Chartwatch – The Singles Market Just Keeps Growing

Weekly chart analysis from the Official Charts Company

Already, just a third of the way through the year, there is no doubting who will sell most albums in 2011. She has held onto the top spot in the artist albums chart for 13 weeks (out of 17) already this year – and has again this week. Her name is Adele.


Adele’s first album 19 had sold 730,000 copies at the start of this year, a sales volume that had built up over two years, following her 2008 Brits Critics Choice victory. But, since January 1, she has sold an additional 2.8m albums; while her new album 21 has now sold almost 2.2m copies in 2011, 19 has added an 600,000. In just 17 weeks.

To put that in context, only one act sold more than 2m albums in 2010 – Take That – and only five others sold more than 1m albums – Michael Buble, Rihanna, Kings Of Leon, Lady Gaga and the Glee Cast. Adele’s achievement – especially with sales collected predominantly in the first quarter of the year, traditionally the quietest time of the year – should not be under-estimated.

The odds are that, 21 could become a 3m-selling album by the end of the year. If it does so, it will be the first new release to do so since Leona Lewis’s ‘Spirit’. Only three albums have sold in such quantities since 2000 – ‘Spirit’, James Blunt’s ‘Back To Bedlam’ and Dido’s ‘No Angel’.

As a result of Adele’s dominance, there has been little additional limelight in this year’s Official Albums Chart left for anyone else. Since 21 arrived, only Foo Fighters’ ‘Wasting Light’ has eased her off the top spot and then only for one week.

While Adele has also dominated the Official Singles Chart, she has not done so to the same extent. Someone Like You has held the top spot for five weeks this year, but seven other releases have also taken over at Number One.

The current Number One, ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO / Lauren Bennett / Goon Rock, made it three weeks at the top last week; only ‘Someone Like You’ has held at the summit for longer this year.

While many column inches have been spent lamenting the crisis in the music industry, the singles market continues to grow – in fact, it is more buoyant than it has ever been, thanks to an explosion in legal download sales.

In 2003, the year before digital downloading really took off in the UK, when iTunes, 7Digital Media and My Coke Music became some of the first download stores to launch in the UK, UK music fans bought 31m singles. Over the following seven years, the market exploded – so that, last year, in 2010, 162m singles were bought in the UK.

While a lot of those “singles” are individual tracks taken from albums, the sale boost has also driven right through to the singles market. In nine weeks out of the past 20, you would have needed to sell 100,000 copies or more to make Number One in the Official Singles Chart – in contrast, during the whole of 2003, only seven Number Ones sold more than 100,000 copies in a week.