Adele’s latest smash hit album, 25, has been all over the headlines this week due to its record-breaking success. Although we discussed earlier this year how sales figures for even the most successful albums of recent years weren’t matching up to those of yesteryear, Adele’s new album has done incredibly well even by 90s standards. The UK singer’s third album, released four years after its predecessor, arrived with plenty of anticipation and thanks to a savvy marketing and sales plan, is reported to have broken the single-week sales record held previously by NSYNC’s No Strings Attached (remember them?). But there is one boundary that it hasn’t quite eluded.
Firstly: Adele has done amazingly well to achieve this feat. This album, though not straying far from the content of 21 and questioned by some for being too ‘middle of the road’, is accessible, catchy, and has a wide emotional appeal. Her voice is as powerful as ever. ‘Hello’ was a guaranteed hit, and elsewhere Adele has teamed with a perfectly enlisted team of both new and experienced writers and producers. She deserves all the accolades she is receiving for the album’s, and her personal, success.
The release strategy of this album, however, is open for questioning. The decision to keep 25 off all streaming services surely helped to secure the over 4 million worldwide sales that are being reported. This would have been a calculated business decision, based on her wide appeal to audiences that will be willing and able to pay for the album in the wake of its hype -even if we do ignore the slightly odd case that Adele’s Columbia Records home has shares in these same streaming services. Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, another 2015 smash hit, did about 16 million streams on Spotify in its first week, and with the artist receiving $0.007 per stream, thats an income of about $100,000. On the other hand, iTunes downloads (which have made up roughly half of the sales being reported) are sold at $10.99 an album, with about $6.00 actually going to the artist and label. Speculating on Adele’s deal being like most major label deals, we can estimate that Adele will see about $0.84 of that after commissions and labels recoup their advances, giving her a final revenue of about $1,600,000 on the online downloads alone. Estimating figures for the physical sales – the fact that people went and bought physical copies is an impressively bizarre phenomenon in itself – is even more complicated. A great sum for Adele then, but those at iTunes and the label will be reaping in far more than her. The week of their lives.
In other words, the decision to keep the album off streaming sites may have paid off for Adele, depending on the details of her deal, but who its guaranteed to pay off for is her label and their chums at iTunes. It is a curious thought that Adele, who has been able to break so many boundaries with her music – as an outspoken, female, UK artist, confident in herself and her body- but hasn’t been able to break free from an antiquated business structure that allows old cronies to get rich off others’ talents. For all the empowering strides Adele has taken, her economic empowerment is still up for question. She will get plenty of money for her work, that is to be sure – a mega tour and some christmas placements are being lined up as we speak. But as one of the world’s most talented, important, and inspiring artists, Adele should be striving to break free from the stinking, archaic, and opaque system that has long been holding back the music industry. If on this record, Adele has taken steps to confirm herself as one of the world’s biggest stars, perhaps moving forward she could take a note from smaller but truly groundbreaking artists who have used the technology at hand to work independently, not crown millionaires in offices miles away that they’ve never met, and reap the full rewards of their work.