Selling a million album is something, no matter if we talk about pure album sales or converted singles formats. It takes a lot of success to get there. Climbing all the way to 10 million is all the more difficult while hitting 100 million is some kind of a legendary achievement. The last artist to do so? Britney Spears who debuted way back in 1998. Thanks to strong ongoing sales, several 00s artists are now on their way to get there too. Rihanna, Coldplay, Adele, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, they are all contenders to reach 9 digits sales. Who will do it first though? Also, can younger artists like Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and Drake be dark horses and top them all?
So far, we have studied 37 artists who can claim over 100 million equivalent album sales (EAS from now on). As our audit process is not over, there is still some more to add. I won’t spoil too much if I say that the likes Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart will hit this mark too once added. Nevertheless, only about a dozen missing artists sold that much, meaning there is only 50-ish acts who ever managed this total. What do they have in common? Well, decades of ongoing sales. It’s what it takes to get so high. In an industry where 10 million has always been a very high target for an album, you can only hit 100 million thanks to both consistent success upon release and significant catalog sales through the years, either through original records or newly packaged compilations.
Downloads then destroyed the music industry, highly limiting the impact of new hit makers. With them, a strong appeal towards a consumer was only worth 0.15 EAS as per our CSPC approach, the weighting of a digital download. The market collapsed year after year and it became impossible to exploit the catalog of a popstar with a compilation, now people had iTunes gift cards and would download a pair of tracks instead.
This context added to their relatively short discography prevented 00s acts to climb through all-time lists, with career sales often limited to 40-50 million EAS. Their catalog is now getting larger and streaming made possible anew to gain traction on the back of valuable old songs. Thus, counts of the likes mentioned in the introduction can’t stop increasing and are now getting closer and closer from the magical threshold of 100 million.
To tell who’s going to get there first, let’s review their career sales as of our last update and watch their ongoing catalog strength. In order to make it all the more fun, I’ll check them in reverse order of their last CSPC tally.
Ed Sheeran – 54,305,000 (as of Oct 2018)
27-years old Ed Sheeran has been on a roll lately. From his UK success with his debut 2011 album + to his global domination with 3rd effort Divide from 2017, he climbed all the way to the top of the game.
His tally of 54 million may seem way off the 100 million target, but the pace of his sales since late 2014 has been insane. In barely 15 weeks since our last update, he already gained 1.4 million EAS from streams, plus about 10% of that number from remaining avenues, putting him close to 56 million. With a weekly rate of 100,000 EAS, it would take Sheeran over 8 years to hit 100 million. Obviously, the back catalog may slow down a bit, making it longer, but then, we would have to add in his new releases and accompanying catalog boosts.
The conclusion for the singer is that he won’t get there unless he releases 1, or better 2, new albums. He already told he isn’t dropping a new LP in 2019, so time to get a pair of releases and sales to get in, at the very, very best, he will move into 9 digits by 2022. This assumes his next albums smash nearly as hard as Divide, which kind of rule him out for our contest.
Drake – 56,880,000 (as of Aug 2017)
Impressive records sales is about the only thing Drake and Sheeran have in common. They both approach their career in a completely different way. If we can be safe the British pop singer won’t release a new album, let alone two, in a near future, Drake can put something out virtually anytime.
This way of handling his career led him to have about 3 times more albums out than Sheeran on top of countless of side projects. For him too though, the figure of 56.7 million may seem a bit short. The point is, from August 2017 to October 2018 his streaming tally shot from 21.5 million EAS to 35.6 million EAS. In a little over 15 weeks since then, he already added 3 million more EAS from streams. Drake‘s target audience uses mostly streaming services, but since the last CSPC review the artist also sold over 500,000 albums and 6 million downloads. His current career total is thus effectively 75 million right now rather than 57 million.
In recent weeks he has been increasing at more than 200,000 units every 7 days, a pace that would send him to 100 million by 2021. In this case too the ongoing sales may slow down a bit since various singles from Scorpion are still recent, but if he continues to be busy releasing new material don’t rule Drake out to reach 100 million during the year 2020.
Justin Bieber – 60,877,000 (as of Apr 2018)
Unlike the previous artists, Bieber hasn’t been very active lately. In 2015, his Purpose album showed the Canadian superstar was a dominant figure in streaming platforms. His appeal was milked through heavily popular collaborations like Let Me Love You and Despacito afterwards, but no new album came out in more than 3 years.
With his updated streams as of October 2018, added to 1.2 million EAS he amassed since then, plus subsequent formats, Bieber is now over 65 million. With the potential of moving 15 million EAS with one only album plus 10 million from back catalog in a year, a heavily successful album would send him very close to 100 million. Good news, a new record must be around the corner for him. How successful will it be? Time will tell. Realistically though, he will need to wait for at least 2022 to hit 100 million.
Beyoncé – 74,052,000 (as of May 2018)
At the moment, the future of Beyoncé is quite unsure. For many years, she seemed unstoppable. New hits, streaming force, strong back catalog, she had everything on her side. When numbers were slightly down from her previous works like it happened with her Lemonade album, which did well but not as extremely well as her previous records, the fault was set on the lack of availability on Spotify.
The release of her duet album Everything Is Love along with her husband Jay-Z under the name The Carters flopped badly yet. It hasn’t even come close from moving a million EAS globally. Her back catalog actually moved more units since May 2018’s update than new releases, although she is still below 77 million EAS with the duet album and her recent collaborations included.
With her career total climbing by around 50,000 per week, she needs a huge turnaround to be a contender in the next 5 years. Her former hits and iconic status ain’t enough anymore. In concrete words, for her next album, she needs a real big hit. Even if it happens, 100 million will take time, she is unlikely to be reach it before 2022.
Taylor Swift – 76,863,000 (as of Oct 2018)
Taylor Swift is another interesting case study. Up to 78 million EAS up to date, she comes from a 6.1 million selling effort, her 2017 reputation. Her release history suggests a new album isn’t coming soon, but rumors suggest otherwise. A 7th album for 2019 holiday season is possible. What’s sure is that up to date, 6 million EAS is a low for the artist, so she is very capable of outperforming that mark when she returns.
It must be noted that her catalog is now available in Spotify, which fueled her ongoing sales in recent months. Just like Bieber, a strong year for her would be close to 15 million with a new album and 10 million for her back catalog. The difference is that for her, that would be enough to jump over 100 million. So, if she really comes back later this year, she will have a shot of getting there by the end of 2020.
Adele – 84,148,000 (as of Mar 2018)
When we talk about Adele, the first thing we want to say is that everything is possible. She makes legendary results look incredibly easy. Nearly a year ago, she was already up to 84 million EAS with a mere 3 albums and virtually no featuring whatsoever. Right now, she is closing in 86 million.
Based on her sales so far, expectations for her fourth album are set on over 18 million EAS. The last one, 25, is already well over 26 million. Her current monthly increase is over 125,000, a figure that doesn’t look so good. In a streaming world, her tiny catalog of 39 songs available at Spotify is hurting her sales strength. Still, with a new era expected for this year, most likely for Q4 considering she appeals to traditional buyers too, she can basically reach 100 million anytime, let’s say by A4 release date plus 3 months. Even if the era goes wrong, it will always sell its share of millions while boosting her previous LPs, which must secure her 100 million sales by 2021 at the latest.
Coldplay – 84,997,000 (as of Jun 2017)
Among big selling current acts, Coldplay is the one that got the oldest update in our site. We did review their streams more recently though, and their up to date numbers show an increase of nearly 6 million EAS from this format alone. With album sales and downloads, they are now on top of a 93 million total.
Their catalog is insanely powerful, shifting close to 100,000 EAS per week day in and day out. Even with no release, they are a lock for 100 million sales during 2020. The band is supposedly in a hiatus at the moment, but with them we can’t rule out a new release sooner than expected. If that happens before the end of the year, they will undoubtedly reach 100 million this year alone.
Rihanna – 86,846,000 (as of Nov 2017)
As you can guess the total of Rihanna displayed here is also fairly outdated. Since then, she moved roughly half a million EAS from sales formats (over 100,000 albums and over 3 million downloads). Of course, the lion share comes from streams which increased by nearly 6 million EAS since November 2017. Her current total is then over 93 million up to date.
The thing is, these ongoing sales have been achieved with 0 new release. She dropped absolutely nothing during the year 2018, but still gained a stunning 440,000 EAS per month. At this rate, she will be up to 100 million by June 2020. Her last album, ANTI, recently turned 3 years old, so we can expect new music from the Barbadian icon soon, especially since she confirmed her 9th album for 2019. ANTI stands on an impressive 6.3 million EAS to date, which shows she still has plenty of potential with fresh recordings too, not only with her back catalog of hits.
Of course, there is always talks about how features must be treated once we talk about Rihanna. Fact is, her sales aren’t high thanks to her features, instead she gets features because she sells high numbers. Getting her on a song has been the shortest path to success you can get for 13 years.
With the same cumulative tally than Coldplay and similar continuous catalog sales, our bet is that Rihanna will become the first 00s artist to make it to 100 million EAS thanks to her upcoming new album. She is very likely to do it before 2019 ends.
Below table resumes the content of this article. We are putting our money on Rihanna to win the race, but what about you?