In its first week of release, Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” accounted for nearly one in five album purchases. In selling 1,047,000 units during a week with 5.8 million album sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan, “Speak Now” represented 18% of all albums sold last week, the highest first-week market share in SoundScan history.

Ten other albums have debuted with higher sales. The all-time leader in one-week sales is ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached,” which was released in March 2000 – the heyday of the CD – and sold 2.4 million units in its first week of release. That was good for a 15.3% share of that week’s total album sales – nearly three percentage points less than “Speak Now.”

The second-best opening week was ‘N Sync’s August 2001 album “Celebrity.” It debuted with 1.89 million units in a week with 14.6 million units sold – a 12.8% share of album sales. Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP” ranks as the third-best opening week with sales of 1.76 million. It had an 11.6% market share in its first week.





Some strong market shares have been captured by albums released in 2010. Eminem’s “Recovery,” released in June, debuted with a market share of 12.2% on first-week sales of 741,000. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” was released in late January, traditionally a slow time for new releases, and achieved a market share of 7.4% on sales of 481,000. Drake’s “Thank Me Later,” released in June, had a market share of 7.3% on first-week sales of 447,000.

There are a few considerations when comparing today’s statistics to those over the last decade. The market has changed in the nine or ten years since albums were posting record first-week sales figures. The CD was completely dominant while singles (CD and vinyl) were well under 10% of total unit sales. In effect, people tended to buy the album because there was no other viable option. Since ‘N Sync posted those big first-week numbers, consumers have increasingly purchased individual track downloads instead of entire albums. Today, a rare artist may still be able to command a million albums in a debut week, but there are far fewer albums being sold. As a result, that album-oriented artist in today’s single-oriented market will have a better market share ratio than would an artist before the rise of digital downloads.

Another consideration is that some albums with big one-week sales were released during weeks with holiday-driven, high sales volume. As a result, they have a relatively low share of total sales even though they put up big numbers. The Beatles’ “Anthology 1,” for example, sold 855,000 units in its first week of release (the week ending November 26, 2000) but ended up with a 4.5% share. Backstreet Boys’ “Black & Blue” was released on November 21, 2000 and sold 1.59 million units in its debut week – good for just a 6.8% share of all album sales.