Despite Streaming’s Popularity, Staying Offline Might be an Artist’s Best Bet

April 28, 2016

By: Christopher Schuler


Adele’s 25 broke a fifteen-year-old record for first week sales when it dropped last year, moving 3.4 million units. That week, it accounted for over 40% of all albums sold. It was the first album ever to sell more than a million units in multiple weeks, with 1.1 million sold in its second week and 1.2 million more in the third. It sold over twice as much as the nearest competitor, Taylor Swift’s 1989. Combined, these two sold more than the next six best-selling albums. It’s fitting that these two releases are grouped together, since they belong to two of the highest-profile artists to remove their music from streaming services. In an era where streaming accounts for more than half of the total albums sold, Adele and Swift have found gargantuan success by breaking the mold.

Let’s compare them to another record-breaking album. Kanye West released his newest album, The Life of Pablo, as a Tidal-exclusive, leading to more than half a million torrent downloads in one day. A Torrent Freak executive said he had never seen anything like it before. It’s too early to tell what sales of this album will be like, but Tidal users have reported problems with streaming and faulty credit card charges, leading to a grim outlook for Ye’s sales even before declaring that it would never see a physical or digital release outside of the service.

Sure, all three of these artists are anomalies – absolutely no one is as popular as Taylor Swift or Adele right now, and few artists can make bloggers salivate like Kanye. Drag City, an indie label, refuses to release its albums to streaming services, but Joanna Newsom is never going to crack the top 10, no matter how acclaimed her albums become. Still, her most recent album reached no. 30 on the charts, while Billboard has declared that Kanye’s won’t even be counted. For now, it seems like not playing ball with the streaming services is an artist’s best bet. It’s almost enough to make me give up my Spotify subscription.    

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