Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran

Greg Williams

Ed Sheeran’s new ÷ (Divide) album is on track to earn 2017’s biggest debut, according to industry forecasters, and should easily give Sheeran his second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart (dated March 25). Those in the know suggest the set, which was released Friday (March 3), could easily start with more than 300,000 equivalent album units earned in the U.S. in the week ending March 9. It’s likely the title could clear a total somewhere in the range of 350,000 to 425,000 units.

Considering the album only came out today, these are initial forecasts that could change dramatically in the next few days, once the album has been in the marketplace for more than a few hours. (Translation: Stay tuned for further updates on Sheeran and his album.)

The Billboard 200 chart ranks the most popular albums of the week based on multi-metric consumption, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). Sheeran’s first week performance, and ÷’s debut rank on the Billboard 200, are not scheduled to be announced until March 12, after Nielsen Music has completed the processing of its tracking data for the week ending March 9. (Before that, we still have the anticipated No. 1 debut from Future’s HNDRXX on the chart dated March 18. That tally’s top 10 will be revealed on March 5.)

You may wonder how one can forecast the first-week performance of an album (like ÷) after it has been out for less than a day. Initial forecasts are based on a range of indicators, which include pre-order sales of the album, first-week performance of comparable albums, streaming activity of an album’s lead single (or singles), radio trends for the set’s songs, media exposure of the artist and so forth. In general, you can best guess an album’s debut-week sum once it has had a couple of days of availability.

The last album to start with more than 300,000 units in a week was J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only, which launched at No. 1 on the chart dated Dec. 31, 2016, with 492,000 units earned. Two weeks before that, The Weeknd’s Starboy scored a No. 1 bow with 348,000 units.