Adele’s Album Sales Are Historically Bonkers

Adele’s new album, 25, sold 3.38 million copies in its first week in the United States. This is bonkers. That’s more — way more — than any other album has sold in a week since Nielsen started tracking real sales in 1991.

Only one other album has sold more than two million albums in a week, and nobody’s sold three million. *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached sold 2.42 million in 2000. For the mathematically challenged, 25 sold 960,000 more copies than its closest rival which happened to be released at the absolute zenith of record sales. Billboard‘s Glenn Peoples has some crazy figures that claim that adjusted for inflation (or something) this would somehow be “equivalent to her selling 7.59 million units in 2000.” I don’t know about that, but I know that 3.38 million is a shitload of records in 2015 or any other year.

Pre-SoundScan data is unreliable at best, but it took Sgt. Pepper three months to sell 2.5 million copies according Bob Spitz’s Beatles biography. Beatles' Record-Busting LP (Rolling Stone Dec 21 1968)It took Meet the Beatles four years to sell 5.8 million copies, according to issue No. 24 of Rolling Stone. That same 1968 article points out that the top selling album of all time then was The Sound of Music soundtrack with 8 million. It was front page news that Capitol Records had shipped 3,301,275 copies of the White Album to stores.

So this is big news.

In addition to those 3.38 million “pure album sales” 25 also moved 96,000 “track equivalent album units” and another 8,000 “streaming equivalent album units” bringing its official Nielsen total to 3.48 million equivalent album units.

More sales details: 1.71 million compact discs, 1.64 million digital albums, 22,000 vinyl albums. Sorry hipsters, there was no official cassette release.

A year ago when Taylor Swift sold 1,287,000 copies of 1989, I pointed out how rare it’s always been to sell more than a million albums in a week. SoundScan began compiling its figures May 25, 1991, and for the first 8 years there were only two albums that achieved it. The year 2000 was insane when there were 5 albums that broke the million mark, but since then it’s been about one album per year despite the fact that album sales have been declining steadily. It’s obvious now that 2000 was a bubble.

But Adele is a force of nature. The question now is how long will 25 keep selling? I was mesmerized by the staying power of 21, which managed to sell 100,000 copies every week for what seemed like forever. Will 25 have those kinds of legs? We shall see.

The 20 albums that have sold over a million copies in a week (chronologically by release date)

1. Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard Soundtrack: 1,061,000 (1/9/93)

2. Garth Brooks – Double Live: 1,085,000 (12/5/98)

3. Backstreet Boys – Millennium: 1,134,000 (6/5/99)

4. ‘N Sync – No Strings Attached: 2,416,000 (4/8/00)

5. Britney Spears – Oops!…I Did It Again: 1,319,000 (6/3/00)

6. Eminem – The Marshal Mathers LP: 1,760,000 (6/10/00)

7. Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish & the Hot Dog Flavored Water: 1,055,000 (11/4/00)

8. Backstreet Boys – Black & Blue: 1,591,000 (12/9/00)

9. The Beatles – 1: 1,259,000 (1/6/01)

10. ‘N Sync – Celebrity: 1,880,000 (8/11/01)

11. Eminem – The Eminem Show: 1,322,000 (6/15/02)

12. Norah Jones – Feels Like Home: 1,022,000 (2/28/04)

13. Usher – Confessions: 1,096,000 (4/10/04)

14. 50 Cent – The Massacre: 1,141,000 (3/19/05)

15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III: 1,006,000 (6/28/08)

16. Taylor Swift – Speak Now: 1,047,000 (11/13/10)

17. Lady Gaga – Born This Way: 1,108,000 (5/29/11)

18. Taylor Swift – Red: 1,208,000 (10/28/12)

19. Taylor Swift – 1989: 1,287,000 (11/2/14)

20. Adele – 25: 3,380,000 pure album sales; 3,480,000 equivalent album units (11/26/15)

Sorted by sales

1. Adele – 25: 3,380,000 pure album sales; 3,480,000 equivalent album units (11/26/15)

2. ‘N Sync – No Strings Attached: 2,416,000 (4/8/00)

3. ‘N Sync – Celebrity: 1,880,000 (8/11/01)

4. Eminem – The Marshal Mathers LP: 1,760,000 (6/10/00)

5. Backstreet Boys – Black & Blue: 1,591,000 (12/9/00)

6. Eminem – The Eminem Show: 1,322,000 (6/15/02)

7. Britney Spears – Oops!…I Did It Again: 1,319,000 (6/3/00)

8. Taylor Swift – 1989: 1,287,000 (11/2/14)

9. The Beatles – 1: 1,259,000 (1/6/01)

10. Taylor Swift – Red: 1,208,000 (10/28/12)

11. 50 Cent – The Massacre: 1,141,000 (3/19/05)

12. Backstreet Boys – Millennium: 1,134,000 (6/5/99)

13. Lady Gaga – Born This Way: 1,108,000 (5/29/11)

14. Usher – Confessions: 1,096,000 (4/10/04)

15. Garth Brooks – Double Live: 1,085,000 (12/5/98)

16. Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard Soundtrack: 1,061,000 (1/9/93)

17. Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish & the Hot Dog Flavored Water: 1,055,000 (11/4/00)

18. Taylor Swift – Speak Now: 1,047,000 (11/13/10)

19. Norah Jones – Feels Like Home: 1,022,000 (2/28/04)

20. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III: 1,006,000 (6/28/08)

All sales data via Billboard.

14 thoughts on “Adele’s Album Sales Are Historically Bonkers”

  1. So, we’ve covered the how the sales have gone down, can we now try to explain the why they’ve happened in such staggering numbers?

    1. Kiko, are you looking for an explanation for why albums sales have gone down in such staggering numbers, or why Adele’s album sales have defied this trend?

          1. A friend and fellow musician said she believes Adele’s success is the culmination of ‘American Idol’/The Voice’ et al mass indoctrination.

  2. Another 1.11 million in pure album sales for the week ending Dec. 3 bringing her two-week cume to 4.49 million copies.

    Billboard’s Keith Caulfield points out that “25 is now the first album to sell a million copies in two different weeks since Nielsen began tracking point-of-sale purchases in 1991.”

  3. Just one more pre-Soundscan comparison I just found. 50 years ago, the Beatles sold 1.2 million copies of Rubber Soul in its first nine days on the market, which “breaks every sales record previously held by the Beatles.” Capitol had initially shipped two million copies, which was “also its largest ever, on any album.”

  4. Another 695,000 in pure album sales for the week ending Dec 10. Three week cume is 5.19 million.

    This is “the first time an album has sold more than 650,000 in each of its first three frames since Nielsen Music began tracking sales in 1991.”

  5. Another 164,000 in pure album sales for the week ending Jan. 7. Seven week cume: 7.6 million.

    Also: “the first album by a woman to spend its first seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart since 1987” (Whitney).

  6. The album has now sold a total of 8.8 million copies in the U.S. as of the week ending June 30.

    That means it’s only sold 1.2 million copies in the almost six months since January 7… Slowing down!

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