For the first time since 2004, album sales are up, and nearly all the credit goes to Adele. Her sophomore album 21 sold nearly 6 million copies, completely dominating the industry and cheering music execs (for once). But given how dependent the industry was on one artist in 2011, is this news really that promising? Here, a guide:
Album sales were up?
Yes, though only slightly. Sales of complete albums in 2011 reached 330.6 million in the U.S., an increase of 1.3 percent over 2010, according to Nielsen. It's the first uptick in sales since 2004 and Adele deserves much of the credit: Her 21 moved 5.82 million copies — the best one-year sales count since Usher's Confessions sold 7.98 million in 2004. Her 2009 debut, 19, enjoyed a corresponding bump, selling nearly a million units in 2011 as well.
How significant is this for the music industry?
A one percent increase isn't exactly something to write home about, says Ben Sisario at at The New York Times. "Some businesses might call that level of growth flat." But considering the past decade's steady downward slide — revenue from recorded music fell 52 percent over the last 10 years — this is a relief. "For the beleaguered music industry, any positive news about sales is cause for celebration."
How much did Adele dominate?
She sold 3.3 million more albums than the year's second-highest seller, Michael Buble's Christmas, and 3.7 million more than Lady Gaga's Born This Way. Adele spent 14 weeks atop the Billboard album charts in 2011, says Devon Maloney at Billboard, and 21 is the first album since 2005 to log 30 weeks of 100,000-plus sales. Her song "Rolling in the Deep" was the year's best-selling single and the most-played song on the radio. Furthermore, 21 is the best-selling digital album of all time. Taken together, her two albums amounted to 2 percent of total record sales, a nearly unprecedented total for one artist. Without her efforts, says Daniel Kreps at SPIN, record sales would actually be down. So while Adele is being hailed as "the savior of music," says Tyler Coates at Black Book, "the industry is still tanking."
What about the digital sales?
Digital music sales rose 8.5 percent, says Coates, while sales of complete digital albums rose 20 percent. Though such boosts seem like a good sign for the industry, digital sales offer the lowest profit margin of all music sales. CD sales, which deliver the greatest profit margin, were, unsurprisingly, down six percent.