Adele’s 25 is Blowing Past Sky-High Expectations

Update 11/23/15 – 25 sold 2.3 million copies in its first three days. Billboard’s new estimate: 2.9 million. I still expect over 3.3 million. 

Update 11/23/15 – 25 sold 1.902 million copies in its first two days, including 1.18 million digital copies and 722,000 physical copies. Thus, it is already the best-selling album of the year. Taylor Swift’s 1989 comes in second with 1.7 million.

There was a time not too long ago when the music industry questioned whether anyone not named Taylor Swift would ever sell a million copies of an album in a single week again. Taylor herself had accomplished the feat three times (in a row), more than any other artist in the SoundScan era. In fact, when 1989 was released last year, it was the first album to sell 1 million in a week since Taylor Swift’s 2012 album, Red.

Then Adele happened. 

After nearly doubling the previous sales record for a digital single with the debut of “Hello,” Adele went on to even more completely destroy the digital pre-order record (which was around 200,000) with about 550,000 preorders (200,000 in the first three days!). By that time, it was clear that Adele would indeed sell 1 million copies of 25 in its first week. The question turned to whether Adele could sell 2 million. Fairly early on, I predicted that 25 would sell at least 2 million copies, and I even posited that it would not be at all inconceivable that the album might sell more than 3 million in its first week. Billboard and other industry insiders were more conservative, with early estimates ranging from 1.3 million to 1.8 million. Billboard’s estimate rose to 2-2.5 million just before release. Now, the estimate has shifted up to 2.5-3 million copies.

But Billboard’s estimate is still conservative. 

Billboard’s estimate is based on first-day iTunes sales of 900,000 copies. That presumably includes about 450,000 preorders and 450,000 new orders of the album. Billboard has previously estimated that 25 sold 100,000 non-iTunes preorders, so, if we assume that it also sold 100,000 non-iTunes, non-preorder downloads, then 25 sold approximately 1.1 million digital copies in its first day.

When Billboard and Adele’s label predicted 2.5 million total sales, they were assuming 1 million digital downloads and 1.5 million physical sales. But, if the album has already sold 1.1 million downloads just in its first day, then these estimates are way off.

We don’t yet have any sales data for physical copies of 25 that I am aware of, but if we keep assuming 1.5 million, then the album would sell 2.6 million over the week even without any additional digital sales. The album is going to keep selling digitally. In real terms, the album sold 550,000 copies in its first day. If we assume that it will sell twice that again over the following six days, then we should expect 2.2 million total digital sales. That implies 3.7 million total sales. But, if digital copies of 25 are flying off of digital shelves, then who is to say that physical copies aren’t also flying off of real shelves even faster than expected? Could 25 sell 2 million physical copies? 3.7 million copies were shipped, so there is definitely the potential for more than 1.5 million to be sold in the first week.

At this point, it is not inconceivable that Adele could sell more than 4 million copies of 25 in its first week. 

But, maybe 25 won’t sell another 1.1 million digital copies this week. Maybe it will only sell another 550,000 digitally. Maybe it really will only sell 1.5 million physical copies in its first week. That still leaves us expecting 3.15 million copies sold in the first week, well above Billboard’s current estimate, and well above the current 2.415 million record.

Conclusion

Adele’s album is going to sell a lot of copies. How many?

I am now predicting 3.4675 million.

Why? When I made my initial predictions, I extrapolated data from Taylor Swift’s 1989. I looked at pre-order data, first-week sales of the lead single, and total album sales for the immediately preceding album. Interestingly, total album sales for the immediately preceding album and pre-order data both predicted between 3.3 and 3.6 million first week copies, which is what it now looks like Adele will end up selling. The first-week sales of the first single predicted around 2.6 million copies. It looks like an outlier, and intuitively it seems that it would have less predictive value than the other two stats. Preorder data has an obvious correlation to first-week album sales, and the long-term success of the immediately preceding album has long been known to be one of the best predictors of the magnitude of the initial sales debut bump, since most buyers at that point are basing their decision to purchase on their preconceptions of the kind of music that they will get from the artist. So, I took the flat average of the two data-driven estimates, and noted that it looked eminently reasonable based on my current preconceptions of Adele’s current album sales, and adopted it.

The data don’t lie. They paint a picture of a portion of reality, and the only question is to what extent the portion that you can’t see correlates well with what you can see. I guess I should have put more trust in the data in the first place, then my initial estimate would have been even more accurate relative to Billboard’s than it already is. ;P

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pdaines

Peter Daines is a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. His interests include studying foreign languages, watching and predicting events in politics and the music industry, and searching fruitlessly for the meaning of life.

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