1 Week, 3.4 Million Albums

Remember when buying and receiving iTunes gift cards was useful? Whether they were for stocking stuffers or Secret Santa gifts, $10 on an iTunes gift card could get you a whole album. However, those days are old news. These days, a majority of avid music listeners are subscribed to Spotify premium or loyal streamers on SoundCloud. Let’s not forget about Pandora or Apple Music users either. The age of digital streaming is certainly having a moment.

Last Friday November 20th an artist made a risky decision to keep her album from any streaming service. That’s right. You can’t find it anywhere except in their jewel CD cases and via mp3 download on services like iTunes. Spotify has a disclaimer stating, “The artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify just yet. We’re working on it, and hope we can change their minds soon.”

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On Friday November 13th, Justin Bieber promptly released his highly anticipated album, “Purpose” on Spotify at midnight. With viral chart toppers and viral videos for “Sorry” and “What Do U Mean?” Bieber was able to sell over 161,000 copies of his album in two weeks.

That’s a lot considering he released his work on streaming services too, right? Maybe.

Well… in just one week, Adele sold over 3.4 million albums.

3.4 million albums



If your jaw dropped when first hearing this news, you’re not alone. It’s been a while since anyone has sold this many albums in one week. How long you might ask? Adele broke N*Sync’s record, “No Strings Attached” – an album that was released over two decades ago in 1991. It’s been almost 15 years since anyone has sold 3 million albums. Back in the 90s, N*Sync certainly did not have social media to guide the promotion of their album either. What helped Adele rise to the top of the sales charts this past week?

Her marketing strategy began with one commercial aired during X-Factor. In a matter of 30 seconds, the first few lines of her song flashed across the TV screen. The next minute, social media blew up. People questioned, was the queen back for her throne from a four-year hiatus?

In a matter of no time at all, the music video for “Hello” was released – a music video that garnered just as much attention from social media as her mysterious commercial. One of the reactions was the explosion of gifs and memes created as a result of this video, while the other reaction was towards the fact that Adele used a flip phone in the video. Adele was everywhere.


Social media might have given Adele a boost, but it certainly was not the sole reason for selling over 3 million records. In addition to getting widespread attention over social media, Adele and her team had the help of other tools.

Windowing –

The strategy involves withholding certain forms of distribution to encourage consumers to pay for a more expensive version first: Think of a movie maker waiting to release a DVD or put a film on Netflix, or a book publisher putting out a paperback several months to a year after a hard cover is released. (via Fortune)

It doesn’t always work, but with only releasing one single and one video, then keeping her album away from YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music, Adele fans had no choice but to turn to purchasing the album and they were willing to purchase it too.

A Wide Fan Base – 11 million people bought Adele’s sophomore release, “21”. She has fans far and wide. It’s no doubt that a bulk of these fans contributed to the response on social media.

Star Power – Let’s be real. No artist today has the power that Adele has, besides maybe Taylor Swift. She has so much influence over her fans, which made her record-breaking sales possible.

Could this change the future of music, social media, and music streaming? Probably not. Realistically, Adele is the one artist that can truly accomplish selling over 3.4 million albums in one week compared to artists that have equally crazed fans like Justin Bieber and One Direction — two artists who barely even sold a quarter of a million records in a week. However, it’s captivating to observe how one artist can defy “the norm” of inbound marketing or social media marketing and accomplish what no one else has been able to in over two decades.


  1. Excellent post and excellent insight into the strategy of Adele’s new album release. Fans have missed Adele over the last 4 years. I’m sure the gap in time from her previous release played into the success of this release. I would say it is another form of “windowing”. Gun’s n Roses fans waited 15 years for ‘Chinese Democracy’. If you have a strong following there is definitely a time that can facilitate a strong return; Adele certainly picked a good time for her release. Again, great post.

  2. As someone who waited (more than) anxiously for last week’s release, I thought it was an incredibly smart business move for Adele and the record label to withhold the album from streaming services. Obviously, both made far more profit off of this older form of release, but I think the fact that it wasn’t on a streaming service forced people to go to other social media sites to talk about this fact. It forced people to both buy the album on CD (I no longer have a CD rack to put 25 in, but I bought it anyways) and to go on Facebook or twitter to either discuss or complain about the distribution. I think it was a brilliant move, and I’m sure in a few months Adele will offer the album on streaming sites, right after everyone thought they had the lyrics out of their minds. Great blog!

  3. With the amazing success of Adele’s windowing strategy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some equally popular artists do the same thing in the near future. Of course one of the biggest things that made this album so popular was Adele taking four years to release it. I’m glad that @brandnewtutelage brought up Guns N Roses “Chinese Democracy” album as a prime example of how making fans wait can make them that much hungrier for it. Sadly, “Chinese Democracy” was pretty awful album (compared to their older works) but it still sold a tremendous amount of albums. Hopefully the world won’t have to wait as long for Adele’s next album. Great post!

  4. With Adele’s net worth exceeding over 75 million dollars, I have to admit I thought it was a selfish move to withhold her album from streaming in order to make an even greater profit. Let’s face it, she would have still been raking in millions if she agreed to streaming. I’m a huge Adele fan, but I can’t help but feel in a way she is letting her less fortunate fans down. Is her love for music about the money or about her fans? Today people do not only care about the quality of the music, but the quality of the person behind the music. Although her business move results in millions of CDs sold, and surpassing N’Sync, I do wonder if this will hurt her reputation going forward.

  5. Great post! I myself am an avid Apple Music user. I had heard Adele’s album had been released but was confused because I couldn’t find it on Apple Music so I thought the people who told me about its release must have been wrong. I love Adele and all but don’t know if I would be willing to buy her album… I think this is definitely a brilliant marketing tactic and would not be surprised if artists start to do this in the future. I could definitely see Taylor Swift following in her path with her track record. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Really enjoyed this post! Definitely a bit non-traditional for an artist of the stature of Adele to opt to not host an album on Spotify, but it’s clearly worked wonders thus far. With a lot of news over the last few years coming out about the meager royalty payments that Spotify pays artists, coupled with the massive amount of anticipation for the new album – I can see why the marketing team would want to drive a lot more traffic towards physical mediums of the album and digital downloads. I definitely don’t think this is a viable marketing strategy for the majority of musicians and think that Adele is one of the few artists that could pull off something as daring as this with success.

  7. This is incredible. She is so famous internationally that as you mentioned, only she and someone like Taylor Swift could possibly afford to launch an album like this in today’s streaming age. I think its interesting to consider the pros and cons of taking such an approach, however. Adelle has far more than 3.4 million fervent fans around the world, and I wonder if her album will reach 11 million sales like her old album. I have not really heard Adelle’s album (with the exception of “Hello”) and I doubt I will hear it very much just because she is not available on YouTube or streaming services, and thus, I really won’t be inclined to buy her album. Its definitely a tradeoff- Beiber’s album had less than 200,000 sales, but I guarantee it had a lot more people listen to it than the 3.4 million that listened to Adelle’s album cover-to-cover. She has such a huge, fervent fan base that she can afford to do something like this and take in massive profits, but its a strategy that probably can’t be sustained for all her albums, because she will want to enter mass-media markets to make sure she is acquiring new fans and keeping her existing fans happy as well

  8. ariellebudney · ·

    Nice post! I think Adele made a great move here by restricting the release of her album; however, I agree with you that not many artists are able to do this. Adele is one of the few artists I’m willing to purchase the physical album for. I also feel that the four year gap between 21 and 25 contributed to the success. With such a long break, the anticipation was through the roof and fans knew the album had to be good. Her use of social media was also great; I found out about the 30sec commercial a couple hours after it initially aired. As far as forcing fans to pay for the album, I completely support it. Why shouldn’t we pay? We’ve become spoiled with so many streaming platforms, but ultimately, it’s their art and if we want it we should buy it.

  9. Good post! I have to say I think Adele’s new album is straight fire. Adele is one of a few artist who has the power to withhold her music from streaming sights. She has not come out with in album in four years! It has been highly anticipated. Other artist come out with album every year so they are not nearly as valuable to consumers as Adele’s album. Smaller artist though do not have this luxury. They need streaming services more than the streaming services need them. The streaming service helped the smaller artist get discovered by a large user base. It’ll be interesting if other artist follow in Adele’s footsteps and only release albums or mp3 download. What I’m curious to know is what is the expected value of Adele’s album to streaming services.

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