Adele Hello

Adele in the video for "Hello."

Courtesy of VEVO

What’s the only surprise about the first week sales of Adele’s 25? They’re even bigger than predicted.

On Nov. 18, sources told Billboard that Columbia Records was shipping 3.6 million physical copies of the album to retail stores around the U.S., paving the way for Adele to top *NSYNC's No Strings Attached -- which moved 2.42 million copies in its first week in 2000 -- as the highest-selling first week in the Nielsen SoundScan era. 

She didn't even need the full week to reach that milestone: 25 soared past the record on Monday, moving 2.433 million copies and putting the album on track for 2.9 million sales in its first week -- a milestone that the artist’s apparently last-minute decision to withhold 25 from streaming services, at least for now, certainly didn’t hurt.

"Well lookie here, there is life in those physical bones!" says Laura Provenzano, vp of purchasing Alliance Entertainment, the second-largest U.S. music wholesaler. "Adele just reminded everyone how vitally important the physical medium is and remains. A tangible item, something you can hold, touch and feel like you are more singularly connected to an artist and their music as a larger body of work than a digital file would ever allow."

Across the board, retailers and wholesales says Adele’s 25 album is delivering bigger than expected, and with very little discounting. Merchants say, frankly, there's no real need for any price breaks in order to move this record. According to sources, iTunes sold more than one million copies of Adele’s 25 over the weekend on its way to projected sales of about 1.6 million units by the end of the week. Moreover, Target sold 529,000 through Sunday and was forecast to sell 700,000, while Walmart moved 229,000 copies over the Friday-Saturday-Sunday stretch, and expects that number to rise to 389,000 by the end of the tracking week. Best Buy, sources say, sold 56,000 copies over the same period, expecting to wind up in the 90,000 range by week's end.

That means that those four accounts alone sold 1.81 million copies over the weekend, or 78 percent of the 2.3 million cited by Nielsen Music from the first three days of release (it has since passed 2.4 million). Moreover, those accounts combined are projected to sell at least 2.6 million units in the debut week of the projected 2.9 million total.

The album is “generating fantastic energy and excitement that the industry has sorely needed,” says another music merchandiser. “While many say the initial success is related to the unique and great talents of Adele, there is no questioning that statement. But I wonder if this also a mandate from the public that if you deliver high integrity [and] artistry with exceptional songs, the masses will consume. Perhaps we need to step up the quality we deliver?"

Another aspect that is moving better than expected is the Adele catalog. Her new studio album, her third, has ignited sales of Adele’s first two albums 19 and 21. Newbury Comics head buyer Carl Mello says sales of 21 are "exploding," while Steve Harkins, vp of music at Baker & Taylor, says that 25 has "certainly propelled her catalog unlike [what] we’ve seen with other artists in recent years."

Of course, these numbers are all coming in pure album sales, as the diva declined to make 25 available to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, at least in its first week, and it's causing some to question the wisdom of releasing new albums to streaming services right away.

“While streaming is clearly an important part of our industry’s fabric, it would seem obvious that the monumental sales date were accomplished in some part by restricting streaming," says the merchandiser. "Clearly artists under development need the exposure [of streaming], but does this not beg the question -- what would the sales and revenue stream look like if streaming was restricted, or at least held back, within a window when prominent artists release new albums? It certainly warrants some exploration."