Album sales are down, but Adele sales are still hot

Adele performs at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Taylor Swift’s “Red” has been an undisputed blockbuster since it was released in October. The album hasn’t left the top 10 and it has been in the No. 1 spot for much of its run. There’s only one reason why Swift’s “Red” isn’t the biggest pop album of 2012: It had to contend with the biggest pop album of 2011.

Adele’s “21,” released in the U.S. in February 2011 by XL/Columbia, is the top-selling album of the year for the second year running. Adele’s Grammy-winning set sold 4.41 million copies in 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan stats released by industry trade Billboard. The album in 2011 sold 5.82 million copies, giving it a to-date number well over 10 million.

Yet the good news for Adele isn’t shared by the industry as a whole. Perhaps reflective of a year in which no artist matched Adele’s runaway success, album sales for 2012 were down about 4% compared with those of 2011. CD sales took a large dip, down 13%, as the digital sector once again offered signs of growth.


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Sales of digital albums were up 14% to 117.86 million, a record number. Adele’s “21” is also the top-selling digital album of the year, having sold 1.04 million downloads. Adele’s effort was the only album to top 1 million in digital sales.

The 4% dip in sales is a return to form after 2011, when album sales were up for the first time since 2004. Overall album sales finished at 315.96 million, down from 330.57 million in 2011 and back in line with where the industry was heading in years in which Adele wasn’t releasing a cultural phenomenon. In 2010, for instance, overall album sales totaled 326 million, which was down nearly 13% from 2009 numbers.

In addition to the growth of digital albums, sales of digital singles also provided the industry with good news. A total of 1.336 billion tracks were purchased in 2012, up 5% from 2011’s number of 1.271 billion. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” featuring Kimbra, sold 6.8 million downloads, while Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” tallied 6.47 million downloads.

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The third-bestselling single of 2012 was “We Are Young” from fun. featuring Janelle Monae, which sold 5.95 million downloads. All three topped the sales figures of the top-selling single in 2011, which was, of course, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” with 5.81 million.

Almost two years after its release, Adele’s “21” continues to rack up milestones. This is the first time in the SoundScan era, Billboard reports, that an album topped the sales charts in two consecutive years. SoundScan began tracking data for the Billboard charts in 1991.

Swift’s Big Machine effort “Red” was a valiant No. 2, having sold 3.11 million copies. It’s the fourth time, reports Billboard, that Swift has had an album finish as one of the year’s top three sellers. Her “Fearless” was the top-selling album of 2009, with 3.22 million copies sold.

Rounding out the top 5 selling albums of the year was One Direction’s 2011 debut “Up All Night,” which sold 1.62 million, Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” at 1.46 million and One Direction’s 2012 effort “Take Me Home” with 1.34 million. Billboard writes that Mumford & Sons are the only rock act in the top 10 this year.


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