NEW YORK • For Adele's millions of fans, perhaps the biggest question about her next album, 25, is whether its songs will pack the same emotional wallop that helped make her last record a global smash.
But behind the scenes, with two weeks left before the scheduled release on Nov 20, music executives are anxiously awaiting another detail: whether Adele will make her songs available on streaming services like Spotify or withhold them for a time to boost album sales. Her choice reflects the music industry's larger debate over how fully to embrace the streaming format. Elite artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce still sell millions of albums on CD or via downloads, and by streaming their new songs immediately, they risk sacrificing those lucrative sales. Through their success, those three women have accumulated a rare level of power in the industry, allowing them to take risks over how their music is released and consumed, and the rest of the business has taken notice.
"If Adele decides to not have her music on streaming for a certain period of time, that is going to send a strong signal to other artists," said chief executive Casey Rae of the Future of Music Coalition, an artists' advocacy group.
With her last album, 21, released in early 2011, Adele scored the kind of blockbuster success that the industry had all but written off as extinct. It sold about 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most popular releases in decades. In the United States, the majority of its 11 million sales were on CD.
Adele's new album looks poised to be another giant hit. Its first single, Hello, broke download and video-streaming records last month.
Her position on streaming, however, is unclear. When 21 came out, downloads were still an ascendant format and Spotify had not arrived in the US. Like other artists at the time, she withheld her album from Spotify for months, a move that has gone out of fashion. Now, Spotify is just one of an array of streaming outlets that include Apple Music, Google, Rdio and Amazon.
Adele is said to be involved in deciding whether and how her music should be streamed - an unusual level of involvement for a major star in such a granular business issue. Her representatives, as well as for Spotify and Apple, declined to comment.
Executives briefed on the plans for Adele's release said streaming services had been given no clear indications about whether, or when, the album would become available on those outlets. Hello was widely available for streaming, but that may have been a test.For artists like Adele, CD sales remain a major source of income, and the stores that sell her music are an important promotional partner. Target will sell a deluxe version of the album with three extra songs, an arrangement similar to that for Swift's album, 1989, last year.
A big-selling album is important for smaller shops too, like Newbury Comics, a chain in New England where Adele's last album, 21, was the biggest seller in 10 years, said the store's senior buyer Carl Mello.
But one hit is just one hit. "I don't think that one release," he said, "would ever solve the problems of the music business."
NEW YORK TIMES