Why Adele's 21 Is the Gift That Keeps On Giving For Independent Record Stores

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"If we had five Adeles every year, there would be no worry," say Mike Batt, owner of Seattle's Silver Platters Record Store chain.

It goes without saying that Adele's 21 has been a smash: Its 4.7 million units sold, according to SoundScan, are 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 selling strongly almost a year after its release in February. 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 during weeks that don't have blockbuster new releases that are typically responsible for bringing in 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 have sales of washing machines and flat-screen TVs to fall back on have been hit the hardest. But 21 is a record that people are talking about, and want a hard copy of.

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"The 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, the product manager at San Francisco'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, Montana's Rockin' Rudys, says that in addition to being a consistent seller, 21 is that rare record that's not only popular, but is a genuinely great record, and 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."

Not every independent retailer is feeling the Adele effect. Eric Levin's Criminal Records in Atlanta almost had to shut its doors in September. Adele hasn't been a huge seller for him, and he credits the community-fueled Save Criminal campaign with keeping his shop open.

Batt says that the success of 21 has helped Silver Platters stores sell more pieces of music, year over year, 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."

 
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