"If we had five Adeles every year, there would be no worry," says Mike Batt, owner of Seattle's Silver Platters record-store chain.
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It goes without saying that Adele's 21 has been a smash, with 4.7 million units sold, according to SoundScan—more than twice that of Lady Gaga's Born This Way, the next-best seller. But 21 is an anomaly in that it has continued to sell strongly almost a year after its February release. That's just not how records sell anymore; Batt says even the biggest records these days have a good first week, a moderate second, and then trickle out. Adele's long-tail sales have kept giving customers—many of them first-timers—a reason to come into stores like Batt's, even in weeks without the blockbuster new releases that typically draw crowds. "And once they're in your store, if you've got a good record store, you're hopefully turning them on to other things, too," Batt says. "That's what makes it so powerful."
As music continues to go digital and listeners embrace music-subscription services like Rhapsody and Spotify, music retailers that don't also sell washing machines and flat-screen TVs have been hit hardest. But 21 is a record people are talking about—and want a hard copy of.
"Artists like Adele are few and far between, and there haven't been a lot of albums that have had that word-of-mouth buzz this year," says Tony Green, product manager at San Francicso's Amoeba Music. "Typically, it takes a lot for people who just listen to the radio to just get them in the store. Adele is one of the artists who propel people in . . . For many people, it's one of the few times they come visit us through the year."
Bruce Micklus, owner of Missoula, Mont.'s Rockin Rudy's, says that in addition to being a consistent seller, 21 is that rare record that's not only popular but also genuinely great, one that he and his staff can confidently tout to a wide swath of listeners. "It's a disc that you can recommend to almost anybody," Micklus says. "If you give somebody something . . . and they're happy with it, they're way more likely to come back and buy multiples of things."
Batt says that the success of 21 has helped Silver Platters stores sell more pieces of music this year to date than they did last year. But closing out the year strong is out of Adele's hands.
"It's all weather," Batt says. "That really is the key. It can take a lot out of you if the snow hits. I'll just cross my fingers that we have a mild winter."