Skip to main content

How Adele is able to smash album sales records in 2015

A still from Adele’s Hello video.

Adele has a message for *NSync, 15 years after their album No Strings Attached broke first-week sales records.

Bye, bye, bye.

On Tuesday, Nielsen Soundscan announced that Adele's new album 25 sold 2.43 million copies in the U.S. since its release just last Friday, breaking *NSync's record of 2.42 million, set in the distant music industry past of 2000. In less than a week, it is already the biggest-selling U.S. album of the year.

Story continues below advertisement

In Canada, 25 sold 216,000 copies in its first four days, and if it keeps up that pace, it should break Celine Dion's Canadian record of 230,000 copies of Let's Talk About Love sold in a single week. Nielsen has been collecting Soundscan data in Canada since 1995 and in the U.S. since 1991.

Selling that many albums in 2015 is a staggering achievement that Adele alone could achieve. The industry has contracted by more than half since a blond-tipped teenage Justin Timberlake led *NSync to the top of the boy-band-fuelled CD sales era.

"There are outliers, and then there's Adele," David Bakula, Nielsen's senior vice-president of analytics, said in an interview. "Adele is probably going to do numbers that Taylor Swift would do in two records. It's really pretty amazing."

Part of the reason 25 has sold so well is because Adele and her labels declined to offer it on streaming music services for the time being, forcing fans who'd normally listen on a subscription service to purchase the record outright. But her success likely owes more to the fact that Adele is a rare artist whose appeal crosses genres and fan demographics.

The soul-tinged British singer earns play on more radio stations than most artists would normally see. Her newest single Hello, which also broke sales and streaming records, is soaring on Billboard's Adult Contemporary, Adult Pop, and Adult R&B charts, and sits atop the Hot 100. By charting on across multiple formats, Adele's music is inescapable, luring fans of all genres to buy her records.

Adele's universal appeal reaches people who never buy music to purchase her albums – her sheer omnipresence convinces even the most reluctant consumers to give her a chance. Her last release, 21, sold more than 30 million units worldwide, and gave her incredible momentum ahead of 25's release. The 2011 album has been on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 248 weeks, and jumped back into the top 25 when Hello was released.

In 2015, it takes a genre crossover artist to even approach these kinds of sales records. Taylor Swift's early-career takeover of country made her recent shift to pop explosive. Toronto's very own Drake, a hip-hop artist by trade, dabbles in pop in most of his songs, occasionally embracing it completely on songs like this year's Hotline Bling. But neither of those artists, easily among the world's biggest, come close to Adele's sales records.

Story continues below advertisement

The $15-billion (U.S.) global music industry saw no growth in 2014, and, given that those revenues have halved since 2000, the sales of 25 are astonishing. Downloaded music – widely considered the industry's saviour in the post-Napster era – make up half of all digital music revenues, but even download sales fell by 8 per cent last year. That was offset by growth in subscription streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer, which let fans stream as much music as they want, usually for about $10 a month.

It's been a big month for streaming music, too. Canadian heartthrob Justin Bieber didn't break any sales records with his new redemption-focused album, Purpose, when he released it earlier this month, but it did earn the most streams for a single album in one week by a long shot. According to Nielsen, he received 9.9 million audio streams in Purpose's first week, more than double the second highest – four million, set by One Direction, coincidentally in the same week.

Adele, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily need streaming. A survey by music analysis company Midia found that 27 per cent of U.S. music consumers only buy and never stream, and Midia's chief analyst Mark Mulligan argues that the success of 25 would owe much to that segment. But he, like Mr. Bakula and others in the industry, is careful to warn that Adele is an anomaly, not the sign of things to come.

"There are so many ways to enjoy music now that album sales just don't have that much critical mass any more," Mr. Bakula says. "As Adele has shown over and over, she completely defies the logic of what the industry has become."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter