Illegal downloading and Adele

Simon at No Rock’n’Roll Fun has written a typically excellent piece about the BPI’s latest sales figures.

Despite all this “chronic” piracy going on, Adele’s album has sold more copies in a year than any album has ever sold. More than a Michael Jackson album managed in a year, even the good one. More than a Beatles album ever managed to whisk out the shops in twelve months. More, even, than the third Charlatans album sold in a year.

So, how come Adele’s album was not only immune to the chronic piracy, but thrived in a world so stricken? Had there been secret umlauts sewn into the hemlines of the choruses, rendering it impossible to torrent?

Were any of the many pirate-busting measures deployed? Did the pre-release circulate solely on a tape glued into a Walkman? Was every copy watermarked? Did a fleet of fake files get launched onto the internet to foil downloaders? Did Derren Brown hypnotise the world so that if they typed ‘Adele 21 free’ into Google they’d die?

Nope. The success of Adele’s album seems to be nothing to do with avoiding piracy, and more to do with sticking out an album that people liked and wanted to buy.

Worth remembering the next time you see the entertainment industry demanding new laws and filtering to fight the menace of piracy.ikoni

20 thoughts on “Illegal downloading and Adele

  1. All over bar the sharting says:

    First thing that occurred to me was that the sort of people that really like Adele must be a long way down the list of people likely to pirate anything online.

    When I think of all the people I know who like Adele enough to buy her album, literally none of them would be able to torrent it, and probably wouldn’t even if they could

    Cliff Richard must be in the same boat (not a pop at Adele)

  2. Gary says:

    Maybe that’s the answer: tell The Kids to get stuffed and concentrate on the oldies market. I’m not being sarky.

  3. Stephen says:

    I find this argument problematic. The starting point is that music is doomed, because anyone can download anything and so why would anyone pay for music? The reply is that one artist has just sold more copies of a single album than anyone else, ever. So the counter to that is, well, she must have sold it to people who can’t or won’t download. But that doesn’t change the fact that a whole lot of music was sold. It still means music isn’t doomed, doesn’t it? Or is it only not doomed if the exact same people who used to buy music still do so? If that’s your criterion for success, you’d be in for a bumpy ride in any industry. People change, markets change. Successful music might not look that edgy or cool any more. Why would anyone care about that?

  4. mupwangle says:

    Tony, you obviously only know cool young folks. ;-) Adele (or ADELE AS SHE CALLS HERSELF DUE TO A CAPS LOCK INCIDENT IN THE MARKETING SUITE) is quite popular amongst the kids these days. I saw a youtube stat the other day that said the rolling in the deep video was most popular with female 13-24 year olds and 40 something blokes.

  5. aardvarktm says:

    Don’t we have also have to take into account the comparative lack of competition?

    I mean, Adele sold a whole lot of records that people choose to buy instead of… err.. no… wait a sec…

    I’m not for a moment suggesting it’s not a big achievement, and hey, I’m not so young and on the musical pulse as I was (!) but seriously, how many other really popular records to compete with Adele were there last year?

    Usually there are a least a couple of records a year that “everybody” buys. And that everybody I actually know soon develops and abiding hatred of that will never leave them due to hearing them all the time (James Blunt anyone?)

    But last year, the only one I can even recall is the Adele one. Given that, did “everyone” *actually* buy Adeles record? It kind of looks like it.

    Or in short – isn’t this partly another symptom of the same problem that is always banged on about – the charts being full of short-lived derivative rubbish nobody really cares about?

    There are clearly plenty of people willing to buy music (and that, of course, is kind of the point) so if there really is *only one* record that is even worth considering, well, what else do they buy?

  6. Squander Two says:

    The competition isn’t other records: it’s games and DVDs.

    I really liked Rolling In The Deep. Can’t abide any of her other stuff. Adele strikes me as a superb singer who should let someone else do all her songwriting.

  7. Gary says:

    I honestly don’t know – I’m largely insulated from pop music these days because I work in silence and listen to talk radio in the car.

  8. aardvarktm says:

    >The competition isn’t other records: it’s games and DVDs.

    Except that loads and loads and loads of people still choose to buy a CD, didn’t they?

    I’m not saying that Games and DVDs aren’t part of the competition, but some of that money is going to get spent on “records” somehow or other. Quite a lot of it in fact. And if there isn’t more than one generally popular record to compete for that chunk of money, the result is still going to be an awful lot of sales for that one record.

  9. Squander Two says:

    That’s a bit tenuous. Also, it doesn’t make much sense ever to accuse anyone of ripping off The Stones when they themselves were (very brilliantly and creatively) recycling their favourite black American blues riffs.

  10. Squander Two says:

    No, I think you’ve got that backwards. People don’t decide to spend some money on music and then look around to see if there’s any music they actually like. They see what they like most — whether that be a particular piece of music or a game or a film or three hours on a tennis court or whatever — and then decide to buy it. There is no fixed pool of money spent on CDs that Adele is competing for.

    You have a point about there being very few other records by well established album artists, but that’s not why she’s sold so many records.

  11. aardvarktm says:

    >There is no fixed pool of money spent on CD

    I didn’t say there was. (Though in fact, when you account for how Christmas presents are often bought, in a lot of ways there actually *is*). There are a whole load of ways people end up deciding to buy a record (in one form or another) instead of ,say, a film, and lots of it ends up spent on records. When the number of “good” records to spend it on is smaller, that money is going to end up travelling towards that record, regardless of how the actual purchasing decision gets made.

    Of course, the question of how people decide to buy CDs as opposed to DVDs and how, say, that people want to interact with these things differently (harder to watch a film on the way to work than listen to a record, and much less worth it for example) is a whole different debate. And fascinating as it is, it has even less to do with the original point than anything I already said…

  12. Stephen says:

    It may well be that Adele had the biggest-selling album ever because there was nothing else worth buying that year. And if true that fact would still have nothing to do with downloading. And would support the argument that the biggest problem in music is not downloading, but a lack of actual talent, an argument advanced in the linked-to article.

  13. Squander Two says:

    > I didn’t say there was.

    Yeah, you did:

    > some of that money is going to get spent on “records” somehow or other. Quite a lot of it in fact. And if there isn’t more than one generally popular record to compete for that chunk of money, the result is still going to be an awful lot of sales for that one record.

    Sure, I realise language is a bit vague, but none of your argument makes sense unless that really does mean what it seems to mean.

    The lack of competition within the record industry can explain why Adele has massively outsold other artists who released records in 2011. It cannot explain how her sales are so good by historical standards.

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