-consumption units. That would put her total projected album consumption units around the 750,000 mark, according to industry prognosticators.

For their part, Republic Records and the Universal Music Group are playing their cards close to the vest. Republic didn’t respond to a request for comment. But if Lover turns out to be larger than expected, Republic and UMG -- where she signed last year -- have enough CDs in the marketplace to accommodate a million-selling week, with shipments exceeding 600,000 copies, according to industry sources.

“I don’t think Taylor will get to the million-unit mark in sales alone or with album-consumption units,” says an executive at another label. “But she’ll get a lot closer than many [industry] people believe.”

The majority of sales are expected to come from Target, where Swift has an exclusive packaging deal; the iTunes Store; Amazon, which for weeks has placed promos for Lover on some of its Prime shipment boxes; and Walmart. Industry executives expect her to sell at least 400,000 copies combined at Target and iTunes alone.

In addition, word is that Republic worked hard to ensure that the Swift album won’t have any of the inventory street date problems that have marred other big release since April, as her Lover albums are being shipped directly from the manufacturing plants to stores, instead of from the overwhelmed Direct Shot inventory facility that serves as the physical pipeline for the three majors in getting product to brick and mortar stores and online retailers.

As with all of her other albums, Swift is treating Lover like a box-set release: Her site boasts dozens of merchandise bundles, and Target will sell four deluxe packages for $16.99 apiece, complete with a CD, photos, a lyric book, journal entries and two audio messages Swift recorded of herself while writing Lover. (The only sales-boosting strategy that Swift neglected is announcing an album redemption offer with a ticket purchase to a tour.) She’s also in a Capital One commercial and has scheduled appearances on Good Morning America and at MTV’s Video Music Awards during release week.

Meanwhile, Big Machine, Swift’s former label, is working her catalog big time: the Target website shows all her albums being featured -- and in multiple formats, with prices ranging from $6.99 for her debut album to a $39.99 vinyl version of Reputation. On her website, merch bundles range from $55 for a sweatshirt and a download version of the Lover album to $12 for just the CD.

It’s hard to predict whether all of this will add up to 1 million in sales. But it seems certain that in two weeks, Lover will be floating on a pastel cloud atop the Billboard 200.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 24 issue of Billboard.