Many people missed the mark on this so let me do it properly. By its being the first commercial release this is The Weeknd’s debut but really it is more of a gesture towards fans who felt they were being spoiled. This was Abel’s way of saying “I’ve given you three great projects for free, now it’s time for you to put your hands in your pockets”.
The first week sales fell 10,000 copies short of the highest projections of 100,000, but 90,000 sold still represents a remarkable achievement for a debut commercial release. Universal Republic Records deserves significant credit for their distribution of the CD (major stores in England were promoting Trilogy despite The Weeknd having very little mainstream buzz in the country and no radio singles), but much of the albums success comes down to the mixtape business model.
The maths is simple: Quality Music + Free Content = Loyal Fans. 50 Cent was the original mixtape King and more recently J. Cole and Kendrick have taken the mixtape road to riches.
The point is the majority of sales in the first week most likely came from fans who downloaded the tracks for free when they were released in 2011. Most people buying will be doing so because they feel invested in The Weeknd as an artist.
Part of what makes rap fans so obsessive is this idea that, from being there from day one when Rapper A was just another guy trying to get signed, they are in some way responsible for the success of their favourite artists.
This sense of ownership can manifest itself in less prideful ways once the artist is established but its importance leading up a breakthrough album can’t be overstated. Sales of 90,000 for an album that has been available for over a year (for free) may sound crazy, but only if you’ve never checked and agonized over an artists first week sales like they were your own.