NEW YORK • The final numbers are in and they confirm expectations: Adele is a phenomenon.
Billboard reports that the singer's new album, 25, sold a record- shattering 3.38 million copies in the United States in its first week and became the biggest-selling album of 2015, according to Nielsen Music.
That is nearly one million more than the previous high mark for first-week sales - 'N Sync sold 2.4 million copies of No Strings Attached in 2000 - and makes 25 the biggest debut since Nielsen (and previously SoundScan) began tallying hard sales data in 1991.
The success of Adele's 25 is all the more remarkable given how the landscape of music retail has changed since 2000, when about 700 million CDs were sold annually through a network of chains such as Tower, as well as in big-box stores such as Best Buy that devoted considerable floor space to music.
Today, with digital outlets such as iTunes having upended the way that music is distributed and consumed, thousands of record stores across the country have closed.
Last year, just 141 million CDs were sold in the US, according to Nielsen. An additional 106 million albums were sold as downloads.
Only 20 albums have ever sold more than one million copies in a week. The numbers for 25 put Adele at the head of that elite club of artists, including Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Eminem and Lady Gaga.
Adele's 25's opening puts her easily atop the Billboard 200. In seven days, it bested Taylor Swift's 1989, which was released last year and has sold nearly two million albums this year.
While stars are now expected to live their lives in full self-promotion mode online, Adele barely touches her social media accounts.
A 27-year-old mother who speaks with a working-class North London accent, she is revered by fans as much for her seeming approacha- bility as for her vocal prowess.
In interviews she speaks about being a full-figured woman in the image-obsessed entertainment industry and about rejecting product endorsements to keep the focus on her music.
The album 25 has also heightened the industry's debate over streaming. Like Swift a year ago, Adele decided to withhold her full album from streaming outlets such as Spotify, although a single, Hello, was widely available for streaming.
In an interview on NBC's Today show on Wednesday, she hinted at the reason for releasing the song but not the album that way, saying she viewed streaming as being like radio - in other words, as primarily a promotional platform.
The sales of 25 are being hailed as a vindication of her strategy to block the full album from streaming, although analysts have also been quick to portray her as an outlier whose success is not likely to be repeated by very many acts.
The No.1 title on Billboard's most recent album chart is Justin Bieber's Purpose, which opened with a record 100 million streams, and other young stars such as Ed Sheeran have expressed gratitude to Spotify for helping to propel their careers.
Retailers report that 25 has been bought by all sorts of consumers - male, female, old and young.
Adele's success may also be because of her following among a demographic group that the youth-obsessed pop music world does not often focus on.
According to Nielsen, which has studied the demographics of the fans of various pop acts, the typical Adele fan is a college-educated woman aged 25 to 44, who watches Family Guy on television and likes to shop at Target, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Sales of 25 are expected to be split about evenly between digital and hard copy, with iTunes representing the majority of digital copies and Target being the biggest driver of physical sales.
The retailer had a special version of the album with three bonus songs, ran TV commercials promoting the release and placed cardboard displays filled with the CD by checkout lines.
Adele's previous album, 21, has sold about 30 million copies - 11.2 million in the US - since 2011.
Hello, released on Oct 23, immediately shot to No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart and has not budged since.
It became the first track to sell more than one million downloads in a week, nearly doubling the previous record of 636,000 in 2009 held by Flo Rida's Right Round.
The album 25 took just over three days to surpass 'N Sync's record. It also broke records in Canada and Britain, where it sold 800,307 copies, more than the last 19 No. 1 albums in Britain combined, the Official Charts Company said last week. Worldwide figures were not available.
One question remaining is whether Adele can top herself: 21 spent 24 non-consecutive weeks at No.1 on the Billboard chart.
NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS